Yep, u need root to use the SDK and ADB and have or learn the basics of Unix/Linux commands. It really is not difficult. For ur needs it would only be beneficial should U ever get an app that U suspect will be pulled from the Market. Then U would only need to copy that apk and odd file to ur hard drive.
I am sure U are a proficient programmer, as I did a few searches for the best programming language for a physic major. Most of the hits were from Srs, or Masters candidates. Of course there were Tons of suggestions but not one perfect answer.