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Anyone a non-traditional student in pursuit of a Ph.D.?

  1. Jul 5, 2005 #1
    I'm 31, and considering leaving a very lucrative position to go back to grad school to obtain a Ph.D. in physics. I already have a law degree, but my passion is and always has been physics.

    First, can this be done?

    Second, has anyone around here done this?

    I also have a wife and two young boys, so I'd need to factor a family into account before making any decisions.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 5, 2005 #2

    ZapperZ

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  4. Jul 5, 2005 #3
    it can be done if you have teh qualifications to enter(you may need to do an extra year of undergrad). but the family is the major thing...do they support you(financially and mentally)? I knew a grad student who took a 3-4 years off after dropping out of an undergrad at UW and then went back to do another undergrad in psych and then his MSc/Phd in computer linguistics...
     
  5. Jul 5, 2005 #4

    quasar987

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    My wave teacher in college was a sax player and at about 35 he started everything from scratch and got up to Master in astrophysics.
     
  6. Jul 5, 2005 #5

    Pengwuino

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    Some colleges wont allow people to enroll if they already have a high degree in another field :-/. Dont think it'll really apply however.
     
  7. Jul 5, 2005 #6
    I'm not too concerned with the GRE, I'm more concerned with whether they will accept students who are not 21 years old - but instead 31 years old. I will have to retake a few courses from my undergraduate degree, but that doesn't scare me.
     
  8. Jul 5, 2005 #7

    Pengwuino

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    Age shouldnt matter at all! Thats probably one of the last things people care about in the admissions process.
     
  9. Jul 5, 2005 #8

    ZapperZ

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    Please note that in the thread I pointed out, I repeatedly emphasized that getting "accepted" isn't really that big of a deal in an "average" school, especially if you intend to pay for it yourself. They'll take you in. But the issue here is whether you can survive, especially the qualifier.

    Age is the LAST thing that you should worry about. You could be 80 years old and they still can't deny you admission if you qualify. Plenty of state and federal laws ensure that.

    Zz.
     
  10. Jul 6, 2005 #9

    quasar987

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    I also just remembered that there are 2 ~40 years old in my classes with me at the time and 2 ~30.
     
  11. Jul 6, 2005 #10

    mathwonk

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    i left grad school at age 27 with a masters and started teaching, got married and had a son. then at age 32 I went back to grad school and had another son and finished my phd at age 35.

    i found a good job and became a full professor of math at a state university, took a postdoc at harvard, and have enjoyed many international visiting invitations, and basically am very glad i did it.

    I am now 62 and still teaching and hopefully have a little more research in me.

    it was hard, (the grad school part with a family), but better than the alternative.

    best wishes.
     
  12. Jul 6, 2005 #11
    mathwonk...did you work part time whil doing a masters? or did you jump right in from your BSc|?
     
  13. Jul 6, 2005 #12
    It really surprises me how people with ambition can evolve in the US. Out here in Europe, it is not that easy to start a phd at 32. Ofcourse you already need a physics masterts degree but it will be difficult to obtain scolarships. It seems to me, the USA is far more developed to help out people in situations like this. we still can learn a lot from our ambitious neigbors overseas :)

    marlon
     
  14. Jul 6, 2005 #13
    Which would have been what ?

    :)

    marlon
     
  15. Jul 6, 2005 #14

    quasar987

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    Probably both

    i) grad school w/o family

    and

    ii)family w/o grad school

    :)

    mathwonk, are you some kind of profesionnal about rieman surfaces? Or what are you a specialist of?
     
  16. Jul 6, 2005 #15
    1. What are your plans after graduation?
    2. How long would you like to stay in grad school?
    3. What are your financial plans during grad school?
    4. How committed are you?

    It's definitely do-able, even at the top schools.
     
  17. Jul 6, 2005 #16

    mathwonk

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    I was a promising grad student for 5 years and got sidetracked by the 60's.

    (at first i had a no - teaching fellowship, then got a TA. after a while I unloaded meat as a side job, but had no family then to support.)

    the last couple years i essentially forgot what i had learned the first three, as the world got more chaotic and i lost focus.

    then I left school and began teaching with the masters degree i got as an exit prize from the phd program, and started a family.

    then the school where i taught said they would terminate me if i did not get a phd. this was a catch 22 since i was already considered one of the most well educated people at that school, so a strong phd would "overqualify" me essentially.

    but what to do, i prepared as hard as i could, then took my wife and child and called around for some recommendations.

    there is always a shortage of "promising" grad students so a prof from my old school recommended me to his new school and they took me on probation sort of, i.e. with a short time frame, expectation: 2 years to degree.

    i worked hard and learned a lot but after 2 years was not done, so they gave me one more year to finish. i got lucky, found a helpful advisor and made a nice discovery. then i got 3 job offers (not including my previous teaching job), nsf postdoc, .... and never looked back.

    the alternative to becoming a professor with travel and research options would have been returning to that teaching college with no other options or chance to ever get out of there, or do any real math.

    i.e. in spite of my lack of appreciation for it in advance, the phd experience did raise my math knowledge and research ability to a higher level. it gave me the experience of actually doing and not just learning math.

    math to me now is a subject with its own existence, its own identity, not just a bunch of rules on a page written by someone else.

    now i can read what someone else has written about an elementary topic and ask whether it should have been done that way. i am not bound to memorize the way the author did it.

    of course everyone has a different opinion about this, but at least i also have one now based on my own experience in the world of doing math.

    actually i may not have made as much money as i would have by staying at that other job (had it worked out), but mathematically i have had more fun and met more people.

    i have tended to make choices based on increased educational opportunity for me and my family, rather than wealth, but that has caused problems. i.e. tuition costs money too.

    it is not a problem to a single guy because almost any school will offer marginal support to a dedicated and capable student.

    yes i am a riemann surfaces, and abelian varieties specialist. i am amazed at how little i still know about them though.
     
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2005
  18. Jul 6, 2005 #17
    Yes, my downside is that I'll lose a very nice salary, 401(k), stock options, etc. all for doing something that I think I'll enjoy waking up to each morning. It's a hard decision - the safe route or the risky route? With a family, the safe route is very attractive. But how many mornings do I want to wake up and dread going to work?
     
  19. Jul 6, 2005 #18

    mathwonk

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    well you might put some money away first.
     
  20. Jul 6, 2005 #19
    401K!!!!! damn i hope doing a phd in physics is what you want...why don't you take some parttime courses first before making your ultimate decision take the 401k for a year if its a years contract. If you have enough money and if you have the support of your family then the risky route if it is your dream is a GO..
     
  21. Jul 6, 2005 #20

    mathwonk

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    best of all possible worlds: maybe your company will fund your phd and hold your job? doesn't hurt to ask.
     
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