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So, you taught yourself physics

  1. Sep 14, 2014 #1
    This is a support thread for self tought physicists.

    When I turned 20 after 2 years of doing nothing since high school, I decided I was going to teach myself physics and my dreaded nemesis, math.

    It started with learning the algebra i hadnt learned in highschool. By 23 I had completed learning multivariable calculus and differential equations, then decided I was going in the wrong direction, and found religion(regrettably).
    Im 26 now.
    anyway since then i got my mind right, put the weed away, and my interest has been rekindled. I now know maxwells equations, and it seems my life got weird just when i was short of learning relativity and quantum mechanics. (Which was my original goal anyway)

    But somethings missing. Oh sure im not 300k in debt for a piece of parchment that ill never be able to pay off, but what good is it? What can I do to better my life with a working understanding of the things 99% of the population is ignorant of and nothing to show for it?
    well, I guess thats my question, feel free to share your stories, advice, etc
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 14, 2014 #2


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    IDK why you decided to teach yourself physics instead of, say, accounting. That's something only you can know.

    Now, after the deed is done, what are you going to do? Are you going back to sitting in the corner doing nothing until you get another inspiration? Or are you going to use the knowledge you've already acquired and build on that, build it into something with which you can tangibly improve your life?
  4. Sep 15, 2014 #3
    There is a guy who used to post here who invented a kind of career for himself out of a hodge podge of physics and math knowledge. He hired himself out as a troubleshooter for companies that were having problems with their electronic/mechanical systems. Say a factory had an assembly line that was an electronically controlled mechanical system, and something had gone awry with it, he would contract to figure the problem out and fix it.

    It seems he mostly spent his time tearing his hair out, but he was/is at least attempting to apply his knowledge to help the military-industrial complex keep marching, and also to make a living.
  5. Sep 15, 2014 #4


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    Yeah I've worked with "self taught" *you name its*. And then after hundreds of thousands of dollars later to undo the damage these *self taught* people did to these companies they victimized. It turns my stomach. Please do not fall prey to these people, they do not know what they are doing. They are not necessarily evil they are just stupid.
  6. Sep 15, 2014 #5
    I suggest going through the programme of a university and getting a degree on whichever you decide to take up. When you fill out your resume you can include all the jobs you held [in your field] while you were getting your feet wet.

    Self taught people know something, but usually their knowledge is incomplete. Here's an example of self-taught; taught myself the guitar when I was 12, after 3 years I got together with a guitar instructor, a few sessions with this woman and I realized how much I was missing in my technique. Doesn't strictly have anything to do with getting a 150k per annum job and a house, wife, dog, car and all that, but its meaning is synonomous.

    I guess the morale of the story is, you need someone to guide you. That's what, consequently, universities are for.
  7. Sep 15, 2014 #6
    If you are self taught to a sufficient degree you should be able to breeze through college. If you can perform well your first year you may be able to get a scholarship and avoid owing $$$.
  8. Sep 15, 2014 #7
    Being able to teach yourself within several years is also an excellent skill you're gifted with. It needs your patience and willingness to learn (Not everyone wants to continue their studies no matter how much they might be offered or advised). The fact is that no employers would want to hire anyone who isn't qualified for the position they want to fill up in their companies. So be real!
    That 99% of the population doesn't understand what you might be involved sounds like a boast except drug deals across national borders.
  9. Sep 15, 2014 #8
    Well you can't apply for jobs that need Physicists without a degree, but that wasn't a waste of time either. When I was a kid I learned a lot of programming and made virus and game hacks just for fun, but it turns out it's being very useful now in university and to apply for jobs later.
    You can write in your CV that you have an advanced knowledge of Maths (you can be more specific to what they require) and analytical skills.
  10. Sep 15, 2014 #9


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    Why don't you try to pass, and actually do really well in the physics GRE? That may give you a portion of the best of both worlds; it costs around $75, and if you do well, it will give you more credibility in the academic world.
  11. Sep 15, 2014 #10
    Ive been talking with voc rehab (they help people with disabilities get jobs) about this stuff but they said I have to start somewhere so they payed for a forklift class, I finished that and hopefully soon ill have a job. I just hope she didnt think I was lieing about what I knew lol. But really until I have a job and get used to working I wont be able to pay for college, back in 2011(??) I took the sat and scored 700 reading and 650 math (which may not mean im the next ceo of a billion dollar company, or the one to solve the millenium prize problems but its still pretty good) then I guess some stuff happened and I sorta gave up.

