If one doesn't visit university/college and doesn't even take any courses in theoretical physics and learns PhD-level physics from other resources without stepping foot in college or university; Would it then become possible for him to do research?

Most people I've seen emphasize that "you need a real theoretical physicist as a teacher in order to become a theoretical physicist, and that will only happen if you go to college or university" but the Internet exists for a reason.

Most theoretical physicists that I have questioned about this, just have a feeling of "I crossed the river, met a lot of people, cut many trees and spent a lot of time living in the woods coarsely to get a single apple. But he didn't do all of that and instead laid comfortably in a bed and received a single apple without doing anything." In other words, it invokes jealousy or something similar.

In my opinion, learning what a doctoral candidate in theoretical physics knows isn't impossible but can be done with some patience and hard work, without going to college. But is it even possible to formulate a thesis or do research in the field and submit it to journals?

  • 3
    If you were in the eighteenth century, yes (the lack of internet notwithstanding); nowadays, no. – Massimo Ortolano Jul 18 '15 at 16:04
  • 5
    "The internet exists for a reason" --- but the reason is not the training of theoretical physics researchers. – Andreas Blass Jul 18 '15 at 17:46

It all depends on what you mean by "possible":

  1. It's certainly possible in principle. Educating yourself to do high-quality theoretical physics research is within the range of human achievements, and if you manage to do this, then you will be able to publish your work in professional journals.

  2. It's probably not possible in practice. Most people who would be capable of becoming good theoretical physicists would find it extremely difficult without teaching, mentoring, and guidance. Most people who think they have taught themselves to do high-quality research are completely wrong. Doing this successfully seems to require a rare combination of talent, motivation, and favorable circumstances. (For every Ramanujan, there are thousands of actual crackpots.)

  3. Graduate school is not an obstacle to becoming a researcher, but rather a form of assistance. Even if you can teach yourself to do research on your own, it will be much harder to achieve your full potential without mentors as well as a larger community of peers.

I doubt the physicists you've spoken to are jealous, but rather skeptical of whether it's feasible. Even though it's theoretically possible, it's just not a reliable or promising plan.

| improve this answer | |
  • 6
    You also need to factor in that you probably have a regular 9-5 in addition to errands and family life. It leaves precious little time for self-enrichment and without a formal, rigorous training, it's pretty damn impossible to make any contribution. 100 years ago, sure, but today? No. Mathematical physics operates at an extremely high level and takes a decade to even be good at these days. – Cameron Williams Jul 18 '15 at 17:21

Most people I've seen emphasize that "you need a real theoretical physicist as a teacher in order to become a theoretical physicist, and that will only happen if you go to college or university" but the Internet exists for a reason.

The people who told you this is are right. It is true that you can learn some theoretical physics by reading books or searching the internet. However, doing physics and reading physics are two very different processes. I won't go so far as to say that independent research without formal education is impossible, but one big reason why graduate school is a better alternative if you want to do science is the people you will meet in your program. By doing research with your peers and your advisor and attending journal clubs and lab meetings, for example, you learn how to think like a scientist and how quality science is done. Although the role of the human factor may seem unstructured and ambiguous, I think most people will agree that students become scientists by interacting and imitating the scientists around them, and this experience cannot be gained by simply browsing the internet.

| improve this answer | |

With a large amount of time and dilegence and patience, yes. A lot of colleges are moving towards opencourseware, some professors are doing their own youtube series and you can also look up what materials are assigned to the courses you would have had to had taken had you gone to college, acquire that same material (textbooks, etc) most if nothing else would be available at a colleges bookstore, most of which you can order online from, and simply read the material, watch the video series, challenge yourself etc.

In the long run, I used to argue that you didn't need college at all, in fact I've been an advocate for free/online courses long before video streaming was a thing. However, I would now say that although you could do it with out college you would be missing a huge advantage that colleges offer. With college that tell you what you need to know and consider the question, if you don't know then how do you know what you don't know and what you need to know? Sounds silly but its not. Colleges offer collaboration with peers which by itself is huge benefit.

Given the option, and given the options I would strongly recommend the college path.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    And money, in many cases. Lab equipment can be expensive. Sharing those costs helps. – keshlam Jul 18 '15 at 17:24
  • Massive online courses have some positive qualities, and you can probably learn a fair amount of physics material that way, but this question is about preparing to do research. It is telling that taking courses is a very small part of a PhD program: one thing you really need is strong mentorship, which can't be found on YouTube. – user34397 Jul 19 '15 at 2:50
  • in a nutshell, given enought time, patience, and money....yes. – ydobonebi Jul 19 '15 at 3:41

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.