What does it take to succeed in physics and math?

  • Thread starter lubuntu
  • Start date

Single Most Imporant Predictor of Physics/ Math success

  • Hard work

    Votes: 37 35.9%
  • Inate Ability for science and math

    Votes: 3 2.9%
  • Combination of inate ability and hard work

    Votes: 32 31.1%
  • IQ

    Votes: 3 2.9%
  • Previous exposure to material in any form

    Votes: 2 1.9%
  • Passion for the subject

    Votes: 23 22.3%
  • Previous academic record

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Undergrad School Attending

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • Other( Please post to explain)

    Votes: 3 2.9%

  • Total voters
    103
  • #26
117
2
I conjecture that most of us do not work in the "optimal area" for our different innate abilities.

I wonder how much difference that makes though. As a student I always wondered had I selected area B, it would be much better than me going into area A.
 
  • #27
48
0
In my opinion, passion. But I think hard work, aptitude and passion are interwoven in a way such that it's rare to see people with a serious deficiency in one of them.
 
  • #28
103
0
"Combination of inate ability and hard work".

I remenber once reading that one of Isaac Newton's talent was that he had no intellectual fatigue. He never gave up on a problem and used to stick on it for hours and hours even days! Sometimes without sleeping or eating.
Dear lord... those scientists need to hurry their **** up. Give me the super pill already.
 
  • #30
245
0
I think hard work is overrated unless you're an experimentalist. Theoretical physicists do a lot of studying, but I doubt that guys like Einstein or Heisenberg were particularly hard workers. They were just extraordinarily talented men.
 
  • #31
exposure

if you learned something, you won
 
  • #32
MathematicalPhysicist
Gold Member
4,328
226
I think hard work is overrated unless you're an experimentalist. Theoretical physicists do a lot of studying, but I doubt that guys like Einstein or Heisenberg were particularly hard workers. They were just extraordinarily talented men.
I believe they were lucky more than talented.
You need luck in this game, and you can't quantify luck.
 
  • #33
1,654
2
I believe they were lucky more than talented.
You need luck in this game, and you can't quantify luck.
Luck in theoretical physics? It's theoretical and abstract. It begins in your head. I could see how good fortune might assist the prepared experimentalist but not so much the theoretical physicist.
 
  • #34
cristo
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
8,107
73
Luck in theoretical physics? It's theoretical and abstract. It begins in your head. I could see how good fortune might assist the prepared experimentalist but not so much the theoretical physicist.
You need an amount of luck so that the subject you work on gets funding, or an experiment to disprove your theory is funded, etc.
 
  • #35
1,654
2
You need an amount of luck so that the subject you work on gets funding, or an experiment to disprove your theory is funded, etc.
Well, part of that is business savvy, though, too, being able to effectively market yourself and your research. Networking is a very very powerful tool in business, the corporate world, academia, etc.
 
  • #36
245
0
I believe they were lucky more than talented.
You need luck in this game, and you can't quantify luck.
You aren't going to stumble your way into re-writing the laws of physics. Men like Einstein, Maxwell, and Newton were incredibly talented. They were lucky to have lived when physics was in its infancy, but many of the greatest minds of their time failed to make the same discoveries.
 
  • #37
1,707
5
You aren't going to stumble your way into re-writing the laws of physics. Men like Einstein, Maxwell, and Newton were incredibly talented. They were lucky to have lived when physics was in its infancy, but many of the greatest minds of their time failed to make the same discoveries.
that to me implies they had good luck, not that they were smarter than the rest.
 
  • #38
141
1
You need an amount of luck so that the subject you work on gets funding, or an experiment to disprove your theory is funded, etc.
Few great discoveries were funded directly. You need a very intelligent researcher who has enough passion to work without needing funding. For revolutionary projects are rarely noticed in their beginning stages, and funding institutions often care more for politics than they do for true science.
 
  • #39
1,654
2
that to me implies they had good luck, not that they were smarter than the rest.
Non-sequitur.

How do you have good luck formulating new laws and theories of math and physics? You don't. It doesn't make any sense to have "lucky" in formulating theoretical physics. In experimental physics, perhaps.
 
  • #40
989
125
Non-sequitur.

How do you have good luck formulating new laws and theories of math and physics? You don't. It doesn't make any sense to have "lucky" in formulating theoretical physics. In experimental physics, perhaps.
of course it does, once all the theory writing is done its down to luck that the theory is provable.
 
  • #41
1,707
5
Non-sequitur.

