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Advice on catching up

  1. Nov 8, 2015 #1
    I always did well in HS , but never really felt like I had any idea what I wanted to do. Seeing so many of my peers either jumping from one dead-end job to another, still living at home, and generally making no forward progress I graduated and made the decision to join the armed forces. 5 years later I finish my contract, brush up on my algebra take the SAT and apply to schools finally having an idea what I might like to major in. It seems like most of the people that are now my peers are just miles ahead. I'm catching up in mathematics courses that they've taken in HS and I've forgotten. I'm not exactly doing poorly, but also not doing as well as I'd like.

    Having already worked for 5 years the prospect of spending so many more years of school is somewhat daunting and i'm thinking of changing my major to Env Science which would allow me to rejoin the workforce much more quickly. Many of the people I've talked to in the department (mostly phd students) and many of the users here are saying that the likelihood of actually doing the work we get degrees for are slim.

    It just seems like i'm under-prepared coming into the program. I thought I could hit the ground running but playing catch-up is becoming extremely stressful.

    Thank you for any advice you might have.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 8, 2015 #2


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    What's the hurry? It's not a race where you are trying to get somewhere ahead of your peers from high school. You have life experiences from being in the armed forces that they don't have, and they have other experiences that you don't have. So what? It seems like you are looking for work that you enjoy and find meaningful, and you have some idea what that work will be. So put together a plan that gets you there. Make sure you are making steady progress toward your goal. If it takes 2 years or 5 years or 10 years, so what? In the meantime, enjoy the ride.
  4. Nov 8, 2015 #3
    It's not about it being a race from high school, but it IS a race into grad school. I feel like I already lost the day i decided to put a break between HS and college.
  5. Nov 8, 2015 #4
    I'm not sure what you are majoring in or where you feel behind.

    ALEKS pre-calculus is excellent for refreshing high school math.
  6. Nov 8, 2015 #5
    You think being older somehow disqualifies you with respect to grad school?
  7. Nov 8, 2015 #6
    I believe you underestimate the number of people who, for instance, work for a few years and then go to graduate school.
  8. Nov 8, 2015 #7


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    Guess I lost that race then. I'm already in my 30's. I also joined the military, got out of the military, and then worked for defense contractors/a government position before finally going back to school. Why're you comparing yourself to people you use to know? Not everyone's course in life is as linear as the next guys. Who cares who goes to to grad school first?

    You were in the military and you're worrying about such trivial things? Life must have been hell for you in the service when you had to stress about things that actually mattered.

    What degree program are you in now? The work prospects for certain majors to work exactly in the field they got their degree in can be slim, but that doesn't mean they don't find work in related fields. What would graduate students know about the work prospects for a field they've yet to join the workforce in?

    If you don't want to go to school- because you won't buy a house first or beat some joe you used to know in getting a new shiny car- by all means, don't go. You'll only be wasting your time and looking at things as though you've failed.

    I started off in intermediate algebra when I restarted school, I have zero shame in admitting that. Math is a skill that suffers atrophy when it isn't used for years. If it takes you two years to get caught up to college mathematics, then so be it. You need to build back up to a strong foundation.
  9. Nov 8, 2015 #8
    I think you strongly underestimate the number of people that take a break between HS and college. I went to college right out of high school and am applying to graduate school at age 22 (the "normal" age), and guess what? I'm in the minority. There are three others from my university who have gone to graduate school in the past 2 years - one is ~33, one is ~35, and the other is around the same age as well.

    If you decide to go to graduate school, you may notice that people your age are settling down and having kids, but the alternative is that you find a job that you don't love, and then regret not going to graduate school for the rest of your life.
  10. Nov 8, 2015 #9
    I'm not trying to compare myself to them i'm just recognizing the reality that there are kids out there that are just as bright as I am(maybe "was" now...) that are ridiculously ahead of me that I can't compete with for graduate school. It's not about "first" its about "ever". These kids are taking courses that are 2-3 semesters ahead of me.

    When I was in the military I found it to be LESS stressful-believe it or not. Didn't have to worry so much about the future. We either had a steady job for at least the next few years, were looking forward to school soon, or weren't coming home. Or maybe I just adapted to that lifestyle with different kinds of stressors.

    The graduate students that are phd students are telling me that they'll likely work in industry using the comp sci skills they've picked up. The people I've talked to that have their phds and are actively pursuing a study-related career are in a state of revolving postdocs.

    It's not about beating some joe I used to know... I only keep in touch with 1 person from back in the day. It's about questioning the real value of working my ass off and taking on debt at the graduate level to either work in a "related" field that doesn't utilize the majority of your coursework, or ending up as a commodity in the slave-labour market of never-ending postdocs.

    Ever since I actually started college and started talking to people that are entering the job market in the next few years I've been feeling fairly disillusioned with the whole idea of continuing my education past a BS, which means I would be much better off switching majors.

    My major is Physics, I enjoy studying it, genuine have a desire to learn more about how everything works, and I enjoy coursework that is challenging, but If I'm going to change my major it needs to be as early in my studies as possible.

    The idea that I can get a job that I love seems impossible and naive. It seems that more often than not people just aren't getting jobs related to their field of study. If getting a job you love doesn't work out I'm miserable anyway, except now I've aged, been out of the labor market for even longer, and am saddled with debt.
    And if you don't get a job in a related field of study than what the hell was the whole point it seems like grad school is a massive gamble.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2015
  11. Nov 8, 2015 #10


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    There's always people out there who're smarter, this is true for everyone - that's irrelevant. Physics will still be there when you get done, and there will still be grad school spots for another batch of students to apply to.

    You aren't competing with anyone to get a spot in graduate school, you're trying to learn the material, get good grades, get good letters of recommendation, and try to do some undergrad research.

    Why would you take on debt at the graduate level? Physics is paid for, along with a stipend to live off of for trading your time as a TA or RA, more often than not.

    There are areas in physics that are more employable than others. ZapperZ has been pushing accelerator physics for a while now, and according to him it is begging for students/professionals. He can tell you more about that if you send him a PM.

    Contrary to popular belief, just because a physic PhD doesn't work in academia doesn't mean he isn't working as a physicist. There are jobs in industry, government labs, etc.

    If job outlooks concern you, and you only want a terminal bachelors, then why not switch to engineering or another applied science like engineering physics?

    People do get jobs in their field of study, otherwise physics wouldn't exist. The odds aren't great for academic careers, but those aren't the only jobs for physicists, and again, it depends on the area of study within physics.
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