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Realistic help for a fictional plan?

  1. Apr 15, 2015 #1
    Here's what I'm doing... I'm creating a fictional biography of sorts set in the near (30 years) future. It's close enough to present that any help that would be presented now would likely be relevant then as well.

    What I'm looking for is a character that earns a doctorate in theoretical and/or applied physics by the age of 24 with doctoral thesis on something similar to string theory and the alcubiere drive. She's considered promising through out her university days and should probably be attending a prestigious school of some sort. She may also have some educational background in cosmology/rocketry/engineering.

    I need to know what the minimum requirments on a transcript might be like. I have not decided what her "personality" is quite yet nor whether she's outgoing or rich/poor. Though obviously for fiction a character with trouble in her past and perhap less out going might be easier to write for. So for example do I absolutely need to make sure she participates in various activities? Does she absolutely have to have a 4.0 GPA and does it have to be constant from 9th to 12th , or can it be lower? To accomplish this PhD in 6 years thing would it be required that she have AP classes? Or could she do it without them? Would getting a GED be a better idea?

    I need to know which universities she might apply to and get in to. This I need to point out should be limited to East coast universities... Nothing outside one of these 21 states;
    Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Virginia, West Virginia.

    What Major/Minor would she likely be looking at/getting into?
    What subjects would be studied roughly? (I can probably look that up on the various university websites)
    How much time would she have for things like philosophy, programming, Foreign languages, etc..

    What would the work load be like? For example to do this would she have time for a job? Relationships? How much homework? etc etc. Also what type of work would this require? What I mean is, is the course work more writing papers and experimenting or more memory testing?

    Lastly... Assuming you guys think this might be possible what would the progression be like of her going from high school to PhD. I personally do not quite get how PhDs and Masters work as they seem to be highly variable... My rough break down I was thinking something like...

    By her 18th birthday = AP classes or GED allowing early entrance allows her to get enough to get Associates
    If through AP classes she enters University immediately after HS graduation and takes summer course work through out.
    By her 20th = Enough credits to get Bachelors and be into her Masters
    By her 22nd = Have her Masters and is working on her PhD.
    By her 24th = Writes her doctorate and gets PhD

    I have no clue if this is "right". It sounds a bit off to what I know, but might be believable to the average person.

    Please remember that I'm looking more at the possible, even if extraordinary, rather than someone who is "average" or "most likely" course.

    And thank you for any help you guys can give me.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 15, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    You might use the featured thread on Becoming a Physicist to come up with your timeline and courses. This would give you the chance to invent new courses, schools...
    where the character reads this thread on PF and follows the plan to greatness.


    More on the Alcubierre drive:


    and on Alcubierre himself:


    and here's some info on Prof Lisa Randall who could be a female model for your character:

  4. Apr 15, 2015 #3
    That top link looks useful, but I think I'm gonna need more help/info than presented from a quick skim through it... As are the links to profiles though they are a bit lacking in info.

    However, the alcubierre drive link I know most of the info on there off the top my head, but it has several limitations which is where this character sorta comes in. She "discovers" a field that does the stuff a warp field does but does away with all the problems...unfortunately creating other problems that I asked for help with here, but still haven't got help with in several months v.v

    Anyways the reason I mentioned the Alcubierre drive is just to note what her thesis is about and later becomes famous for as that, I would think, would lend some idea as to what degree/field she would be getting, but I don't know.
  5. Apr 15, 2015 #4


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    Honestly, there's a pretty large set of possible backgrounds that can end up as a theoretical physics doctorate. It's likely that she did some teaching as a TA during university. Usually, PhD students are supported by some combination of RA, TA, and scholarships. Some programming familiarity is almost guaranteed. There's plenty of possibilities for elective classes in undergrad, and certainly some time to pursue extracurricular activities, though that time might become less once she's writing her thesis.
  6. Apr 18, 2015 #5
    Right. What´s the standard scheduled age in USA to earn a doctorate? 27? 28?
    Would she accomplish PhD in 6 years, as against normal time of 9 years?
    Or would she enter university before she´s 18?
    Who are statistically more common as 24 year old doctors - those who enter university at 18 as scheduled but complete PhD in 6 years against 9 of schedule, or those who enter university at 16, and then complete PhD in 8 years out of 9?

    I don´t quite have a good idea about the admission policies of US universities - or of their diversities. How would US university admission departments handle an applicant who is outstandingly good in her field, like physics, mathematics and programming, but does NOT have GPA 4.0, because the average is the average between her interest fields, where she is ahead of schedule, and other subjects compulsory in secondary school, like history, Physical education etc., for which she does not have time, interest or ability, and where she scrapes by or indeed outright fails?

    Would she even have a GED, or complete secondary education of any kind? What kind of people do US universities accept at ages 16 or 17? Those who are perfect in all secondary school subjects and are allowed to skip grades in secondary school? Or those who drop out of high school because they are able to ace the entrance tests of university in their field, and are not required to complete any secondary education?

