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A second chance - building credentials

  1. Sep 26, 2015 #1
    I am 27 years old and residing in India. It is my dream to pursue a career in Physics and in academia. A dream that has manifested itself comparatively late in my life. Please do spare a few minutes to read through this mail. It would do be a huge honor and help for me if you do. Many are lucky enough to have found their calling at an early age. I, on the other hand, am one of the many others who realize this quite late. And I'm afraid I might be too late.

    As mentioned earlier, I am 27 years old and am working as a web developer in an IT company. My academic and career path till now has been, for lack of another word, a mess. I completed my bachelors degree in electrical engineering in 2009. And then chose a career in IT, a completely unrelated field. It took me only a few months into the job to realize that this was not what I wanted to do. Ever since then, I have been trying to find out things I would love to do for the rest of my life passions.

    Physics was the very first field that came to my mind. It was also the first one I discarded without a second thought. This was because I thought it would be an impossible ask to go back to square one. And in my culture, it is not something encouraged of a 22 year old. I spent five years introspecting, reading, and trying out other areas that I thought would interest me (including graduate studies in Electrical Engineering and graduate studies in Computer Science). But every time I tried something new, my mind would swing back to Physics like a pendulum.

    Now I want to start from scratch. I want to take up undergraduate studies in physics, go on to graduate studies and then, further onto research in particle physics and cosmology. I am confident that this indeed is what I want to do in life. This is the only place I can see myself ten to twenty years from now. I want to explore and learn more about the universe we live in.I do understand that if this realization had been made ten or fifteen years ago, a path would have been easier for me. But at this time and age, I am at my wit's end as to how to start off. Self learning can only give me knowledge to a certain extent. And I do not have the credentials that would land me a seat for undergraduate studies in Physics at a University like Caltech.

    Children are given a chance to show their potential at whatever field they desire when the time comes. But I do feel that a people like me deserve a second chance as well. I have messed up my first shot at a dream career. I am trying to conjure up a second chance in life. And I am prepared to run the extra mile for that. I am prepared to put in any amount of sweat towards the goal of a career as a theoretical physicist and a research scientist.

    Please do advise me on how to go about starting afresh, especially since I am 27, in charge of supporting myself, and am completely at a loss as to how to start off in the new direction.

    Hoping for help,
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 26, 2015 #2


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    The first thing to know about a physics carreer is that it is hard. You need to think this through more than a couple of times before you commit. Without even a bachelor in physics, it will take you a long time to complete the studies necessary to get a PhD. After that, you will generally need a number of years as a postdoc if you want to have any chance at a permanent position. It is rare that people who start their physics studies at 18 have a permanent position before they are 40 and starting at 27 you would likely be closer to 50. This is all assuming that you make it through the generally very hard competition. You need to get accepted to a university for your undergraduate, find a graduate student position, find two or three postdoc positions, and then pass the great bottleneck in finding a tenure track position.

    If you are not deterred by this and still think it is your calling, by all means attempt it. I am not intending to dissuade you as much as I want you to understand what is involved in a physics carreer. The first step, as I said, is to be accepted to an undergraduate program. If you do not have high enough grades to get in, there are often tests you can take where universities will make admissions based on the test results.

    If you want to know more about the route, I recommend ZapperZ's insight series "So you want to become a physicist?"
  4. Sep 29, 2015 #3
    @Orodruin ,

    Thanks a lot for your reply.
    I do understand that it is hard. And this is something I have been thinking through for years on end now. And I am absolutely sure that I want to go ahead with this. And I am more than willing to put in time and effort to this end.
    I would definitely go through ZapperZ's series. Any further nudges would be a big help too. My biggest problem is that I have few people around me who are knowledgeable enough to guide me, as the path I've chosen is not a conventional one.

    I would never accept that this is impossible for me.

    Thank you once again for replying.
  5. Oct 1, 2015 #4
    The subject of physics and the lifestyle of a physicist are two different things. I hope that you would look in to this more carefully, having already made this mistake once before.

    Unfortunately, I get the impression from what I read in your first post that you are still enamored with the subject, not the whole lifestyle. Orodruin has gently tried to warn you about this, but I'm going to be more forceful: Do not confuse profession for lifestyle.

    That is all...
  6. Oct 1, 2015 #5
    Thank you for the heads up.
    Can you tell me a little more specifically, what the pitfalls might be, for a person like me?
    I mean purely lifestyle wise (Assuming that the subject is taken care of)

  7. Oct 1, 2015 #6
    As others have pointed out in numerous posts:
    1. An education in Physics is expensive
    2. Research doesn't pay all that well;
    3. Politics in Academia is typically worse than most profit-oriented endeavors.
    4. Most also end up in teaching positions
    5. This is not a 9 AM to 5 PM job --you're going to work long hours
    6. Some research is classified government work --you'd better be ready to deal with the scrutiny if it comes.

    If this doesn't bother you, it often is very interesting work.
    When I was your age, this sort of thing was exciting to me too. However, it does get old after a while, and you'd better have a backup plan in case this doesn't work out for you. Note that the latter is true regardless of what profession you're in. Yes, I have worked for the same employer for nearly 30 years; yet I still have explored options over the years, and I keep my Resume handy and current.
  8. Oct 1, 2015 #7
    I did read upon several of these points while researching about a career as a physicist.
    I do understand that this career is not all sparkly and snazzy, but it does attract me immensely nevertheless.

    I definitely do want to have a go ahead with this. Can you advise me on how to build credentials when I am 10 years past graduating out of high school. Are there tests/courses that I can take up that would be accepted by respectable undergrad programs?

  9. Nov 2, 2015 #8
    Hi all,

    I was away for a while. So couldn't log in to PF. As I have mentioned before, any guidance regarding a starting point towards the eventual goal would be a big help for me. It could be a test I could take, a course I could attend, or anything similar that would be recognized and accepted by respected undergrad programs.

  10. Nov 3, 2015 #9
    Two comments from me:
    1) I do not know the university system in India. But you apparently had the credentials to study electrical engineering at a university (presumably some school degree that allows to do so). I imagine the very same credentials are still valid and suffice to study physics at a university.

    2) As someone who is a few years older than you and has completed a master's and a PhD in theoretical physics (which so many people on the Internet seem to consider the path to enlightenment) I can't resist the following comment: If you want to learn more about the universe you live in then attend parties (to meet interesting people), read good books and travel to interesting places.
  11. Nov 4, 2015 #10
    Thanks for the advice @Timo . And just that you know, I'm looking for an opportunity outside India
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