26yo. USMC veteran, pilot & physics lover needing guidance

In summary: I would recommend joining this club. It is a great place to meet other physics majors, and they can provide help with the work-load. They can also sometimes provide opportunities to do research projects with professors. Above all, remember to keep your focus on the goal: getting a degree in physics. There is a lot of work, but it is definitely worth it.
  • #1
Where do I start...

I am a 26 year old OEF Marine veteran. I enlisted as a crew chief/powerplants mechanic, made it through combat aircrew school, mech school, survival school and a whole gang bang of other schooling. Then I spent time in Afghanistan working aboard Ospreys flying casvac, combat support and a whole load of other things they never tell you about when you're 17 and stary eyed with nothing to lose but your life. Parents couldn't afford college so that meant the GI Bill would. Somewhere in those years I scrapped together a pilots license with a helicoter add on. Benefits of working with pilots I guess.

After that place got through with me I was 23, had a nice onset of ptsd, had lost my mom to brain cancer, my friends to either war or alcohol(so war) and had messed up every relationship with a girl I'd been sober enough to meet. My old squadron buddy hooked me up with his family in Alaska where I traded work for bush pilot experience. Stumbled into a nice paying job in the oil fields on the north slope, make $95k to freeze my butt off every two weeks then back to live in San Diego(because I could) when I'm not. Not bad for a poorly educated, non degree holding jarhead right?

So when I ask the folks on these forums these questions I hope you all understand I am by no means a wet behind the ears high schooler or burger flipper.

So a little info on me: I did mediocre in H.S. no AP classes but like to believe I'm not so unintelligent. I love physics and science, have read everything from G.E.B to half the books on Musk's must read list to Philosophy books on Friedrich Nietzsche, de Button and a many more plus just about every Scientific American mag they've put out in my lifetime. I built working rockets and plastic model airplanes as a kid and read every science text I could when I wasn't studying the opposite sex. Needless to say I am way behind academically.

Every one of you on here, engineers, physicists and whomever else with a college education, you are whom I respect most in this world. I like to think you're all why I went through that mess for. So now I need your advice on if it's possible for me to pull off the madness in education you have all been through while still having a life outside of school(feel like I've earned one)?

My preferred options:

Aerospace engineering B.S. / Robotics Engineering M.S.

Physics B.S. / Economics M.S.

I love theoretical physics but having read many of these threads to know it doesn't have the best job outlook. Figured an eco. M.S. would help with that. Also I don't give a rats behind about future income. It's nothing compared to being proud of what you do. I just want to join the ranks of those of you who matter in this life while finally enjoying what I do. Wouldn't hurt to support a family if I can convince my gf I'm worth it haha. So, thoughts, criticism, suggestions? Am I too old to pull off seven+ years of college? Is it worth having no social life? Can you still have a social life? Start with Community College working part time and accept the extra years of college? Beat my head on a rock and lick paint for a circus? Any help here girls and boys I'd love you all for any I can get. :)
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  • #2
Hi there,
And let me say thank you for your service.

I am a 23 year old physics major about to graduate from a south-eastern US university with a B.S Physics and B.S Chemistry.
I have found that a social life is possible along with the intense amounts of studying. What it took for me was to train myself to finish my work first, before I went to do something social. I got accustomed to working on physics problems, and I really enjoy doing them.

When I first started the program I was very fidgety and would not have liked to sit down and work out math problems. Most of this was because I enjoy the outdoors, and so if the sun is out, I feel compelled to be outside. But what I've found is that the work-load is light enough that I can simply set aside time from dark to about midnight each night and work on the problems. This is when it is quietest on campus or in any apartment complex (no loud car engines). You will definitely need peace and quiet. I recommend a nice study area with no distractions from your girlfriend or anyone else.

The physics community at your university is likely to have a club called SPS (society of physics students) where you can find a group of science-loving friends. Personally, I found my chapter to be a bit to nerdy, loving video games and the internet, and not the outdoors-which is what I am into. But suppose you have a group of friends already. Yes, you will have tons of time to spend with them. And you will be doing something that you will be proud of. Every time I finish a theoretical physics problem it is a huge self-esteem boost to know the perceived difficulty of what I have just done according to my past self.