    Would she enter a prestigious university? Or could she begin in a less prestigious university because the more prestigious ones have their pick of "well-rounded" candidates, while a less prestigious university is willing to make concessions to their star student?

    Looking at the examples even less average than the 24 year old PhD:
    * Norbert Wiener: homeschooled till 9. Graduated Ayer High School in 1906, age 11, entered Tufts College. Bachelor at age 14, Harvard PhD age 17.
    *William James Sidis: refused admission to Harvard age 9 because too young; admitted in 1909, age 11, as the youngest ever, in an experiment along with Fuller (14) and Sessions (14). Bachelor age 16
    *Unabomber: skipped sixth grade on grounds of IQ test, then skipped 11th grade, got in Harvard age 16, graduated age 20
    *Ruth Lawrence: homeschooled till admitted to Oxford age 11, became bachelor age 13 and PhD age 17
    *Erik Demaine: homeschooled till entering university age 12; bachelor age 14, PhD age 20

    So... that´s the exceptional end of spectrum. 11...12 year old university students, PhD at 17...20. Except Unabomber who entered university at less exceptional 16.

    But that was 1958. The attitude of high schools to IQ tests, skipping grades etc. can change and has changed a lot in a few decades.

    So: what would be realistic attitude of year 2015, eastern USA middle and high schools and universities to a nerdy girl who is studying at university level in a middle school? Would she be advised to skip 11th year and then attend 12th grade along with the jocks a year older than her, and be bullied by them? Would she be told to wait to get a "mature, well rounded" person? Would an university permit her to flee the no good high school and the cliques of jocks by dropping out of high school and passing university entrance exams without completing any secondary education?
  7. Apr 18, 2015 #6

    Vanadium 50

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    1) You have four threads, with a total of at least 15 replies.

    2) It's evident in some of those threads that you don't like the replies you are getting, but that's a very different thing than not getting any help.

    3) I can't help it, but when I think of your 24-year old PhD with the Greatest Discover Ever, I keep hearing the following in my head (to the tune of Buddy Holly's Peggy Sue).

    Mary Sue, Mary Sue
    Sweet and pretty, smart and witty Mary Sue
    Oh, Mary - my Mary Sue!
    You're so talented
    I just don't know what to do

    4) You got some good advice in reading the So You Want To Be a Physicist thread. You can take that, and shave a year off here and a year off there until you get to 24.
  8. Apr 18, 2015 #7
    And 2 of those are several months old and on the front page now which tells you how active this forum is in general...which is kinda sad.
    Also there is a difference between someone saying something and being helpful. The replies were not helpful and they have still not been answered despite the fact that they should be easy to answer for people who are saying they are physicists and here to help. Largely because they can't tell the difference between saying this is out it works in the universe I am making and this is a hypothesis I am proposing how the real universe works... which is really disturbing. That aside...

    It's a decently good read, but lacks most of the information I asked for. Not saying it isn't useful in a different capacity, but it did not answer even remotely what I asked.
    Let me put it like this...
    If I am getting mauled by a dog and trying to get the dog off me and asking for help that type of answer is akin to saying that I should approach dogs and let them sniff me... which is great advice in a different situation to a different question and may indeed help with not getting mauled in the future, but fairly useless for what I actually need.
  9. Apr 18, 2015 #8
    Depends on the PhD from what I know. I've heard as low as something like 6 years after highschool to longer than a decade. (24 to 28 since 18 is HS graduation age)

    No clue.

    As far as I know there is a GPA you must meet, and sometimes, but not often you get leniency if its in non important subjects. Also from hearsay I've heard plenty of universities look at performance over time.

    For example if you graduate with a 2.0 the following 3 sets of permances are looked at differently...
    1) Y1 = 0.5, Y2 = 1.0, Y3 = 1.5, Y4 = 2.0
    2) Y1 = 3.5, Y2 = 3.0, Y3 = 2.5, Y4 = 2.0
    3) Y1 = 2.0, Y2 = 2.0, Y3 = 2.0, Y4 = 2.0

    The first 1 is what I've heard is considered the best as it shows a rising to the challenge while the 2nd shows a failing to meet the challenge and the 3rd is just getting by, but I've never confirmed this.

    A lot of universities from what I understand require a GED or HS Diploma, but I'm not positive.
    I don't know if there is an age restriction.
    There are some colleges and HSs that work together and have a program where a HS student can attend a college class on college campus for both college and HS credit. There are also similar "Career Prep" classes which are not held on Colleges or Colleges classes, but equate to College Credits. I for example had 2 years of CIS which took up 3 hours of class which gave me credits at some colleges for CIS classes up through something like the 3rd year. (>.> never did claim those credits though)
    I do not know how "skipping" works though people can be skipped or held from skipping for different reasons. Perfect Grades may be a sign, but it does not equate to you should and can skip.
    I have never heard of such a situation where one was able to get out of HS by passing the entrance test to a college. If I had I would have taken it...though a lot of those tests costs money and aren't well put together. Don't need to bore you with how bad some of them are on that front.

