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I've had my IQ measured on multiple tests over the past several decades. The first time was in middle school and it was measured at 120. I guarantee you that I didn't care about the result when I took that test as a kid. I probably wanted to get it over with. Much later in life, and consistent with another time later in life, my IQ was measured at 138. I am a believer that these measurements can vary with motivation, health, alertness, sleep deprivation, and other psychophysiological factors.

Based on my measured IQ range of 120-138, I'd like to see an answer to the following questions:

What is the probability that I could complete a PhD in Mathematics or Physics? What is the probability that I could contribute at least slightly significantly to either of those fields over the long term as a PhD?

One of my "best" qualities is that I'm very tenacious regarding problem-solving. I might not get there the quickest, but I don't give up until I do or the pursuit begins to interfere with other aspects of life. People might accuse me of being physically lazy, but there's no way they can accuse me of being problem-solving lazy. I'm the kind of person who will hire a home maintenance technician as a last resort only because I don't have the tools. I'm pretty frugal.

I feel pretty inferior to many of the people who have posted comments on StackExchange.

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  • @Mad Jack - Thanks Jack. No. I definitely don't have that attitude. If someone asks for my help they get it, unless they and I have some issue. Jan 25, 2015 at 17:04
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    Not sure there is a solid relationship between high IQ and completion of a PhD in any field; however, if you're the type of student who goes around with an attitude of "I don't have to help out with [insert tedious research task here] because I have a "high" IQ score," then, no, I don't expect that to work out too well.
    – Mad Jack
    Jan 25, 2015 at 17:04
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    You are guaranteed to be a modern day Carl Friedrich Gauss, and to buddy up Terry Tao. So it's a definite yes! Jan 25, 2015 at 18:42
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    I don't really agree with the downvotes. The OP is worried about something so he's asking a question. The answer is that he's wrong to worry..but that means that he's right to ask the question! Jan 25, 2015 at 20:40
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    What is the probability that I could complete a PhD in Mathematics or Physics? -- Exactly 47.2%.
    – JeffE
    Jul 24, 2016 at 14:13

6 Answers 6

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IQ is a terrible test for anything but certain types of pattern matching and to aid in educational intervention, and its limitations are well understood by actual psychological practitioners. There are correlations, but the correlations are pretty loose. With all those caveats, according to Wikipedia, you are totally in a reasonable range to get a Ph.D..

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  • @ jakebeal - Thanks. I think this site agrees with what you, keshlam, and Mad Jack said: iqcomparisonsite.com/Occupations.aspx Jan 25, 2015 at 17:18
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    @Inquisitive Notice the extremely high overlap between janitors and college processors (and pretty much everything else) on that page: that should be enough to say that IQ is a terrible predictor of occupational fitness.
    – jakebeal
    Jan 25, 2015 at 17:21
  • @ jakebeal - I know Jake. Isn't that incredible?!? Jan 25, 2015 at 17:28
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    @Inquisitive I don't find it any more incredible than finding a weak correlation between parental wealth and career. What is more surprising is how strongly people believe that IQ is meaningful...
    – jakebeal
    Jan 25, 2015 at 18:21
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    @jakebeal: Well...janitors are special, as is well known. That's the Good Will Hunting effect. Jan 25, 2015 at 18:53
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Others have given the right answer several times over, but there are still some nuances that I would like to hit.

Most importantly I would say: IQ tests are neither administered by the post K-12 academic community nor used for them by any purpose.

They are -- sometimes, anyway -- given to children to identify them as being eligible (or not) for certain "Mentally Gifted" programs. In this way, I took an IQ test when I was seven years old. I did it because my best friend had taken one and got to spend one day a week in a special "MG" classroom. I walked by the classroom one day and -- well, this was a while ago, but the way I remember it, I saw a big room which did not have individual student desks and a bunch of kids milling about in it. I knew it was the MG room because my friend was there. Some other kids placed a crown made of brown construction paper on his head, and he was grinning from ear to ear. So I asked my parents to arrange for me to take the test, took it, and some of my other friends followed suit and got to spend one day a week with a special MG teacher doing much more fun stuff. Sometimes it was on the brainy side: I remember learning about prime numbers there, for instance. But there was also a bit of what I would identify now as a Montessori-style emphasis on manipulating and building things. I did this in the second through the fourth grades, then I went to a different middle school with no such program, and then when I went to my high school those same test results allowed me to take a few special "MG" courses, including creative writing. (Looking back on this it all seems a bit unfair.) They also kept our test records in a big file cabinet in the "MG room" (as before, a fun place to hang out), and one day when everyone else was gone, I decided to sneak a peek. I remember being a bit disappointed at my score: I think it was in the 130's, just like the OP.

