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Academic advice for the non-traditional student interested in science/engineering?

  1. Sep 2, 2010 #1
    Hello! I have been around for a few months, trying to gather as much information as possible in order to maximize my chances of successfully completing a 4-year Physics or xEngineering program. However, much of the information available is aimed at traditional students (for good reason). Perhaps it would be possible to gather information aimed at non-traditional students (i.e. those who work > 31 hrs/wk, > age 25, and/or are not academically prepared) who are interested in science/engineering and would love to maximize their chances of obtaining a science/engineering education, here in this thread.

    I'll start. I am aged 26, currently work 40 hrs/wk, and take 12 credits at a community college. I generally log at least 16 hrs study time/week, sleep an avg of 6hrs/night, and commute 2 hrs/day between home, work, and school. The classes I am currently taking are French, Chemistry, and Precalculus. I classify my mathematical skills are mediocre but, obviously, I am very interested in greatly improving said skills. Some of the steps I have taken to remedy this problem are joining my school's Math Club, investing 100% of my study time into Math, and secretly doing some Math exercises at work.

    My near-future goals are to become mathematically proficient, improve my logical reasoning/problem solving skills, and successfully complete a 4-year Physics program (successfully = GPA >= 3.5). Additionally, I will soon be a father and would like to mathematically and scientifically educate my son from a very early age as well as securing a stable financial future for him, or at least, a much better financial reality than mine (dreadful).

    I am open to any and all suggestions, advice, cautions, warnings, criticisms, etc. that may help me academically. Maybe there are some efficient study tips, time management advice, or perhaps a few may consider majoring in science/engineering is not advisable to students such as me.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this thread.
     
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  3. Sep 2, 2010 #2

    lisab

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    Re: Academic advice for the non-traditional student interested in science/engineering

    Hi Mathnomalous. Wow, you sure have your plate full! But you seem to be doing fine.

    I think the biggest challenge for non-traditional students is the process is just such a long slog. You're taking 12 credits now (commendable). But after your son comes, and you get into higher classes, it may not be possible to take that many credits. It makes progress slow, and it gets old after a few years.

    Don't short yourself on sleep. If I could do it again, that's the #1 thing I would change, especially when I got into upper division classes.

    But stick it out! I went through part-time, it seemed to take *forever*. And now, I'm so glad I stuck with it.

    Good luck!
     
  4. Sep 2, 2010 #3
    Re: Academic advice for the non-traditional student interested in science/engineering

    The major comment I'll make is that 16 hours/week will not be nearly enough time for a four year physics degree. When I was in undergrad (I'm currently a Ph.D. student), my weekly workload was at least three times that.

    As far as I'm concerned, it is not feasible to work a full-time job while doing a four year physics degree.
     
  5. Sep 2, 2010 #4
    Re: Academic advice for the non-traditional student interested in science/engineering

    Yes, I figured working full time and majoring in Physics would be extremely difficult. What I might end up doing is studying 24 hrs during my 2 days off and the rest of the study hours spread over the other 5 days. Of course, this may not be feasible since my son will be arriving soon. Fortunately, I completed 18 of the 24 Liberal Arts credits required by my college system. If I can secure a more flexible schedule or job in the future, I'll take advantage of that, but currently that is not a possibility (I'm little more than a peon).

    I understand the importance of sleep time, but I have no other reasonable areas where I can cut time. I don't mind the long journey simply because what I am doing now is a crummy, but necessary job and I doubt 5-6 years in school will be worse. I considered majoring in the Humanities for a more relaxed academic schedule, but frankly, that option feels like "failure".

    Thank you for the replies! :)
     
  6. Sep 2, 2010 #5
    Re: Academic advice for the non-traditional student interested in science/engineering

    You sir are a inspiration...
     
  7. Sep 3, 2010 #6
    Re: Academic advice for the non-traditional student interested in science/engineering

    Hello Mathnomalous. I am not qualified to speak about the entire road of a Physics degree, but I can speak to going to school later in life. I am 31 years old and have already completed a Bachelor's degree in Political Science (Useless). Long story , but I have decedied to go back as double major, Math and Physics. This will take me about 2.5 years to complete, since I do not have to take any Liberal Arts Classes. I think you are on the right track. It will not be easy, but anything worthwhile never is. The years are going to go by anyway, so don't look at how long, just do what you can handle, and before you know it you will be picking your finall few classes. Take advantage of the summer semesters and I think you will be fine, especially if you are passionate about the subject you are studying.

    Good Luck !!!
     
  8. Sep 3, 2010 #7

    Andy Resnick

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    Re: Academic advice for the non-traditional student interested in science/engineering

    I happened to ask my students (Physics I) if they had a job- to my surprise, nearly *100%* raised their hands. You may be 'non traditional', but your situation is very common.

    There's not much I (or anyone else) can tell you about time management- you can clearly manage your time very well.

    All I can really do is encourage you to keep working at achieving your goal. Many of my students motivate themselves by wanting to be a good role model for their own school-age children.

    One suggestion I have is to take advantage of all the support available to you- ranging from tutoring (our department uses grad students to provide free tutoring for about 20 hours/week) and other academic support (advisors, etc) - *do* talk to your teachers about your concerns as often as possible. Don't forget about non-academic support: child care, for example.
     
  9. Sep 3, 2010 #8
    Re: Academic advice for the non-traditional student interested in science/engineering

    Maybe you should consider entering into a technical program.

    Being a technologist is nothing to be ashamed of, and they make good money.
     
  10. Sep 6, 2010 #9
    Re: Academic advice for the non-traditional student interested in science/engineering

    That's very interesting! I imagine with the current economic state of things, more people than ever have to work while pursuing higher education.