    As far as I am aware those that don't get into prestigious universities directly from HS are less likely to get in from attending a different college, but I dunno. A college doesn't give out many if any scholarships or anything of the sort. Bigger universities have scholarship programs, but i know very little about this area...

    The idea is that she is "exceptional" but because she is a hard worker more so than she is a super genius. She's an average genius :P


    The culture she lives in would likely be putting pressure on her to figure out how to get a job as quick as possible and work her tail off as she is born 1 year before the largest and longest depression era experienced. She's not wealthy and she is likely being pressed to "pay her way". She wouldn't have money to afford to go to college other than through scholarship, but I don't know how a college or a scholarship would consider such a case as if I were in that situation I'd probably go the GED route. If I knew that word hurt my chances at a college scholarship though that would be a hard decision because for it would essentially kill her dreams to not get into college. So I need information on this aspect as to what she would decide here to fill out further path. If the GED would look worse she definitely needs to continue on with HS do some sort of AP work, but if it is even chances or even makes her look better then she'd go the GED route and start university at 16, rather than 18.
  10. Apr 19, 2015 #9
    What age people DO make greatest discoveries ever?
    What would be a statistically significant set is, say, the set of Nobel Prize winners. A maximum of 3 prizes per year, so tens of winners each decade. Where were they when they were 24? When did they make the Prize-earning discovery? Earn PhD?
    It´s a slightly laborious exercise. Do it and present the results!
  11. Apr 19, 2015 #10

    Vanadium 50

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    I Googled Greatest Discoveries Ever, and got the following list (a site called Factmonster was on the top of the search window)

    • The Copernican System - Nicholas Copernicus (aged 70)
    • Gravity - Isaac Newton (aged 45)
    • Electricity - Michael Faraday (aged 30)
    • Evolution - Charles Darwin (aged 50)
    • Germ Theory of Disease - Louis Pasteur (aged 40)
    • Special Theory of Relativity - Albert Einstein (aged 26)
    • Big Bang Theory - Georges Lemaitre (aged 33)
    • DNA structure - James Watson (aged 25) and Francis Crick (aged 37)
    • Periodic Table - Dmitri Medeleev (aged 34)
    • X-Rays - Wilhem Roentgen (aged 50)
    • Quantum Theory - They gave credit to Niels Bohr, whose most famous works were published when he was 28.
    • Atomic Bomb - Manhattan Project. Not a person, but Szilard wrote his famous letter when he was 41.
    • HIV/AIDS - Luc Montagnier (aged 51) and Robert Gallo (aged 47)
  12. Apr 19, 2015 #11
    14 youngest Nobel laureates in physics:
    1. 25 (31 III 1890) Lawrence Bragg 21...22 PhD Nav university 19
    2. 31 (5 XII 1901) Werner Heisenberg 23 (IX 1925) PhD 21...22 university 18...19
    3. 31 (24 XI 1926) Tsung Lee 29 PhD 23...24 university 16...17
    4. 31 (5 IX 1905) Carl Anderson 26...27 PhD 24...25 university Nav (bachelor 21...22)
    5. 31 (8 VIII 1902) Paul Dirac 23 PhD 23 (VI 1926) university Nav (bachelor by 19)
    6. 32 (31 I 1929) Rudolf Mössbauer 28 PhD 29 university Nav (graduated 26)
    7. 33 (4 I 1940) Brian Josephson 22 PhD 24 university 17
    8. 34 (21 IX 1926) Donald Glaser 25...26 PhD 23...24 university Nav (bachelor 19...20)
    9. 35 (9 X 1879) Max von Laue 32 PhD 23...24 university 19...20
    10. 35 (1 X 1922) Chen Yang 33 PhD 25...26 university 15...16
    11. 35 (10 IX 1892) Arthur Compton 29...30 PhD 23...24 university Nav
    12. 35 (25 IV 1874) Guglielmo Marconi 21 PhD Nav university Nav
    13. 36 (7 XI 1867) Marie Curie 30 PhD 35 university Nav
    14. 36 (23 VIII 1974) Konstantin Novoselov 30 PhD 29...30 university Nav (MSc 22...23)
    12 last Nobel laureates in physics:
    1. Isamu Akasaki 85 (30 I 1929)
    2. Hiroshi Amano 54 (11 IX 1960)
    3. Shuji Nakamura 60 (22 V 1954)
    4. Francois Englert 81 (6 XI 1932)
    5. Peter Higgs 84 (29 V 1929)
    6. Serge Haroche 68 (11 IX 1944)
    7. David Wineland 68 (24 II 1944)
    8. Saul Perlmutter 52 (22 IX 1959)
    9. Adam Riess 41 (16 XII 1969)
    10. Brian Schmidt 44 (24 II 1967)
    11. Andre Geim 52 (21 X 1958)
    12. Konstantin Novoselov 36 (23 VIII 1974)
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2015
  13. Apr 21, 2015 #12
    So... We've seen that my character getting her PhD at 24 is realistic... so now how would she do it...
  14. Apr 23, 2015 #13


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  15. Apr 23, 2015 #14


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