Once someone is a college or university student, I see no point whatsoever in taking IQ tests: rather famously, the academy administers plenty of tests of its own, which we largely do believe determine students' potential and suitability for future study. Should you get a PhD in math or physics? Who cares what your IQ is: assuming you went to a partway reputable institution, what matters is how you did in your coursework there. Wondering how you'll measure up against other ambitious aspiring mathematicians? Take the math subject GRE. This is not telling you everything -- and certainly, whatever it's telling you should be calibrated against your prior training and education -- but it's telling you a lot more than an IQ test, and whether you believe that or not, many graduate admissions committees do.

I feel like a few of the other answers are assuming that IQ is measuring how "academically smart" you are. I really don't think that's the case at the tail end of the spectrum that you're talking about. I mentioned my IQ above: it's in the top 2%, I guess. (Allow me to omit the ritual reading of the CV, but:) My academic intelligence is considerably higher than my IQ test would indicate. By this I don't mean to imply that the IQ test "got me wrong" or anything like that: my spatial reasoning skills are average at best; I have never completed a crossword puzzle in my life; I am only moderately quick at solving the kind of logical puzzles that appear on the LSAT. But I have a big vocabulary and can read and write quickly and well; my memory becomes much sharper and clearer on anything academic than, say, political or financial matters; and I can learn and do mathematics quickly and easily (relatively speaking, of course: if the famous plastic philospher had actually said "math is hard", she would still have gotten in trouble but she would not have been wrong).

So I want to be honest and say that I do believe in academic intelligence -- though I heartily agree that it is not everything, and again in a certain tail end of the spectrum it ceases to be very important -- but I just don't think it's the same as having a "high IQ". I think that the probability of academic success of anyone with an IQ of, say, 125 or above does not depend on their IQ in a meaningful way. It's really one of the last things you should be thinking about in making a career decision of this kind.

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  • Thank you Dr. Clark. I look at many of the answers people provide in the math and physics sections and feel inferior. I like math and physics to the point that I try to solve problems for fun sometimes. I am neither a physicist nor a mathematician, but I look on them with envy because I perceive them to know secrets about the universe. I remember being blown away by things like Gauss' Law, Green's Theorem, Stoke's Theorem, etc. When I first learned to integrate, I was astounded that I now had the power to figure volumes for irregular shapes. Jan 25, 2015 at 20:52
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I think that variations in IQ (at least on the higher end of the scale, where the OP is) would have very little relevance to the ability to earn a PhD.

First, IQ tests measure one's ability to answer questions that the test writer already knows the answers to. A PhD measures one's ability to answer questions that nobody knows the answers to yet. So nobody (not even the people who write these tests, whoever they are) is qualified to write an IQ-like-test that would simulate earning a PhD.

Second, IQ tests take a matter of minutes or hours whereas earning a PhD takes years. The ability to think quickly is important for an IQ test but less so for a PhD. On the other hand, perseverance is important for a PhD but less so for an IQ test.

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As others have said, IQ isn't the best predictor of academic success. The IQ test is criticized for focusing on a quite narrow band of intellectual skills. Traits like creativity, collegiality, and tenacity are just as important as one's "intelligence," as measured by the IQ test.

Since you asked specifically about math/physics, one of the better examples would be Richard Feynman, who was a Putnam fellow while at MIT and shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Julian Schwinger and Sin-Itiro Tomonaga. Many sources have claimed that Feynman self-reported his IQ as a "merely respectable" 125. So, while Feynman did have a relatively high IQ, his accomplishments in math/physics cannot be ascribed to his IQ alone.

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  • @ Florian - Thanks for the tidbit about Feynman. Very interesting. Jan 25, 2015 at 20:28
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IQ is only part of the question. Determination, wisdom(how you apply your intelligence), and other factors also enter into it. You don't have to be a genius to do good PhD work. Remember, 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration... and a bit of good luck never hurts.

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Haven't read all the other answers but what I can say is that your IQ score doesen't exactly predict nothing. It could estimate your maximum level of academic achievement as it has correlations, CORRELATIONS, no relations of causation to academic achievement.

One of my "best" qualities is that I'm very tenacious regarding problem-solving. I might not get there the quickest, but I don't give up until I do or the pursuit begins to interfere with other aspects of life. People might accuse me of being physically lazy, but there's no way they can accuse me of being problem-solving lazy. I'm the kind of person who will hire a home maintenance technician as a last resort only because I don't have the tools. I'm pretty frugal.

I feel pretty inferior to many of the people who have posted comments on StackExchange.

This may be more important than a score to predict anything. IQ, the number, alone can mean nothing. Say someone has an IQ of 160, next day is hit by a car and dies, had 5 years. Isn't the next Einstein. Life is extremelly complicated to a "factor" of "sucess" determine anything. Intelligence is a complicated subject, your IQ maybe have helped to got you where you are now, but your house, your city, the world economy, a lot of factors too.

Dawn P. Flanagan, Patti L. Harrison-Contemporary Intellectual Assessment_ Theories, Tests, and Issues-The Guilford Press (2012)

Malcolm Gladwell Outliers: The Story of Success Little, Brown and Company on November 18, 2008.

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