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How is it possible for a grad student to do research in any modern area of string theory like AdS/CFT or ABJM if they need to start grad school by having to learn QFT from scratch?

Is there a time-line over which this is even possible?

Or one necessarily needs to come to grad school knowing at least Polchinki level string theory to be able to understand AdS/CFT or ABJM? I mean even if one has worked through enough of Polchinki's book one is likely to stare blank at the ABJM paper. Then is it even possible for someone to get to research level with something like this if they start from basic QFT in grad school?

I would like to know what if is a practical implementation.

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...graduate school = as many years as it takes you to learn something and then make a contribution. Thus your question is meaningless. You should instead inquire about whether a graduate school will accept you when you are missing certain knowledge -- anyway this question doesn't belong on this forum. – Chris Gerig Feb 19 '13 at 23:58
Warren Siegel has proposed a graduate curriculum here which culminates in string theory (dont forget to read the joke papers).And Gerard t'Hooft has listed some potentially useful study resources here – Dilaton Feb 20 '13 at 0:00
A more general version of this question would be great for - all too often undergraduate institutions don't convey how some fields are almost unapproachable if you don't start studying them early, well ahead of even the most advanced required curriculum. And offering a counterexample to what @ChrisGerig says, there are plenty of schools (like mine) that put a hard cap on how long your PhD is allowed to take. – Chris White Feb 20 '13 at 1:56
If you're at a good institution and have a good advisor, I think that a lot is possible; just look at some past PhD theses online at some prestigious theory groups. By the way: AdS/CFT is by now covered in all string textbooks (MIT has a class about it). – Vibert Feb 20 '13 at 8:53
1 an example of what can be done in grad school: – Vibert Feb 20 '13 at 9:45

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