How do you have good luck formulating new laws and theories of math and physics? You don't. It doesn't make any sense to have "lucky" in formulating theoretical physics. In experimental physics, perhaps.
you've obviously never solved a differential equation by "guessing the solution." but that's not what i meant.

science, like any other human endeavor, is political. theories fall in and out of favor for who knows what reasons. there are tons of really smart people who've created incredibly complex and effective theories that you don't know about for those trivial reasons. and it's not always necessarily because such and such theory that does win the competition is better or more predictive. it could be something as mundane as ease of use, what people love to call "elegance." or because such and such scientist published first or popularized first. you forget, or don't know, that einstein didn't invent special relativity, lorentz did, that's we talk about lorentz transformations. he just didn't give it a cute name.
 
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  • #42
1,654
2
you've obviously never solved a differential equation by "guessing the solution." but that's not what i meant.

science, like any other human endeavor, is political. theories fall in and out of favor for who knows what reasons. there are tons of really smart people who've created incredibly complex and effective theories that you don't know about those trivial reasons. and it's not always necessarily because such and such theory that does win the competition is better or more predictive. it could be something as mundane as ease of use, what people love to call "elegance." or because such and such scientist published first or popularized first. you forget, or don't know, that einstein didn't invent special relativity, lorentz did, that's we talk about lorentz transformations. he just didn't give it a cute name.
So, you're telling me Lorentz formulated his transformations by luck? No. Science is not political. You can "politicize" part of science for whatever reason, but science is not inherently political. I'm talking about pure knowledge. And I don't who care who did what first and has recognition for it.
 
  • #43
1,654
2
of course it does, once all the theory writing is done its down to luck that the theory is provable.
No. It's not luck. And a theory isn't "provable" either. Writing theory isn't luck. Experimenting to test the validity of a theory isn't luck either. Observing something that's rare or unexpected, or both, does could contain an element of chance. Guessing six random numbers and winning the lottery is lucky.
 
  • #44
1,707
5
So, you're telling me Lorentz formulated his transformations by luck? No. Science is not political. You can "politicize" part of science for whatever reason, but science is not inherently political. I'm talking about pure knowledge. And I don't who care who did what first and has recognition for it.
you missed my point entirely. lorentz, minkowski, cartan, and ricci are were all equally as responsible for SR and GR as einstein, and plenty more people. but i bet you have no idea who they are.
No. It's not luck. And a theory isn't "provable" either. Writing theory isn't luck. Experimenting to test the validity of a theory isn't luck either. Observing something that's rare or unexpected, or both, does could contain an element of chance. Guessing six random numbers and winning the lottery is lucky.
you have no idea what you're talking about. do you have any how much scientific literature gets published every year and has been since scientific societies started after the enlightenment? how do you think certain things get attention and others don't? why do you think they say go to a good school, publish with such and such - it's to get attention. you're naive academia is really an intellectual free market. there's no such thing.
 
  • #45
f95toli
Science Advisor
Gold Member
3,060
559
No. It's not luck. And a theory isn't "provable" either. Writing theory isn't luck. Experimenting to test the validity of a theory isn't luck either. Observing something that's rare or unexpected, or both, does could contain an element of chance. Guessing six random numbers and winning the lottery is lucky.
I think you are missing the point here: there is more to being a successful scientist than just being good at science. The "business" side of things is also extremely important: being good at writing grant applications, networking etc are also very important skills.
Most scientists can't work on whatever they want; they need to "sell" their research to funding agencies,colleagues etc. And whereas it is true that theoretical physics can be quite a lot cheaper than experimental physics but it is also true that there are generally fewer funding opportunities; especially when it comes to more "exotic" topics.
If the funding agencies decide to stop prioritizing your research area there isn't much you can do about it.

Moreover, there is also quite a bit of luck involved in the science itself. There is no way to predict what combination of skills and experience will be needed to explain a new observation, properties of a newly discovered materials etc. You might be lucky and realize that a technique you have developed is exactly what is needed to explain a new effect.
But, there are plenty of physicists that are really good but never become famous simply because they are working in the "wrong" area.
One example would be the 50% or so of all cosmologist that worked on various theories for a steady-state universe just a few decades ago before data from COBE etc became available; who remembers those theories now?
 
  • #46
1,707
5
and look at what einstein worked on at princeton after GR: hidden variable theories! that which we know now to be untenable. f95toli said it a lot better than i could but i whole concur.

from personal experience:

i go to my department's colloquium's occasionally, especially when someone from a name brand school comes by, and one thing i've noticed about their lectures that they are much better speakers than those from the weaker schools.
 

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