Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Qualities to be a physicist

  1. Dec 3, 2008 #1
    I am getting ready to transfer to one of a UC as a physics major. Right now, I am in a community college taking electricity and magnetism class. I find myself not so good (++ creative) on electricity, circuits lab. I know it is an important, basic, course for physicist. However, I am not paying much attention, because I don't find it satisfying. Most of the time, class is focused on how to solve this kind of problem and other retarded*** stuffs such as mutual induction, solenoid, induced current bla bla, without understanding or discussing on why is it happening. Also, on lab I find myself slow than other friends. Because of this fact, I start felling depressed about myself coz I might be jeopardizing my future as a physics major. Is it okyae that somebody who want to do physics does not like application part.

    I am deeply interested to study laws of nature. The only reason I am a physics major is because I want to understand the complexity of the fundamental structure of the nature. I am always fascinated and interested about fields, forces, nature of time, behavior of subatomic particles, and other really fundamental stuffs. I am not interested on Ac Motor or solenoid, I want to understand what is the reason behind the magnetic field, why Maxwell's set of electromagnetism equations are working, how they are related and so on.

    Lets go to the question, do I have to be interested and be very good on such electrical stuffs?? If i am not creative on such electronics, circuit labs and other practical field, Can i still be a successful physicist? What are the basic sets of qualities does a physicist need? I love electricity and magnetism, but not the stuffs they teach on school, like how transformer are made of and what is the math behind it. I want to study why it works, why that math is working.

    Your Comments are appreciated

    ***I know you will say it is very important, and I agree with you
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 3, 2008 #2
    I am exactly like you. I finished my electronics and communication engineering, bachelors degree. I am interested in the same topics as you said. I would also like to become physicist. I think we should sit together and discuss a lot of topics. Shall we?
  4. Dec 3, 2008 #3
    I copy verbatim from a prior post of mine (some sections apply better than others to your post):

    It's absolutely true that most engineering/science/math courses end up moving through content too quickly to give students a grasp of conceptual understanding or appreciation of the application of the processes being studied (in the standard formulation of content) to processes in the natural world or in the design of technological innovations. If you look at the required curriculum, professors usually have to move at least one chapter per week. It takes skill and experience to learn how to navigate that without reducing the course to rote... both on the part of the professor and the student.

    So here's my advice:

    1) Talk personally to upper-level students at your university (in your degree program or related degrees, and students that you know and respect... perhaps honors students) to discover which professors might be the best to take. I generally looked for the professors that were considered difficult but worth the added effort because they were excellent.

    2) On your own end, read the material and start to work through examples and problems in the text before class sessions. This will allow you to have some familiarity with the material so that you can listen for the interesting things the professor says in class... and ask questions about the material (either in class or afterwards, during office hours etc.). Note that for every class it's generally the case that you should be putting in 2-3 hours of study per week for every credit hour of class (so that being a full-time student with 12- 18 hours of credits should be a full time job, if not more!)... often you should really be putting in MORE than 2-3, if you're really working (school was at least a 60-80 hour week for me at times!)

    Even so, sometimes it takes years to really gain insight into concepts and really understand them, and if you want to get though a degree program in a given amount of time, you sometimes just have to (sadly) slog though. Appreciation and understanding should develop more and more over time, and this development should never stop, as long as you maintain your curiosity. What I'm concerned about now is that you do state you are losing your curiosity. So, my advice on this front is that you should try:

    3) To sometimes look at simple texts: like introductory concept texts or materials (ex. Bloomfield's "How Everything Works" etc.) and demonstration guides (like Mr. Wizard's things or The Exploratorium notebook). You can find cool demos to try online, and some science museums have good websites. Sometimes the most interesting things can have the math removed... and you can think about how to model the math (ex: ask yourself: Why do race cars have spoilers, and then how would I calculate the force generated by the spoiler... what variables would I need to know?).

    4) To build something complex. I've been most recently fascinated by online guides to building cheap vacuum pumps (although I haven't done it yet due to time!). I've known students and colleagues that have built tesla coils, robots that track their paths and avoids objects by sensing, etc. Building provides a LOT of conceptual understanding, as you have to design and surmount hurdles!

    5) To do outreach or tutoring. This actually makes TEACHING fun (getting to find new resources for my class and generating new problems for students)... perhaps it might help you keep your curiosity if you do some outreach to students at lower levels. A professor at our university in the department of education surprisingly has a great link to engineering here and gets students to volunteer tutor at local high risk schools. I didn't do this as a undergrad, but I was on the tutoring staff at our university for science and math (covering all chemistry, physics and math topics)... it often made me develop better understanding as I had to review and work through concepts that I hadn't experience for a while... asking the tutored students to first explain what they were thinking to me, then working through possible misconceptions! Oh yeah -- you can also dabble in tutoring online here!
  5. Dec 3, 2008 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Hi Eminent_youtom,

    It sounds like you already know what people are going to say, so the real question is whether or not you're ready to hear it.

    It will be very difficult to pursue a successful career in physics without an appreciation for the practical elements you work on in the labs. These are the tools that are used to probe the more fundamental questions in the universe. You need to know how they work to understand the results of just about any experiment that's performed - even if you only want to focus on the theoretical side of things.

    Personally, I can't say I loved electronics as I went through my undergrad, but as with so many other aspects of life, sometimes you just have to put your nose to the grindstone and work through it to get to the good stuff.
  6. Dec 3, 2008 #5
    Thank you all for your advice. I surely love applications part of physics, however I was bit frustrated of the fact that most of the physicist might have to end up being an engineer. Last summer I was in Lawrence Berkeley Lab, as a summer research student. Most of the postdoc and other grad students, from particle physics discipline, were busy characterizing pixel sensors, which seemed more electrical engineering stuffs. I am afraid that even though if i will be a physicist, I might end-up working as an electrical engineer. There is nothing wrong with that, however, My main passion is to understand the nature. Choppy is right that without learning the application part, physics will be paralyzed. But, what if I want to go on quantum electrodynamics, or quantum cosmology?? Should I still be good on electrical stuffs such has electric motor, capacitor, or ..........

    Thank you physics girl PhD and AypaPhysics for your comment. It is helpful.
  7. Dec 3, 2008 #6
    "If I want to read a book, do I have to learn the *entire* alphabet, or can I get away with just the vowels and a few of the more interesting consonants?"

    You don't need to be an electronics expert, but I think *some* basic understanding of electronics is necessary to a physicist.
  8. Dec 3, 2008 #7
    If you want to do any experimental work... absolutely. ~1/2 (or more) of an experimentalist's time is spent fixing equipment unless if you have great funding and never break anything.

    Even if you want to do theoretical work (in higher education), you probably be teaching some introductory classes on the subject to students who might be interested in it... you don't want to appear too out of touch, right?

    P.S. While I'm personally not a huge circuit tinkerer, the E&M behind motors and capacitors, etc. is fabulous. The symmetries and links in Maxwell's equations are simply gorgeous math.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook