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29 years old, undergraduate student, anxious about future

  1. May 22, 2017 #1

    I am an undergraduate student, just finished my third year in physics. I began studying physics in my early 20's and had to drop out and work. 3 years ago, I decided to go back to school and build up a career in Physics. however, I am running out of options and not sure what to do.

    First, having an academic career in my country (turkey) is out of question since there are little to none researchs going on in the country, no positions available what so ever (at least in Physics) therefore I have to pursue a PhD outside. That being said, I've never been outside the country so I don't know what it is like to live in a different country, culture etc. It is obvious that I will not receive any financial aid from my family so I am basically on my own and I have to find a place which will grant me a scholarship enough to survive.

    I love physics, but I feel like it is way too late to accomplish anything, especially while struggling with financial issues. I will be 30 when i graduate and I doubt any reputable university will accept me as a PhD student. My GPA is pretty high, I can get some recommendations but still not sure If it is sufficient. If everything goes right, I will be 36 when I get my PhD, and then comes the post-doc. Harsh truth is, I will not be able to live a decent life, no family, nothing. On the contrary, If i drop out, I will always regret my decision as I wish to contribute something to scientific advencement, even the tiniest bit is enough.

    Long story short, any advice is welcome, about where to apply, what to do, what to expect etc.
    Thanks in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 22, 2017 #2
    Do you want to build that career in Turkey, or somewhere else? If somewhere else, where? If you have never left Turkey, maybe you should try to travel just a bit to get a feel for other places. This could open a lot of options for you.
  4. May 22, 2017 #3
    I could possibly help what country are you/have you moved to?
  5. May 22, 2017 #4
    Hey Zach,
    I am still in Turkey, and planing to leave for PhD.
  6. May 22, 2017 #5
    I don't have a particular country in my mind. In fact, anywhere I can do research and live is fine.
  7. May 22, 2017 #6
    The United States has an abundance of Universities for physics and I'm by the looks of it an abundance of research jobs.

    Here's a list of Universities that are ranked high in physics https://www.usnews.com/education/best-global-universities/physics, I'd suggest looking over their websites and reviewing and comparing the requirements and look at their possible scholarships and other plans that many Universities offer as financial aid.

    I wouldn't be worried you perfectly understand English and that's really all you need if you do choose to go to the U.S.
    What ever country you decide on going to, do research on places to live or part time jobs if needed.
  8. May 22, 2017 #7
    Thank you for your answer, U.S is definitely preferable since It doesn't require a Msc to apply (It is required to have a Msc to apply for phd in Europe and some other countries)
  9. May 22, 2017 #8
    I know two students 10 years older than you who won PhD studentships last month, in physics, at universities ranked (ARWU) top 100 in the world. Funding is a bigger problem for you but since you are open to moving anywhere, you should be able to find something.

    As you can check on https://www.findaphd.com there are quite a few programs with funding available for international students. Also, some countries offer government scholarships for foreign students. For example, MEXT in Japan or DAAD in Germany (they have multiple schemes, some targeted specifically to students from Turkey, some can cover a Masters degree). These tend to be pretty competitive.
  10. May 22, 2017 #9

    Fervent Freyja

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    It's never too late to go back. Education gaps are quite common, especially among mothers. Many wait until their 30's and 40's to complete a PhD, then work for a good 20 years in that area until retirement. Unfortunately, in those cases the women and their children end up paying for not meeting the traditional career schedule on time. You may have less of a problem with the education gap though. We live much longer nowadays and it is no longer the norm to have single career throughout life. There is nothing wrong with taking time off or going back. There is nothing wrong with never contributing something to scientific advancement or even not having a degree at all, it doesn't make the next person more or less valuable to the world. It really boils down to, what can you live with? When you get to your 50's and don't have a family yet, will you regret that much more than having a family early and little success in a career later on? Can you be sure you will have success there at all, and end up with little in the end?

    I think you should go ahead and complete your degree now. It's probably going to hurt a lot and be very difficult, but it could be rewarding later. You can have both a family and career, you will just need to adjust your beliefs and realize that it could take longer than typical. Starting a family in your mid-40's could be something to look forwards to. There is much evidence that the outcomes for families after you are financially stable and older is better for raising children anyway. Think more positively about it. How can you meet both of your goals? Instead of thinking it impossible, because it isn't! Good luck!
  11. May 22, 2017 #10


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    It's a myth that one must finish a PhD by age 30. That's just what is most common.

    There are consequences to doing a PhD in your thirties. Someone in their mid-to-late twenties is often more flexible, less committed to a relationship and has less family responsibilities (such as children to raise). As you get older, these things play a larger role in most people's lives. And there's also the opportunity cost. By their thirties most people want to start paying down a mortgage, or saving for retirement and these are very difficult to do on a graduate student stipend.

    But that said, those are all obstacles of personal choice.

    Most people on graduate admissions committees won't care that you're thirty when you're applying. Some or even many, may see it as a net positive. More mature students tend to be more focused and can sometimes relate better to faculty. Younger students without a lot of life experience can sometimes come with the risk that they're applying to the PhD is because they've only ever known academia and they're afraid of the "real" world and two years into the program they decide academia is not where they want to be.

    Sure there are concerns, but these are challenges, not absolute roadblocks. Lots of graduate students successfully solve the "two body problem" (relationship/marriage). Lots of graduate students start families successfully. Yes, it's less than ideal, but it's not impossible. And in some ways, being a graduate student has advantages. As a working parent in the 9-5 corporate world, you have a lot less time/schedule flexibility than the typical graduate student. Some universities have discounted daycare services for students.

    It's important to remember a few things though. First, an academic career as a professor is not the only way to contribute to the advancement of science. It's probably the most direct way, sure. But what about commercial research and development, inventors, engineers, entrepreneurs, amateur scientists, technological competitions, etc.? Lots of non-academic types make major contributions to science.

    Second, remember that there's no need to tie happiness to a particular career-path. In fact, this can be rather dangerous because you can get trapped in the "I'll be a happy when..." hole. You can be happy digging ditches if you choose to be so.

    Third, remember that most people in physics end up leaving academia at some point anyway. There are way more PhDs trained than there are academic positions available. So it's best to assume that you won't make it regardless of any personal hurdles. That's just where the probability lies.

    The other thing I wanted to mention was about the MSc to PhD progression. I can't speak much to the European system, but in the Canadian system (where I'm from) it's much more common to start with the MSc, but about a year in students will have the option to advance into the PhD program. And those who complete the MSc, but stay in the same general area often complete the PhD a lot faster than in other places where the PhD is started right out of undergrad. So total time in graduate school ends up being about the same. (Plus, you have a nice MSc if after two years you decide you don't want to go on in the field.)
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