43 years old and going back to school

  • Thread starter PookDo
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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?
 

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  • #2
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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!
 
  • #3
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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?
 
  • #4
lisab
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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:.
 
  • #5
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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:.

Good idea. I will do that
 
  • #6
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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.
 
  • #7
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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.
 
  • #8
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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!
 
  • #9
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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
 
  • #10
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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.
 
  • #11
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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
 
  • #12
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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
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.
 
  • #13
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Not going anywhere I promise. Showing my appreciation. I was wondering about the farm equipment link as well
 
  • #14
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Go get a Corvette - you will have a lot more fun in one. ;)
 
  • #15
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Go get a Corvette - you will have a lot more fun in one. ;)

ok I'm confused
 
  • #16
lisab
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Not going anywhere I promise. Showing my appreciation. I was wondering about the farm equipment link as well

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!
 
  • #17
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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!

Thank you for the advice. I am expecting challenges. Maybe that's part of why I picked math and physics
 
  • #18
DaveC426913
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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!
 
  • #19
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i heard someone that humans' capacity for understanding complex mathematics declines sharply the age of 30, but I want to challenge this notion.

Yes, you should challenge this. It is a complete and utter lie.
 
  • #20
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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.
 
  • #21
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If you find yourself asking the question, then that alone is an indication that you need to investigate and see what the itch that makes you seek this is.

Personally, I look at engineering education as a necessary evil. The theoretical foundation needs to be taught to ensure that engineers have a backdrop upon which they can understand new things. The stuff they teach you in school does not resemble what real world engineering is like. So it is imperative that you also talk to some real world engineers to see if you are willing to endure the endless theory lessons so that you can learn to build something practical.

I definitely endorse the idea of taking a math course to see how well you handle it. However, note that while the math is very much like what you'll study later, the real world workplace is usually nothing like this. Talk to an engineer about what his or her day is like...
 
  • #22
I am 48 and and I am graduate student of physics.
my age has not been a problem for me. my brain is OK.
so if I do it, you can do it, too.
 
  • #23
DaveC426913
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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.
Yes, you should challenge this. It is a complete and utter lie.

Well, to be perfectly rational about it, it isn't a complete and utter lie. Studies do show a decline in cognitive ability as we age. It doesn't just jump on us on our 60th birthday.

Where there is error in it is if people interpret statistics of a population as defining the experiences of an individual. i.e. the fact does not constrain william45.
 
  • #24
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If it's truely what you want to do then there's no question, do it! Taking a class or 2 while still working like lisab said is a good idea. I don't think your age matters too much, infact I think it might be an advantage. You have life experience and know the value of money before you spend it on education, which usually means you'll take it more seriously and be more willing to work harder than many of the students who come in fresh from school. I find this the case with me. I'm 24, in my first year of a physics degree and I sometimes get teased as the 'old guy', so be prepared for someone to say something. :smile:
 
  • #25
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Well, to be perfectly rational about it, it isn't a complete and utter lie. Studies do show a decline in cognitive ability as we age.

While I appreciate your emphasis on accuracy, I am strongly of the opinion that much cognitive decline is purely from disuse (no, Sudoku doesn't count). If you start (or keep) doing mathematics and physics in your 40's, it maintains your mental abilities. A new language is good for this as well.

I was aggressive in my statement because there is a general myth in mathematics that it is a young-man's game. This was propagated by Hardy and exacerbated by the Fields medal committee.

Yes, we will all eventually decline but I think, if you keep using your brain, that your abilities will strengthen until much later in life.
 
  • #26
Well, to be perfectly rational about it, it isn't a complete and utter lie. Studies do show a decline in cognitive ability as we age. It doesn't just jump on us on our 60th birthday.

Where there is error in it is if people interpret statistics of a population as defining the experiences of an individual. i.e. the fact does not constrain william45.

Apparently the scales start tipping in the wrong direction at about 30 years old and onward. But, at 30 years old what is the average person doing? It's been quite a few years since the average 30 year old person has graduated from high school/college and become settled in employment, probably fairly comfortable on an intellectual level with everyday tasks and duties at their jobs. In other words the average person at 30 years old has probably ceased any sort of intensive and consistent learning of the challenging variety. This is obviously just my opinion, but I think this may have a lot to do with the sudden downward trend these studies on age related cognitive decline have shown us.

There was a program on the BBC which attempted to address the idea of intelligence, and it featured a group of retirees who had kept themselves challenged throughout life, were given IQ tests and were all found to have raised their scores, between 10 and 15 points from when they had originally taken tests as children.

It seems to me that tackling a formidable intellectual challenge such as studying towards a physics degree could be just the medicine against age related cognitive decline, and not a reason to not do it!

I'm not saying we don't become slower as get older, of course we do... but this idea that our brains turn to concrete when we hit our thirties, unable to absorb any new ideas or concepts is just plain old nonsense.
 
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  • #27
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I wanted to post to this thread as well as I of course saw it 2 seconds after posting a similar question in another thread. I am 29 years old and considering the switch just now, and I worried about graduating with the PhD at around 40. I won't be able to enter a program for another 4-5 years due to life considerations and some necessary undergrad physics catchup ... I'm a Civil Engineer, but pretty much screwed off in Physics III cause I had other engineering courses that worried me more, and I never went beyond that.