I think you will love the college experience in general and the high-level problem-solving skills you will gain from physics in particular.

Good luck,

  • #3
No, you're definitely not to old. So don't worry about that. It might take you some to get caught up though, so be prepared to work.

But first, you mentioned quite some psychological issues in your OP. That's not good. Try to get them out of the way first. You don't want to struggle with PTSD or depression or whatever while you're supposed to do hard problem sets. So really, I wouldn't enroll in college until you've seen a psychiatrist about your issues and get somewhat better.

Second, you didn't mention how good your math and physics is. So I'll assume you know nothing at all. In either case, you don't have AP classes. So do not go to a university right away since they're expensive. Try to enroll in a community college. They will assess your skills and put you in the right class. Don't be discouraged if you have to start quite low. At community college you should try to get calculus out of the way and take Gen Eds. Then you're ready for an actual college.

There are quite some people here who come from a military background. Maybe @Drakkith can provide some help?
  • #4
At BS level you can still have a life outside school - advanced degrees, realistically(?), you can forget about it.
BS is usually light enough that many students have a part time job and SO at the same time.
I've known people doing BS phys and MS econ at the same time... it's doable: most people do them one at a time.

A lot depends on your college and your ability to get back into intellectual work.
If you meet entry requirements and can afford tuition, then you should be able to make a go of it.
The college may also provide psych. services and lots of students use these.

I have to be careful about answering this sort of thing though because in NZ (where I am) college is heavily subsidized and even free for many entrants ... medical services are also heavily subsidized and college psych services are usually free. Nobody goes to college unburdened... just some burdens are preferable to others. You'll have to take advise from someone who knows you personally on that point.

I have seen a great many students come and go and seen promising students overbrimming with advantages fail.
Often the messed up people are the ones who make the significant contributions.
Good luck.
  • #5
Pilot0350 said:
Am I too old to pull off seven+ years of college? Is it worth having no social life? Can you still have a social life? Start with Community College working part time and accept the extra years of college?

I'm almost 32 and about to get my Associate of Science from my local community college. I should be starting up at the University of Arizona in the fall, hoping to get a degree in Optical Engineering. You're certainly not too old. Not at all. As for whether you'll have a social life or not, that depends on how many classes you take per semester and how hard they are. I'm taking 15 credit hours this semester (4 classes, two of them considered "hard" by most people) and I spend about 50-60 hours on campus during the weekdays between class, homework, and work as a tutor. My free time on the weekends depends on how much I need to get done.

If you use your Post 9-11 GI Bill then you shouldn't need to work at all as long as you're taking 12+ credit hours each semester. If you take fewer credit hours then they give you less housing allowance every month. That's how I make most of my money every month. I live by myself in a not-too-crappy apartment and can afford phone, internet, food, etc (no car payment though. I payed that sucker off 8 years ago).
  • #6
Age isn't much of a problem. Your talent and work ethic may be. Not being unintelligent isn't enough. Loving to read popular science isn't as helpful as you may like to think, but it should be a good indication of passion. Financial issues may also be a problem.

The main thing it comes down to is how many hours you can sit down at a desk with 100% focus, read textbooks, and work through problems. Ok, the higher your IQ, the less time you have to sit down.
Also, knowing how you learn things is very helpful.As you are older, it does make more sense to think about what kind of job you want, then pick the degree that suits that best. To a 18 year old I would recommend trying what you think you like to study most. In that sense, looking at econometrics/data science or engineering makes sense. But does that overlap with your passion? Most BSc physics programs are programs that only prepare you to do (an MSC and ) a PhD. Their application in the 'real world' is much smaller than that of an engineering or economics degree. Look at your home town. How many businesses there actually do need an expensive supersmart physics PhD? They need cheaper people that get the job done fast and efficiently. With these advanced degrees, the person hiring you will have no idea what amazing things you can do. All she or he thinks about is how you are going to make her/his business more profitable.