    Definitely, my main motivation is teaching my son from a very early age all that I may absorb in my classes. I even have his first history and math lessons ready!

    Thank you for your post, Prof. Resnick.

    I have, however, my concern is that technologist programs would require me to retrain much more often than a more theory-based education, such as engineering or science, which would probably require less periodic training. I appreciate your advice, General_Sax.
     
  11. Sep 6, 2010 #10
    Re: Academic advice for the non-traditional student interested in science/engineering

    One thing that I suggest you do is to find other people in your situation and form some sort of support group. It's likely that you'll run into similar issues and problems, and it helps a lot to create this sort of group.

    One other thing is that I'm really interested in how things go. One you move further on your path, you'll be able to help people not so far along, and I'll quite interested in knowing how things turn out.
     
  12. Sep 9, 2010 #11
    Re: Academic advice for the non-traditional student interested in science/engineering

    Myself and a few other fellow students in similar situations and academic paths have made efforts to gather a significant number of individuals within this sort of group. The most challenging obstacle is coordinating between the varied schedules and life situations; Some individuals work over 50hrs/wk, others have more than 2 children, a few end up dropping out, etc. Nonetheless, what I have tried doing is using existing groups/clubs as channels for non-traditional student support (e.g. encouraging non-traditional students to join the Math Club) because I feel once an individual overcomes the fear/obstacle of "will I complete college?, that fear/obstacle "morphs" into will I complete my chosen major/area?

    That also applies into what you mentioned in your second paragraph; once I obtain new knowledge, I turn around and try to pass it to others, primarily in similar situations to mine, in order to a) solidify my knowledge and b) encourage them to continue. Conversely, I seek assistance from those in a similar position whom have obtained knowledge.

    Taking into account everything I have mentioned above, I would like to see and influence change in how University operates today. I think the old system that caters primarily to a decreasing number of younger people that do not have to support themselves financially is no longer appropriate nor desirable. I feel individuals, in the decades ahead, will have to return to University to update their knowledge and/or refresh their skills several times throughout their lives. A good step in that direction are the professional and continuing education schools established by the likes of Columbia U., NYU, or CUNY; however, it seems to me these schools simply offer very specialized knowledge that becomes obsolete a tad too quickly instead of focusing on the fundamentals that many of us in my situation currently need. To me this seems particularly troublesome in basic science departments in my school, where students of my age or situation are implicitly "frowned" upon while the engineering department at the same school prominently displays a huge banner of some 76 year old gentleman who obtained an engineering bachelor's.
     
  13. Sep 9, 2010 #12

    Andy Resnick

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    Re: Academic advice for the non-traditional student interested in science/engineering

    I agree with this completely- higher education must do a better job of supplying 'continuous education'. Whereas CE used to be tightly linked to specific professions (accountants, social workers, teachers, docs, etc. must complete a certain number of 'continuing education credits' every year to maintain certification), the trend is for people to switch *careers* multiple times in their lives. Thus, there is a need for educational institutions to provide the skills and tools required to allow someone the ability to change careers- for example, 1- or 2-semester components of a 4-year degree.

    In my experience, there is nothing preventing someone from going to college as often as they like; there simply should be a more coherent program.
     
  14. Sep 9, 2010 #13
    Re: Academic advice for the non-traditional student interested in science/engineering

    If you can find a job that allows you to do homework and studying while at work, you'd be golden. I'm a mattress salesman, 27 years old with a mortgage to pay, in my junior year of a physics degree.

    In between customers at work, I'm completely alone in the showroom most of the time, and I use that time to study and do homework. Plus, I mainly work weekends and they're flexible with my schedule semester to semester, so it works out perfectly. This semester, I go to school Mon-Thurs and work Fri-Sun, which amounts to 31 hours a week. I'm taking 15 credits. Last semester, I worked T-Th-Sat-Sun and went to school M-W-F and took 15 credits.

    I don't know if such a job is a possibility for you, but it's something you should look into. I hear night-shift security guard positions sometimes have such an option as well.
     
  15. Sep 12, 2010 #14
    Re: Academic advice for the non-traditional student interested in science/engineering

    All I can say that you should pursue into engineering field (but do not go into environment or geotechnical engineering).

    Once, you work in engineering field, your son is most likely to follow your path and enjoying it, which is pretty common in families with engineering background.

    If you go into science field, you probably have to do masters to get a decent job. I do not think you want that.

    If you go into civil engineering, you do not have to earn masters, undergraduate is good enough for civil.

    But if you go into eletrical or mechanical eng, you should get a masters because these fields are too broad with undergraduate background.
     
  16. Sep 16, 2010 #15
    Re: Academic advice for the non-traditional student interested in science/engineering

    I am certainly considering engineering. My primary concern is that an engineering curriculum is too "packed" and "rigid" and does not permit a reasonable amount of intellectual exploration; I'd like to also take a few philosophy, history, and literature classes (French and English). I also think more college students are specializing earlier and less are obtaining generalist skills; I'd love to become a generalist in a world of specialists, but I may be wrong on this point. Additionally, I am leaning significantly towards earning a BA in mathematics along with the BS in physics for the purposes of personal, intellectual growth; I concluded that if I am going to go through 4-5 years of university, I might as well extract the maximum out of this experience just so I can work on becoming a better human the rest of my life.

    These are certainly romantic ideas and reality is likely to prevent me from exploring them; however, after nearly a decade working moderately "ok" to crummy jobs, I would prefer to live out the rest of my existence pursuing something that interests me.
     
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