Age bias in employment was what worried me more than anything. Maybe it's overconfidence, but I feel I can handle the math and the science. My bigger concern was graduating at 40, being asked "well where have you been the last 10-12 years?" and when I say "building the road you drove to work on", getting turned away and told to go back to what I know.
 
  • #28
ZapperZ
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Your post has been moved. So now you have two posts that are roughly similar.

Next time, if you think you posted in the wrong thread, either do a REPORT of your post, or contact a Mentor.

Zz.
 
  • #29
DaveC426913
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While I appreciate your emphasis on accuracy, I am strongly of the opinion that much cognitive decline is purely from disuse (no, Sudoku doesn't count). If you start (or keep) doing mathematics and physics in your 40's, it maintains your mental abilities. A new language is good for this as well.
Keeping your brain exercised mitigates the decline, but that does not mean the decline is not a factor in aging.

As a software engineer who stretches his brain in six directions every day, I can tell you that staring straight into the double barrels of my pending sixth decade has made this pretty apparent :frown:.
 
  • #30
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Well, I have to say I read this claim about the decline after 30 to comprehend complex mathematics was from an article in (gasp) TIME magazine. It was the issue where they list the top 100 contributors (or so) in various fields for that year (I think it was 2010). In mathematics, there was a 27 year old Austrian girl who was doing groundbreaking work in cancer research using mathematics modeling (I suspect now this is related to complex adaptive theory). The article mentioned that she must hurry to complete this research ...as time is not on her side since the abilities to work with such complex mathematics declines sharply after the age of 30. They were trying to make a point that the age limitations may be physical as well as originating from institutional bias.


This claim could be an example of commercial media ballyhoo, but I also see what they may be saying. I mean...they are talking about earthshattering, top in the field, cutting edge, field-leading research here, and this lady is most likely consumed by her work to the exclusion of other dimensions in her life. Most people, by the age of 30, probably are starting to become engaged with the practicalities of life. Realtionships, family, and other life's complexies catch up to you, distracting you from the singularity of your work. Older folk can also structure their lives to insulate from these distractions (thus the image of the Nutty Professor) but under-30 somethings can [possibly] do this easier without having to put up such a defense.

Sure, there is atrophy after 30, and there are ways to train the brain to mitigate this - but at 46 I can understand the theories behind calculus more deeply than I did as a half-asleep undergrad at 19. Back then, I just wanted to get to the bottom line...which formulas are valuable and how and where do I use them? ( I attribute this mostly to running around in college with the company of engineers, ha!..:). I do concede, at 85 I may not argue this so. There are limits.


Also, for some reason, after 30, many realize that life is multidimensional and actually more interesting that way, and such a singularity loses its appeal after a while.
 
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  • #31
Well firstly well done for even considering it and i think if you love physics do it! I think physics is a subject that really only those who have a passion for it will succeed as it consumes you and your life. Try not to worry about age bias, you've been a Civil engineer so its not like you've done nothing in those years and those who said life experience is an advantage they are right, a big problem with the graduates these days is they are so naive and have no clue how the world works, you do! The only thing you will have to deal with is the youngsters you'll be studying with, which at times will make you want to scream and scream bloody murder, but as those of us with life experience know they are everywhere and we just have to bite our tongue and move on.

Also i don't think we know enough about the brain on the individual person to know when it starts declining. I am always amazed at my father who has the mind and body of a man in his 20's and he is late 60's has been a sprinter all his life and his intelligence only gets better by constantly reading and learning new things i think the brain is a muscle use or lose it applies here
 
  • #32
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[/QUOTE]Also i don't think we know enough about the brain on the individual person to know when it starts declining. I am always amazed at my father who has the mind and body of a man in his 20's and he is late 60's has been a sprinter all his life and his intelligence only gets better by constantly reading and learning new things i think the brain is a muscle use or lose it applies here[/QUOTE]


Well said and inspiring! I have this personal "theory" that if you keep the body healthy and in the shape of a 20-something, then the brain will play along too. My alterior motive is to also fool people to think that I am actually younger than I am (when I go to interviews and such) ...as an additional tool to fight bias that one may encounter. Gotta try everything.
 
  • #33
Also i don't think we know enough about the brain on the individual person to know when it starts declining. I am always amazed at my father who has the mind and body of a man in his 20's and he is late 60's has been a sprinter all his life and his intelligence only gets better by constantly reading and learning new things i think the brain is a muscle use or lose it applies here


Well said and inspiring! I have this personal "theory" that if you keep the body healthy and in the shape of a 20-something, then the brain will play along too. My alterior motive is to also fool people to think that I am actually younger than I am (when I go to interviews and such) ...as an additional tool to fight bias that one may encounter. Gotta try everything.[/QUOTE]

Good plan! I also think if you keep using the brain it can't get left behind. And yes keep the body healthy and the brain will follow although i don't follow all my advice as I'm terrible at being healthy
 
  • #34
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I'm 50 and I completed my MS two years ago, so I can give you a little insight into academic performance after a layoff of almost 30 years... :smile:

I found that in terms of raw computing ability, I was nowhere near as quick as I was the first time around. However, I was *much* better at seeing the big picture and making connections than many of my fellow students.

Your mileage many vary.
 

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