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43 years old and going back to school

  1. Nov 10, 2011 #1
    Hello Folks

    I am a 43 year old guy with only a high school diploma and I am very much considering going back to school for physics. Can I still do it and have a career or am I wasting my time and money?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 10, 2011 #2
    What is your current career? What has drawn you to consider this option? It is all means possible if you really want to put your all into it and try as hard as you can, but you will be in school for a good 10 years at least in order to get a PhD before your career will start.

    Hey, I have a 93 year-old math professor, so you've got time!
  4. Nov 10, 2011 #3
    I currently work for Comcast in the video repair side of their call center.I am incredibly fascinated by physics and science in general. I feel a deep need to expand myself and do things most may consider impossible. I have to admit I do have ADHD but I'm not sure that matters. People like Brain Cox and Lisa Randall have had a huge influence on me and my outlook. I used to be a bigtime self help junkie and somehow became a skeptic.
    Anything else you want to know that might help?
  5. Nov 10, 2011 #4


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    Why don't you start by taking a math class at a community college? You don't have to quit your job, or make any other big life changes. Just dip your toe into the water, see how you like it :smile:.
  6. Nov 10, 2011 #5
    Good idea. I will do that
  7. Nov 11, 2011 #6
    I started my lower division classes part time around 35/36, and finally finished my degree at 41. It's certainly possible, but understand that you'll have little in common (other than your interst in physics) with your classmates, so you'll need a social life outside school. I had "study buddies" but no one that could be called "friend". That was the one thing no one mentioned.
  8. Nov 11, 2011 #7
    I concur with "testing the waters" at a community college. I'm 29 and in a similar boat. I already have a degree in Radio, TV and Film, I worked as a recording engineer for a bit and now in IT support for a production music company. Now I'm reconsidering my path and what passions I follow.

    I'm enrolling in math courses at a community college to get may skills up to the level they need to be to survive undergrad physics and also to test to make sure it's 100% what I want.

    Regardless if someone is a naysayer or says go for it, in the end it's up to you and what you really want to do. You get one chance at this life thing, do what you want, no matter age, etc. If it turns out a path you don't want, this way at most you're out a couple hundred bucks and have a refreshed knowledge of some math.
  9. Nov 13, 2011 #8
    Hello Pookdo - I am 46 and am pondering the same thing you are. However, I have do have BS in physics from Purdue from 1987 and then ended up on a career path that took me away from direct work in the physics field. It is not an uncommon thing I guess for us 40-somethings to wake up and realize that we are all of a sudden not on the path that we should be. Life happens, so we must re-calibrate.

    But, I am considering going for my Masters and my current dilemma is no different than yours. For me, my area of concern is that my bachelors degree is 25 years old, and my mind has not been "in the game" of physics for a long time. I of course fully support your plan, and endorse the idea of testing the waters with some community college courses at night/weekends, etc to wet your beak a little.

    One thing I have to say, pay no attention to the advice of your friends or family. They will tell you you are too old, that at your age you must "learn to like what you do" and not to engage in such silly fanatasies such as getting physics degrees. Keep it secret, when they ask where you are going as you head out to night class, say you are just taking a few classes to "keep your mind sharp" or for professional development, and leave it at that.

    I too, love physics, and always have my nose in a book about it. I lament I never used my degree from Purdue (which was a lot of work) to pursue a direct scientific career. I have used the analytical skills and number crunching abilities gleaned from physics study to work as a pricing analyst and then eventually director of an office in the transportation and logistics field. Analytical abilities have come in handy in this field.

    Many undergad programs advertise that their graduates acquire versatile analytical skills that are useful in a broad range of career fields. This was the path my career as taken, but now I want a career directly in the field of science, thus my desire to go back and get a masters. I think the maturity that us "older" students have, is an advantage. I remember the non-traditional students in my classes, and they were certainly more diligent and serious than us traditional "younger" students. i heard someone that humans' capacity for understanding complex mathematics declines sharply the age of 30, but I want to challenge this notion. Matter of fact, I find this theory quite ridiculous and flawed.

    I dug out my old college calculus book from the attic and went back thru the first 5 chapters to see if I still "had it"....and after a couple chapters, I found that I did...even more so, now. It seemed more clear and made better sense.