I don't recommend people to study and have a part-time job at the same time, though I understand that in some countries, for many people, they don't have the luxurity not to. Networking is probably one of the greatest things you can do in university. I am not very good at it and I am at a top100 uni worldwide, but what I noticed as someone who did vocational education, then went to academic education, is how a large part of my fellow students are people who can't help themselves but be high achievers and they network like crazy. They want to know as many people from as many different years and studies.
And the thing is, I don't think they even realize how important networking can be for them later on. They just do it because they feel like.

It also helps your study results. Especially things like sports. You cannot pull 5 years of intense studies and 3-4 years of PhD research when your main and only focus is academic in nature. Ok, some people can, but you can ask yourself if they are well-rounded people. And in the end it is the well-rounded unusual people that make the most impact, not the completely one-dimensional super-nerds.
  • #7
It sounds like you've been through a lot for a 26 year old. I'm truly sorry to hear about your mother. I've lost loved ones to cancer as well, and it makes it even more difficult that you were overseas serving our country when it happened. Thank you for that.

You sound like a very applied type of person. It sounds like you're very interested in the aerospace route. You could do a major in Aerospace and a minor in physics if you're still interested in some of the theory stuff. I'd highly recommend going to an ABET-EAC accredited aerospace program, which will help in your job search. You can easily market an aerospace degree for business if you do some business internships during your summers. I'm not sure if there is even a need for a master's unless you just want to do one.
  • #8
Enroll in a local 4 year college if it is close, convenient and has some type of engineering program (it doesn't really matter which). Stick with it for 1-2 semesters and then re-evaluate WHAT engineering degree (or something else) you want. Then either transfer to the school (if your grades are good) to the school of your choice, or perhaps by then, the local school will have a BS in what you would be happy with.
Once you have your BS (or BA...) or at least so far along as to feel assured you will graduate and you still want More, look at the MS programs that you like/want.
To think about an MS at this stage is akin to putting Horse before cart.

If there is NOT a local four year college that offers engineering, consider a junior college for a year, then look elsewhere as you discover what your real interests are.
  • #9
Because I'm a BSME, and retired-Industry-now-Academic, I'd recommend Mechanical Engineering. I was told centuries ago by a wise man that if you have a technical bent, want to go into Engineering, but don't know which one, then go ME...it is the broadest of all the Engineering fields. From there, you can easily add on / branch out to other fields (including Aero/Robotics/whatever). The first two years of most Engineering programs are almost identical: maths, physics, chems, language arts, other curriculum-required fluff, etc. Gives you time to practice & polish skills, explore, ask, discover where your compass is pointing. Can easily shift gears in those two years with little or no penalty.

Spend all the time necessary to build mastery of the math subjects...it is the foundation of analytical approach & discipline of thought upon which the remainder of the academic path is built.

1. What career options are available for a 26-year-old USMC veteran with a background in physics?

As a USMC veteran with a physics background, you have a variety of career options available to you. Some potential options include working in defense or aerospace industries, pursuing a career in research and development, or applying your knowledge to a career in finance or technology.

2. How can I transition from military life to a civilian career in physics?

The transition from military life to a civilian career in physics may seem daunting, but there are resources available to help. The USMC Transition Readiness Program offers workshops and training to assist with the transition process, and organizations like Hire Heroes USA and American Corporate Partners provide mentorship and career counseling for veterans.

3. What skills acquired in the military can be applied to a career in physics?

The military provides a variety of transferable skills that can be applied to a career in physics. These skills include problem-solving, critical thinking, attention to detail, and the ability to work in a team. Additionally, the leadership and discipline gained in the military can be valuable assets in any career.

4. Is it necessary to obtain a degree in physics to pursue a career in this field?

While a degree in physics can certainly be beneficial, it is not always necessary to pursue a career in this field. Many technical and analytical roles in industries such as defense, aerospace, and engineering value relevant experience and skills over a specific degree. However, a degree in physics can provide a strong foundation and open up more opportunities for advancement.

5. Are there any organizations or programs specifically for veterans in the field of physics?

Yes, there are several organizations and programs that specifically cater to veterans in the field of physics. The Society of Military Engineers offers networking opportunities and resources for veterans interested in engineering and related fields. Additionally, the USMC Veterans in Science and Technology (VIST) program provides mentorship and career development for veterans pursuing STEM careers.

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