    I know for a fact my greatest demon through life has been self sabotage. All the patterns are there. Sometimes the cliches scare me. (When you have as much free time as I do you tend to start over analyzing your life, and realizing how absurd it is, thats where the existential anxiety kicks in)

    One of the biggest problems ive noticed is how damn slow progress can be. I moved away from the trouble almost half a year ago, and still havnt got a job or even a drivers license. I guess when youve straggled for as long as I have it doesnt matter how much derermination you have to turn things around, progress still takes time. Meanwhile I can get angry at society, angry at myself, just really frustrated in general at how this can happen, but my thoughts have no effect on the outside world and all I can do is retreat to learning and wait for it to get better.
  12. Sep 15, 2014 #11


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    What is preventing you from getting a driver's license?
  13. Sep 15, 2014 #12
    nothing now(i should have it pretty soon), but lets just say i wasnt in the care of the best people. (not the most involved parent)
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2014
  14. Sep 16, 2014 #13


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    I self-studied a decent amount of math and physics in my high school years. It helped me a lot when coming to university because the first year (and possibly more) was a breeze.
  15. Sep 23, 2014 #14


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    You never explained why you wanted to teach yourself physics. What possible reason for you to want to do that, and what were you hoping to do after you think you understood it? Do you think you can get a career out of it without any kind of credential that verifies your knowledge?

    BTW, I'm very skeptical of anyone learning physics on his/her own and then declaring that he/she has understood it. You "know" maxwell equations? Really? You mean that you can work through Jackson's "Classical Electrodynamics" text cover to cover?

  16. Sep 23, 2014 #15
    I feel like I'm the only one completely missing the point of this discussion.
    "What can I do to better my life with a working understanding of the things 99% of the population is ignorant of and nothing to show for it?"

    When I first read that I thought you meant "What's the point of all this knowledge? What's the point of studying these things for myself?"; and perhaps you felt the need for a degree--or piece of parchment as you call it (and I have some sympathy for that view)--to validate your learning in some way. But as I read the posts here it seems like you and most of the people here understand your question to mean "How can my knowledge of physics and maths help me to find a decent job?".

    I'm not sure what sort of answers and discussion you're looking for. Do you want practical advice on how to get a degree and then a job, or go straight into a job, perhaps requiring maths or physics? Do you want to know if it's worth going to get a degree? If so, worth it in what way? Financially? Intellectually?
    Or are you asking a more philosophical question? Like, is there any point in teaching yourself physics? What is the point of all the esoteric knowledge you have? What is the point of all that knowledge?

    I'm just not sure exactly what sort of discussion you are looking for.
  17. Sep 23, 2014 #16


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    Seriously, passing the physics GRE may be a good way of showing others (including potential employers) that you taught yourself well. It is not cheap, at around $75 , but cheaper than the $300,000 you quote.
  18. Sep 23, 2014 #17


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    Be amazed by things. I think the world is much more fascinating if you cannot use "I have no idea why it is like that" as an excuse.
    In terms of jobs, well, that's not easy without some proof of your knowledge, so try to get those.
  19. Sep 23, 2014 #18
    It depends...
    I pretty much "accidentally" ended up in the UCLA plasma physics department as a full fledged development engineer...even though I had no formal training in plasma physics. I was an R.F. engineer, who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I learned all the plasma physics I knew just hanging around the lab....with a whole lot of really smart people.

  20. Sep 25, 2014 #19
    Why $300k in debt? If you live in the US, you can go to a community college for the first two years for around $10K and the last two years at a state university for around $30K. That is not chicken feed but it is far from $300K.
  21. Sep 25, 2014 #20


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    I think the original poster was throwing the $300k figure out not as an actual figure, rather as a metaphor for "a lot of money."
  22. Sep 25, 2014 #21


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    Of course, but for every one who succeeds......
  23. Sep 25, 2014 #22
    300K is almost the price for a good house. Between buying a house and an academic degree, I'm not insane enough to pick up the latter. :nb)
  24. Sep 26, 2014 #23
    I somewhat resent the notion that the title of this thread implies. It's not as if you pay a bunch of money to be taught physics at University, and magically you know physics - everyone teaches themselves physics. So much of my education has been spend studying, on my own, hours on end with a text book struggling to understand the material. Honestly, most of what I "learned" in lecture I forget a few hours later - it's the hard work spent on your own that leads to learning.

    The only major difference I see between self-study and doing a formal degree is that the degree forces a certain standard upon you - you're forced to do certain challenging problems and exams, and pushed harder than you may have pushed yourself on your own. In the end though, no one can be taught physics, it's something you have to learn on your own.

    Just my two cents.
  25. Sep 26, 2014 #24


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    I agree with Dipole.

    Other major things you get from a degree program include:
    1. Formal, critical feedback.
    2. Evaluation and ranking amid peers.
    3. Access to academic libraries and journals.
    4. Access to equipment for skill development.
    5. Opportunities for research.
    6. Opportunities to network or develop friendships with others interested in the field.
    7. Opportunities to attend seminars by invited speakers talking about cutting edge research in fields you may not have been aware of.
  26. Sep 27, 2014 #25
    Stephen Wolfram (creator of Wolfram Mathematica) earned a PhD in theoretical physics before he completed his undergraduate. He had taught himself physics and was publishing papers at a very young age (13 as far as I remember [look it up!]). In college, he combined some of his papers into his PhD thesis!
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