    I say, go for it!
  10. Nov 13, 2011 #9
    some community colleges offer calc 1-3, chem 1-2, engineering physics 1-2. all of these will be required for any degree in engineering or physics. also, they will be a lot easier at a community college than they will be at a full university, believe it or not. so taking them at a cc will not only save you money, but really give you an idea of where you stand with advanced subject matter.

    an engineering major you may want to think about is electrical. the pay is good, and the stuff you may learn might be in the same vein as stuff in radio waves, tv electrodes, fiber optics, etc. it might be a more practical application of what you like about physics, idk. also, it would be pretty easy to gain employment with good pay :P
  11. Nov 13, 2011 #10
    It's definitely not too. I have several older students ranging from late 30's to 60's in my electrical engineering classes. However I don't think you mentioned what you wanted to do with your degree? Is this just something your doing out of interest or do you seek a career in the field afterwards? I'm not sure about physics but for engineering age can sometimes hamper you. Your young enough to where this probably won't be an issue. Companies seem to want younger blood that won't retire soon, from my experience.

    Edit - I have add, I started out as a business major thinking I wasn't smart enough to pursue my dream of engineering/cs major. Halfway through I had an epiphany. Don't let that hold you back. I am a top student at my university although I do take medication. Training myself to be dedicated, finding reasons that motivate me and the medication has helped me.
  12. Nov 13, 2011 #11
    Thanks for all the replies.I have to admit I was afraid of math and science all during school. I wasn't a great student but I also had undiagnosed ADHD until a few years ago.I tried going back to school but I couldn't focus and felt like I was there for the wrong reasons. I grew up with parents who had no sense of imagination, logic, or critical thinking. I love them but I am nothing like them.Because of the problems I had growing up with undiagnosed ADHD I was constantly told I was either stupid or retarded.
    I became interested in physics and math from my wife being almost a science junkie.It has become a huge fascination and passion for me.I read about it constantly and I for example I spent today watching a Richard Feynman lecture from the 60's.It's weird because I was and am still so full of self doubt but I am always surprising myself by how everyday I understand things that I never thought I would.I spend my work day dealing with customers who sometimes don't know their own phone number let alone how to turn an actual television on to channel 3 or a different input.
    Not that I am an intellectual giant although I would love to be one.I think I mentioned before that I used to be a self help junkie and I let myself get sucked into a lot dumb crap looking for a quick fix.I guess part of my desire for math and physics comes partly from my anger over wasting so much time and money on hokum.
    I am going to take your advice about community college classes and go from there.I have no plans to tell my family but I do have my wifes support and encouragement. You folks so rock.Thanks a lot
  13. Nov 13, 2011 #12
    dont disappear from us yet, this is a good place to ask for study advice / hw help... it really might help make the difference in your transition back to school.
  14. Nov 13, 2011 #13
    Not going anywhere I promise. Showing my appreciation. I was wondering about the farm equipment link as well
  15. Nov 13, 2011 #14
    Go get a Corvette - you will have a lot more fun in one. ;)
  16. Nov 13, 2011 #15
    ok I'm confused
  17. Nov 13, 2011 #16


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    Yeah, it was a spammer - I reported it.

    Btw, I'd like to warn you about one misconception that a lot of people have.

    Let's suppose you go and take a math class at a community college, like an introduction (or re-introduction :smile:) to algebra. Let's suppose you find it's more challenging than you expected.

    At this point, some people think, "But I want to eventually take classes much harder than this - if I find this intro class is hard, I'll never be able to do advanced work!" And that's totally, totally wrong. You'll be challenged at *every* level as you work up. So don't be surprised when you have a bit of a struggle, and don't think that it makes you unqualified to do what you want to do.

    Best of luck to you!
  18. Nov 13, 2011 #17
    Thank you for the advice. I am expecting challenges. Maybe that's part of why I picked math and physics
  19. Nov 13, 2011 #18


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    As a 47yo who is not as brave, I applaud your desire and intent, and will watch your journey with interest.

    Go you!
  20. Nov 14, 2011 #19
    Yes, you should challenge this. It is a complete and utter lie.
  21. Nov 14, 2011 #20
    Ah, yes. Self doubt. I know it well. It's likely the reason I didn't pursue physics when I was working on my degree. (well, that and the delusion I could make a living in the music recording industry. I have no such delusions about physics ;) ) "I love this, but there's no way I could do it at this level..."

    Once you get the ball rolling I'm sure it will seem much less insurmountable. It's the getting started that many, including myself, can be fearful of. I just remember it's always better to try than not and always regret it.
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