Many people get caught up in details and edge cases, when they should really be worrying about mastering the fundamentals. […]
Most people avoid the fundamentals because they don't have the guts to become great at them. When you eliminate everything that is unnecessary, there are no details to hide behind. You're left with just the basics and whether or not you have mastered them.
It’s easier to tell people that you’re “working on a new strategy” or you’re “doing more research.” It’s hard to say, “I’m focusing on the basics, but I haven't made much progress yet.”
“It is well known that people working at the frontiers of physics often don't know what they are talking about. This statement has at least two meanings. First, the experi- mental evidence available may be incomplete or ambiguous and confusing. Second, the theoretical concepts employed may not have received a precise formulation. In this talk, I will give arguments for the position that it can be useful to refine a theoretical framework to the point at which it is a mathematically precise and consis- tent scheme, even if, as is sometimes the case, the resulting conceptual frame has physical deficiencies. I will offer several examples to illustrate the point. Of course, it is only occasionally that this sort of enterprise can help in the hunt for the Green Lion, the ultimate Lagrangian of the world.” A. Wightman in “The usefulness of a general theory of quantized fields”
When Paul A. M. Dirac visited the University of Maryland in October of 1962, I was a first-year assistant professor, and I had to provide convenience for him. At that time, I was confused. The Physical Review Letters was constantly sending out new words, such as Regge poles, N/D method, bootstrap dynamics, strip approximation, etc. However, to me, they did not sound like the physics I really wanted to do. I was fortunate enough to spend 30 minutes alone with Dirac. I asked him what I should do in physics. He said American physicists should spend more time to understand Lorentz covariance. This was a totally unexpected answer to me.
this is our aim in physics, not just to describe nature, but to explain natureS. Weinberg
My advice to new students? Read deep. Some of my best ideas have come from reading old papers in random places that nobody cites.