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Courses Should ALL physicists take a course in general relativity?

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I will be proceeding onto my masters degree in theoretical physics in about two months time. My goal is to learn as much as I can about quantum and statistical physics, as this is the field in which I would like to do my PhD.

In my second semester, I have the chance to either study the symmetries of quantum mechanics or to take a course in general relativity. Normally the choice would be simple, but I know that general relativity is a 'crown jewel' of modern physics. I'm tempted to learn something I don't really need just for the sake of interest.

I'm worried that I'll be giving up learning something incredibly important for the sake of what's relevant to my career. Is general relativity at all relevant considering my interests? Even if it isn't, could I really call myself a physicist if I'm not aware of something so important?

Another option is to toss both out of the window and take biological physics, but something tells me that won't solve my problem. :P
 
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Think outside the box here. Sometimes the math you learn in one place may help you in some future project.

How many times has it been said that the folks who make great discoveries had the right mix of skills to discover it. It reminds me of the discovery of penicillin by Dr Fleming when he didn't throw the contaminated petri dishes away.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/the-real-story-behind-the-worlds-first-antibiotic

Also at some future time, the theory of everything may come into being and you will only be able to understand the classical and quantum portions of it and not the gravitation piece.
 

ZapperZ

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I will be proceeding onto my masters degree in theoretical physics in about two months time. My goal is to learn as much as I can about quantum and statistical physics, as this is the field in which I would like to do my PhD.

In my second semester, I have the chance to either study the symmetries of quantum mechanics or to take a course in general relativity. Normally the choice would be simple, but I know that general relativity is a 'crown jewel' of modern physics. I'm tempted to learn something I don't really need just for the sake of interest.

I'm worried that I'll be giving up learning something incredibly important for the sake of what's relevant to my career. Is general relativity at all relevant considering my interests? Even if it isn't, could I really call myself a physicist if I'm not aware of something so important?

Another option is to toss both out of the window and take biological physics, but something tells me that won't solve my problem. :P
Shouldn't this be something you discuss with your academic advisor?

Zz.
 

Vanadium 50

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I'm tempted to learn something I don't really need just for the sake of interest.
Well good for you! Too many people treat learning something that they never use as a fate worse than death.

Did you know we share 50% of our DNA with bananas?
 

atyy

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MathematicalPhysicist

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You don't really need a course to learn GR.
I mean if you really want to learn GR no one will stop you from that, your efforts won't be graded but one course in GR won't make you an expert in it anyway.
 
You don't really need a course to learn GR.
I mean if you really want to learn GR no one will stop you from that, your efforts won't be graded but one course in GR won't make you an expert in it anyway.
I agree with this sentiment. Also, why not audit it?

As for your statement about your career, I think this IS something that you should be laser-focused on. I'm not sure what your future plans are, but it's a difficult environment out there for people with PhDs in theoretical physics. A large percentage of my colleagues are considering jobs in finance or data science, for instance, because they aren't otherwise employable. Will one course affect your ability to land a job in your field, I don't know. But it doesn't hurt to get ahead.

So I might suggest sticking to your original plan and executing it with tenacity and focus, if you want to work towards a research career in condensed matter physics.

On the other hand, arguments can be made for the benefits of exposure to different fields/concepts, but it has been my observation that graduate students who dally too much with different topics will fall behind. So a balance must be struck.
 
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Think outside the box here. Sometimes the math you learn in one place may help you in some future project.

How many times has it been said that the folks who make great discoveries had the right mix of skills to discover it. It reminds me of the discovery of penicillin by Dr Fleming when he didn't throw the contaminated petri dishes away.

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/health/the-real-story-behind-the-worlds-first-antibiotic

Also at some future time, the theory of everything may come into being and you will only be able to understand the classical and quantum portions of it and not the gravitation piece.
Great point! One motivation of mine for choosing general relativity is to be exposed to the mathematics that come with it; something that'll inevitably be useful. However, my goal first and foremost is to get a solid background in my chosen fields. My problem is a specialised understanding vs. broader understanding, I guess.

Shouldn't this be something you discuss with your academic advisor?

Zz.
I'm afraid not, as I haven't been assigned an academic advisor yet. I'm still two months away from beginning my course, but I'd appreciate being grounded before I get to the point of making these kinds of decisions officially.

By combining quantum mechanics and GR, we know that black holes radiate thermally: https://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0308048.

It would seem that statistical mechanics should have something to say about that: https://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/9601029.
Very interesting indeed. Thanks for the linked papers! :D

You don't really need a course to learn GR.
I mean if you really want to learn GR no one will stop you from that, your efforts won't be graded but one course in GR won't make you an expert in it anyway.
Thank you for your insight! The picture of general relativity that I got from browsing the internet made me think that it was some kind of ferociously difficult theory that was too hard to self-teach, but I'll likely be reading into it in the near future.

I agree with this sentiment. Also, why not audit it?

As for your statement about your career, I think this IS something that you should be laser-focused on. I'm not sure what your future plans are, but it's a difficult environment out there for people with PhDs in theoretical physics. A large percentage of my colleagues are considering jobs in finance or data science, for instance, because they aren't otherwise employable. Will one course affect your ability to land a job in your field, I don't know. But it doesn't hurt to get ahead.

So I might suggest sticking to your original plan and executing it with tenacity and focus, if you want to work towards a research career in condensed matter physics.

On the other hand, arguments can be made for the benefits of exposure to different fields/concepts, but it has been my observation that graduate students who dally too much with different topics will fall behind. So a balance must be struck.
Thank you so much for your advice: reading this was exactly what I needed to remember my motivations for studying physics in the first place. I think I'm going to stick to studying what I actually plan to research.
 

George Jones

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The picture of general relativity that I got from browsing the internet made me think that it was some kind of ferociously difficult theory that was too hard to self-teach, but I'll likely be reading into it in the near future.
In my opinion (other folks might disagree), students could find general relativity easier than, say, quantum mechanics. I think that students become more familiar with quantum mechanics because they spend more time studying it.

For example, when I was a student, I: saw bits of special relativity stuck here and there into a few courses; did not have the opportunity to take any lecture courses in general relativity; was required to take three semesters of quantum mechanics as an undergrad and two semesters of advanced quantum mechanics as a grad student; was required to take two semesters of linear algebra, which gives the flavour of much of the mathematics of quantum mechanics; was not required to take any maths courses that give the flavour of the mathematics used in general relativity.

Because of the importance and widespread applicability of quantum mechanics, my programme offered much more opportunity to learn quantum mechanics than to learn relativity.

If physics students spent as much time studying general relativity and its mathematical background (say 4 or 5 semesters) as they spend studying quantum mechanics and its mathematical background, then general relativity would be understood by possibly millions of people. I understand why students spend much less time studying relativity than they spend studying quantum theory, and I am not necessarily saying that students should spend more time studying relativity, but I do think that this time difference is a big part of the reason that general relativity still has a bit of a reputation.

Fortunately, there are many more good technical books on general relativity (pedagogical, advanced, physical, mathematical, etc.) available now than were available 25 years ago.
 

martinbn

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It would depend on the course. Just because it is on general relativity it doesn't mean it is worth it.
 

Dr. Courtney

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All physicists? No. You? Maybe. It depends.
 

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