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What does it take to succeed in physics and math?

  1. Hard work

    37 vote(s)
  2. Inate Ability for science and math

    3 vote(s)
  3. Combination of inate ability and hard work

    32 vote(s)
  4. IQ

    3 vote(s)
  5. Previous exposure to material in any form

    2 vote(s)
  6. Passion for the subject

    23 vote(s)
  7. Previous academic record

    0 vote(s)
  8. Undergrad School Attending

    0 vote(s)
  9. Other( Please post to explain)

    3 vote(s)
  1. Dec 9, 2008 #1
    Related to my other thread on which I was trying to gather some of the same information, however this format may be more conducive to revealing the answers I am looking for.

    Which is the most important factor in success for a student entering a physics or math undergraduate degree and hoping to continue on to a Ph.D. in time?

    I forgot one of the key options I wanted to put on so if you think:

    "There is no way to determine if you will be able to grok the concepts of advanced Physics or Math until you try it"

    vote other and please note such.
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 9, 2008 #2

    Although I think this relies on the fact that somebody who is naturally not very good at maths not being passionate about it.

    edit: It also relies on somebody who is passionate about it putting in 'hard' work. Although If they enjoy it, the work is not really hard.
  4. Dec 9, 2008 #3
    if you have talent, great. if not, why bother obsessing about it? if talent can or cannot be developed, the only way to do so is through hard work. why bother with these pointless threads.

    everyone who has ever contributed to science has been an obsessive hard worker. i have not yet heard of anyone slacking their entire life and making leaps of discovery. if their mind was average or beyond is something we'll never know. all that is known is they worked extremely hard. you would be wise to follow their footsteps.
  5. Dec 9, 2008 #4

    I believe that, with the exception of the true greats (Einstein, Gauss, Newton, etc.), most physicists and mathematicians do no possess much more innate ability for the subject than most college-capable people. They were just lucky to have parents and/or mentors who steered them along that path, and the ability to dedicate themselves to something for an extensive period of time. Someone of average ability (like myself) can certainly make up for it with extensive studying and practice. And there have, of course, been many, many documented geniuses (in terms of IQ) throughout the years who did not accomplish anything significant because they lacked the drive to work hard in the field.

    Ideally, one would have both genius and drive, but that's so rare that it's unreasonable to say that these two qualities exclusively account for success.
  6. Dec 9, 2008 #5
    khemix the point of the thread is to discover the opinion of people who have succeed in these areas as to what the the most important quality is. You voiced that opinion as hard work and make a good case for that. I am not trying to figure out if there is a way to cheat myself into being a great scientist I just wanted peoples' opinions. Why is the thread then pointless?
  7. Dec 9, 2008 #6
    This thread is pointless because you will not gather only the opinion of successful scientists. Your methodology is quite poor for your stated purpose.

    Successful scientists will tell you that it is hard work alone - end of story.
  8. Dec 10, 2008 #7
    That has got to be wrong :approve:
  9. Dec 10, 2008 #8
    I believe that you have to have great amount of understanding and good amount of practice and not forget imagination( especially when dealing with sciences ) . since math+ physics are not easy subjects, I believe that people who were exposed to the material when they were in middle school ( like people from 3rd world countries ) will have more understanding than those who began to learn it in college, and you really really have to work hard and spend some quality time with the book.
  10. Dec 11, 2008 #9
    Passion for a subject and dedication, 99% of the time this will trump a gifted person who doesn't give a #$#@.
  11. Dec 12, 2008 #10
    Seems very presumptuous. I assume you have surveyed the vast bulk of successful scientists and they have turned out to be so homogeneous in their responses.

    Personally I think that passion precedes the desire to work hard, and talent generally precedes passion. Talent might depend on i.q. I don't think that by general measure most successful scientists and mathematicians are lacking in the i.q. department either. Especially those involved in the more theoretical/abstract work.
  12. Dec 12, 2008 #11
    As they say, the bad news is there is no substitute for time in the lab. The good news is there is no substitute for time in the lab. While this might not be as true for theorists, there is no longer any place for the "lazy genius" in science. I have talked to a great many very successful scientists, in fact, and not a one of them has ever told me that they got to where they are by being super brilliant, or just passionate about their work. They wanted success, they put in the work it took do be successful. Simple story.
  13. Dec 12, 2008 #12
    Yes, that is true, but you still need some sort of baseline for intelligence. I would think most people cannot get the math for the final year of high school, let alone quantum mechanics (or <insert upper level phys/math course here>). It might be because they simply aren't interested, but there are also those who choose those (high school!) math courses as an elective (so it's voluntary) - and no matter how hard they try, they end up near failing or ~60%. And that's not even calculus yet.

    But other than that, I certainly agree with you that hard work beats sheer genius any time, provided both of them are able to get there.
  14. Dec 12, 2008 #13
    I voted hard work... because I've read about this term called neuroplasticity.

    But I think emotional stability is the main factor here. All my opinions:

    1. No false motives. You did not take up the career choice for boasting rights; you're not trying to "measure up" to your peers or family members like you got to prove something.

    2. You selected the career choice purely on your interests, you probably like to daydream about things related to math & physics.

    3. Accepting the fact that you'll probably have little or no time for yourself anymore without losing your peace of mind ; a.k.a sacrificing your current lifestyle and (the way I see - choosing a new persona for yourself in society like, "I am going to be a mathematician, and that's what my life is going to be about"

    4. Emotional stability.
    5. Emotional stability. Just how sure and determined are you?

    6. Visit a cognitive psychologist.
  15. Dec 12, 2008 #14
  16. Dec 14, 2008 #15
    A great *physics* mentor, and (without great luck) the chutzpah to go out and find one...

    Examples abound. Faraday's pursuit of Davy is perhaps the purest example. Note, also, he put in some hard work before and after finding his mentor. Note, also, Davy (and his wife) treated Faraday badly at the social & career level, but Davy had to treat him well at the scientific level as (i) Faraday was prepared to put up with him without recourse to drink (ii) he made himself indispensable to Davy's work.

    So don't look (primarily) for the 'nice guy' mentor. Look for the genius-earth-shaker and put up with his evil ways while learning everything you can from him.
  17. Dec 14, 2008 #16
    hard work + smarts
  18. Dec 14, 2008 #17


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  19. Dec 14, 2008 #18
    I completely disagree with that.
  20. Dec 14, 2008 #19


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    Then you'd be wrong. You have to have some luck in that the projects you work on go somewhere, otherwise you won't be a successful scientist.
  21. Dec 14, 2008 #20
    I never went into graduate studies in math or science.. so I'm not sure if my advice would relate to the question you are asking..

    But for me, Math came naturally, it was like another language that was easy to communicate in and to learn new concepts with minimal practice.

    Physics was a different story. I had a sh!tty HS physics teacher and I went to an engineering school where physics was taught by a top professor. I essentially went into that class not knowing anything. But at the time, I was trying to keep a perfect GPA, so I told myself I wouldn't settle for anything less than the best, and I would practice the material until I knew it like the back of my hand.

    So I'd go to the nightly study sessions for the 'slower' kids, I'd practice the homework with friends, I'd look at practice tests and work them through completely over and over again. That took a lot of hard work, and I could have ended up with a B in the course and still been satisfied that I gave it my all.

    My hard work paid off, and I was recognized as the top student on our 3rd exam in the semester. That brought on a lot of unnecessary attention, and I had every frat kid under the sun asking me for help.. and that's when I started teaching it to my peers, not the frat ones of course.

    So, if you want to succeed bad enough, you give it your best and then some. Do more than the person next to you, because that's what it comes down to in real life also.
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