The Education of a Physicist (1965)

In summary, the quotes from the book discuss how universities should not focus on vocational training, but instead train students for careers in industry.
  • #1
Frabjous
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Some quotes from the book from the PhysicsToday book review.
https://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/abs/10.1063/1.3034185
Many would not be out of place today.

Lord Beeching in the opening address: "At present, while declaring that vocational training is not the job of a university, they tend to train for one vocation, a vocation to pure research."
(a) A. B. Pippard (Cambridge University) : "If we accept that our task is not to give the best professional training to the best students, but to pay particular attention to those who are going straight into industry, into government service, into physics all over the world with less than first-class degrees and first-class aptitudes, then we must do something about changing our courses."
W. Schaffer (University of Cape Town): "An unfortunate type of scholarship is the American Field Scholarship. . . . it is circulation rather than a one-way flow which should be encouraged."
(b) P. R. Thornton (University College of North Wales): "Two criticisms are made of PhD graduates. One is their unwillingness to tackle anything even verging on an application of physics, and the other is their lack of versatility. . . . we are in danger of replacing actual creative effort by the symbol of creative effort [published paper output] and the symbol is often not as good as it should be."
Bernard Friedman (University of California, Berkeley): The "need for more general concepts can be met only by the use of the more abstract mathematics. . . our previous emphasis on the teaching of detailed mathematical techniques should be discarded. We must, as in teaching all other sciences, emphasize concepts more than facts. We must teach linear spaces and linear operators instead of vectors and matrices. We must introduce the concepts of group and group representations. . . the theory of random variables as a basis for probability and its elaboration in the theory of Markoff processes must be considered as a fundamental part of a physicist's training."
(c) S. C. Brown: "M.I.T. believes very strongly that every teacher and professor should teach. We have no such thing as 'research professors/ . . . in my own research group, after the initial days of registration, I no longer know whether the men and women in my laboratory are undergraduates or graduates. The whole system is one of absorbing the students into the going research laboratories, and not prescribing any particular course of experimental work. . . because. . . you do not teach physics in practical work.. . . The only way you can do this is to throw away the routine experiments, throw away the laboratory manual. . ." (S. C. Brown coauthored the Taylor Manual of Advanced Undergraduate Experiments in Physics, sponsored by AAPT in 1959.)
E. Mendoza (University College of North Wales): "Contact with staff merely by mixing with their research group is haphazard. What we are trying to do is deliberately to teach how to design apparatus, how to be critical of apparatus, and how to organize a primary research project. . . . It is a terrible criticism of us who teach science in the universities that graduates in English literature or history are found to have more logical and analytical minds than scientists."
(d) N. Clarke (Institute of Mathematics and its Applications, England): "The term 'sandwich course' is intended to indicate a course where periods of study in a university or college, extending over weeks or months, alternate with periods in industry or a government laboratory. . . . One of the requirements is that the student shall be engaged in industry on work which is relevant to his studies and which will help him to see the significance of them. A second essential requirement is that during the six months in industry the student shall be able to maintain appropriate contacts with the college... A further feature. . . . is that the experimental work in the college, especially in the last year, has taken the form of projects. This is perhaps the feature more than any other in which the colleges have been pioneers in the United Kingdom."
(e) G. S. Bosworth (English Electric Co. Ltd.): "A physicist taking a post other than in a research laboratory will inevitably become a technologist. Unfortunately, the feeling seems to exist in the U.K. that technologists are second class scientists, if not second class citizens. The process of analysis is more highly regarded than the process of creation, but knowledge and understanding have little purpose if they are not used. Scientific knowledge can only be of lasting value if it is used in the constant struggle by mankind to dominate his environment. Man from the earliest times has been a technologist, and we in industry welwishes to use his knowledge in creating the means whereby this can be accomplished."
 
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There's nothing new there. It is an age old problem.

Perhaps they should be reminded of Enrico Fermi, one of the best physicists and one of the best engineers in the 20th century.

I also recall enjoying some IEEE journals. I read almost all the papers. Then the journals became swamped with academic papers written in an academic language so obscure that it became a waste of my time to look beyond the cover page.
 
  • #3
@caz,
I read part of the quote in your post. That all makes (or what much I did read) a very good point. When student finally graduates with at least undergraduate degree, he needs to be able and answer the question, "What do I know how to do? What do I know how to make? What type of problems do I know how to solve?", and maybe questions like those.
 
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  • #4
symbolipoint said:
@caz,
I read part of the quote in your post. That all makes (or what much I did read) a very good point. When student finally graduates with at least undergraduate degree, he needs to be able and answer the question, "What do I know how to do? What do I know how to make? What type of problems do I know how to solve?", and maybe questions like those.
I would add the questions “Why am I doing this?”, “What do I want to do next?” and “What am I aiming for?”.

I am regularly surprised by some of the academic questions asked at PF (including some by posters with high technical abilities) that show almost no evidence of mentoring by the departments.
 
  • #5
caz said:
I would add the questions “Why am I doing this?”, “What do I want to do next?” and “What am I aiming for?”.

I am regularly surprised by some of the academic questions asked at PF (including some by posters with high technical abilities) that show almost no evidence of mentoring by the departments.
Those questions are less practical, and they are more difficult for some or many people to answer honestly.
 

1. What is "The Education of a Physicist (1965)" about?

"The Education of a Physicist (1965)" is a book written by physicist and Nobel Prize winner, Leo Szilard. It is a reflection on his career and the experiences that shaped his development as a scientist.

2. What makes "The Education of a Physicist (1965)" a valuable read for scientists?

This book offers a unique perspective on the journey of a physicist, from the early stages of education to the development of groundbreaking discoveries. It also delves into the ethical and societal implications of scientific advancements.

3. Is "The Education of a Physicist (1965)" suitable for non-scientists?

While this book is primarily written for a scientific audience, it also offers valuable insights for those interested in the history and philosophy of science. The author's writing style is accessible and engaging, making it a compelling read for non-scientists as well.

4. How does "The Education of a Physicist (1965)" relate to current scientific advancements?

Although the book was written in 1965, many of the themes and ideas discussed are still relevant in modern science. The author's reflections on the scientific process, collaboration, and the role of scientists in society can still be applied to contemporary scientific developments.

5. What sets "The Education of a Physicist (1965)" apart from other books on science?

Unlike many scientific textbooks or biographies, this book offers a more personal and introspective view of the life of a scientist. It highlights the importance of curiosity, perseverance, and critical thinking in the pursuit of scientific knowledge.

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