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31, "retired", interested in physics, need guidance.

  1. Mar 2, 2017 #1
    Hi everyone, Mark here from Poland (please excuse any grammar errors).

    I've spent the last 10 years building and running a business, and now at 31 I'm financially retired, in the sense that I never have to work for money again and have some money that I would like invest into something that does not necessarily have to turn a monetary profit. Ever since I can remember I've been very interested in physics, and my gut sense tells me that whatever I should be doing next will probably be closely related to that.

    I am however unsure as to how to proceed from here. I see two options:

    1) Study physics at the physics department in Warsaw, learn as much as I can and try to make connections there that could maybe lead to some endeavour in the future.

    2) Self-study math and physics while simultaneously broadening my horizons, reading a lot, and waiting for "an idea" to come to me in the process.

    I believe I am a good self-study, but have no way of proving it or of objectively stating what "good" means: I can only say that, having not studied any math since high school where the most advanced topics I remember are basic trigonometry, I started studying math 7 weeks ago and in that time went over Algebra I/II, Trig, Calc I and Calc II, to the point where I feel I am very comfortable with the fundamental theories behind derivatives and integrals and can solve problems like the ones presented here (http://math.feld.cvut.cz/mt/exd/eed3.htm). I realize this probably doesn't say much and that, in the grand scheme of learning physics, what I've learned so far is barely considered "getting started", but it was the only thing I could offer as any sort of gauge of my "self study potential", if you will, so take it for whatever it is please.

    My basic dilemma boils down to the following:

    - I do NOT plan on pursuing a typical career in academia/research
    - I DO want to sort of blend physics with entrepreneurship
    - I do NOT want to be "just an investor"; rather, I want to actively participate scientifically, even if to a limited degree, in whatever it is I decide to invest in.
    - I can devote 60-70 hours a week to studying.

    I realize this is a very strange question, but I don't know where else to turn with it. I'm worried that 5-6 years in uni will be too long and move at way too slow of a pace. On the other hand I realize there are probably many things I won't be able to learn on my own by just self-studying, despite how exceptional access to information and courses is nowadays thanks to the internet. At the same time, since I don't even know what it is I want to do, I'm not sure if I will even need any knowledge that's beyond what one would be doing during their 2nd or 3rd year in physics (which I can most likely self study efficiently, maybe even beyond that).

    So yeah, it's a bit of a mess right now. To give you examples of the types of "investments" I was considering (this is only an example of my thought process, it's far from being something I've decided on) would be building a small, specialized telescope in Chile to do some research in a field that I find exciting, and participating / helping in the research to the best of my ability while also learning as much as possible in the process.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 2, 2017 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    How about battery technology? We need better batteries that last longer, weigh less, faster recharge and never explode or meltdown.

    There is promising research going on with sodium-ion batteries and with repackaged lithium-ion.

    Better batteries means longer electric car commutes are possible. Repackaging them means maybe a battery switching scheme could be used when you need a recharge (drop your old pack and pick up a new pack) and drive away.
  4. Mar 2, 2017 #3


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    Hello Mark, :welcome:

    What a luxury problem ! Congratulations !
    If I were you I'd go for option 1) for the following reasons:
    • You are offered a structured curriculum where one topic builds on another (Warsaw is a good university, I can assume?).
    • You come into contact with others in physics and mathematics, (electronics, computer science...)
    • You are young enough. I did (with a physics PhD in my pocket) a MSc process engineering curriculum at age 40 and loved it.
    And if you get bored you might do a few exams earlier than in the schedule and skip a year, or do something else in parallel.

    I wonder why you state 'don't know where else to turn' to : the least you could do is go to Warsaw and talk to a dean or some other counsellor !
  5. Mar 2, 2017 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    Perhaps you could fund a lab at Univ of Warsaw with the stipulation that you work with other physicists in it and learn while doing.
  6. Mar 2, 2017 #5


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    I agree that pursuing a formal education is your best bet.

    Anecdotally, a lot of people who attempt self-study run into problems. They tend to fall off course as other things in life come up, they can have wide gaps in their knowledge that they are unable to identify, they don't get regular feedback on their understanding of material, they have less opportunity to hone their skills, they have minimal networking opportunities, etc.

    If you feel like things are going too slow for you (which is rare among students) there are other things you can do to make life interesting. You can, for example, try to get involved in a research project. Or you could join some kind of competitive engineering team.
  7. Mar 2, 2017 #6


    Staff: Mentor

    Yes, these are the issues that plague me in trying to learn some advanced math on my own.

    Something always comes up or I'm too tired at the end of the day.

    Oh to be so old and made of metal.
  8. Mar 2, 2017 #7


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    I would just like to point out that this is a very important thing when learning physics and maths. If you go wrong and your misunderstandings are not properly corrected, you are very likely to get stuck in a bad way of thinking. In itself, unlearning that could take as long as a Masters.
  9. Mar 3, 2017 #8
    Thanks to everyone for your opinions, they're extremely valuable.
  10. Mar 3, 2017 #9
    I agree. If you have the time and money, the structured program of a physics major is your best bet.

    Even with a PhD, I have gone back and taken a number of undergraduate courses to broaden my horizons and sharpen my skills in several areas: biology, organic chemistry, meteorology, music theory. Well structured courses and sequences of courses have properly designed presentations, problem sets, projects, and assessments to build your knowledge base and skill sets in ways that are often missed through self-study.
  11. Mar 8, 2017 #10
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