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Anyone pursue science as a *second* career?

  1. Nov 19, 2003 #1
    I'm currently a software "engineer"/developer, and although I derive great pleasure and interest from my work at its core, the stress of all the overhead has rather diminished its value. I thoroughly enjoy solving problems, and it goes without saying that I've always had an interest in almost all facets of science. I make a good living with software, but I feel an intellectual void that I compensate for by pursuing my interests (mainly astronomy, physics, and math) on my own time.

    Anyway, enough about me. Has anyone pursued a career in the sciences after realizing the diminished value of their current career? I'm currently 23 years old, and I antiquated with so many who started their science careers before me. I've made great progress in the software world, and I want to do it in the scientific world as well. Any thoughts on pursuing a career in physics or astronomy in a research capacity? Ultimately I'd like to continue working in software and transition into scientific research, but I don't know how feasible such a seamless transition actually is.

    Apologies for the verbose post. Responses appreciated!
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 19, 2003 #2
    Once upon a time, I was a software developer, age 24, then went to grad school in physics. I had no problems because of my age, and I knew an acoustic engineer who went to grad school at almost 40. He had a bit more trouble with some things, but not much.

    However, I already had an undergraduate physics degree (and so did the engineer I mentioned). If you have no prior science degrees, it's much more difficult. As a software engineer, you could might work your way into industrial research, but the best way to get into scientific research in most cases is still graduate school, and it's hard to get into grad school without prior scientific training. I know people who have done it, but as I said, it can be quite difficult.
  4. Nov 19, 2003 #3


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    I'm in a simlair boat, though I was orginally accepted into quite a good university to do physics after one year UG I changed my mind to do a completely unrelated subject, but recently my interest in physics has re-kindled and I have been making inquiries about starting a mathematical/theoretical physics degree (though at the rate I'm going I probably won't start it until I'm 25, by which time I'll probaly be considered too old to become a theoretical physicist).

    Anywya to work in a science subject you need at least a masters in that subject, unless you want to work as a lab. technician.
  5. Nov 19, 2003 #4
    Thanks for the replies.

    I think age is what concerns me most, because as jcsd said, 20s seems almost antiquated if you're deciding on a career change into the sciences.

    Either way, I can still operate in an amateur capacity I suppose. I keep hoping some new challenging and interesting software projects will present themselves thereby eliciting my passion for it once again; however, countless typical software projects gone wrong have, as I said in my first post, destroyed my motivation.
  6. Nov 19, 2003 #5


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    No, don't get me wrong i was specifically referring to theoretical physics where there is generally the attitude that all the important work is done by people under 30 (or so I've been told at least by people working in that area).

    Personally I'd say go for it, if you have the commitment and it's what you want to do.
  7. Nov 19, 2003 #6
    Age isn't really an issue. The issue is whether you have the relevant background.
  8. Nov 19, 2003 #7
    I'm 28 and am switching from computer operations to becoming a doctor. No you're not crazy, yes the computer thing gets old and very unfulfilling after a while, so I'm switching. Do what makes you happy. You have a good 40 work years left(at least) don't waste them in a miserable unfulfilling career you'll only hate more with time.
  9. Nov 19, 2003 #8
    Yes, but for those without the relevant background, age is an issue. I haven't a scholastic background that would suffice to quantify my ambitions in the sciences. I'm going back to school again to get the paper for physics, but my original motivation for doing so was out of personal intellectual gain, and not so much about career.
  10. Nov 19, 2003 #9
    Encouraging words, thanks! Good luck with your studies!
  11. Nov 19, 2003 #10
    I don't think so; in my experience, older people without relevant background aren't treated differently than younger people without relevant background. What matters is drive and talent.
  12. Nov 19, 2003 #11
    Descartes, It's definitely not too late!
    and age isn't an issue.

    I'm currently 33 with a B.S. in Math from William and Mary and I've worked as a Software Engineer and UNIX Systems Administrator, mostly in Silicon Valley for over 10 years.

    Well after the bottom fell out with the tech bust, I decided to go back to school.
    I had no prior Physics coursework. I too thought it would be tough because with no previous coursework I would have to start with undergraduate courses, but no traditional university (such as UC system here) would consider applications for 2nd Bachelor's.

    BUT: I found that San Francisco State University,(Calstate system) accepted graduate applicants into their M.S. Physics program as a "conditional" student so that you're able to go to school full-time, take the undergraduate pre-requesites for the necessary graduate courses. There are many second career students in the Dept. here some with MBAs, JDs, and even some in their 40's.

    You can get your terminal M.S. or you can transfer into excellent PhD programs like Berkeley, Caltech, MIT, and Yale. But the second time around you've got to be *good*. A 4.0 if you get it. It's tough, but I'll say from first hand experience that you'll definitely appreciate the beauty of the science.

    I know of one student from Israel who is in the graduate program, but got his undergraduate degree in EE over 14 years ago. He's back after working many years because he's always loved Physics. I believe he's only staying here long enough to transfer up to an upper tier.

    Also the ones coming back to study Physics as a possible 2nd career tend to be best students overall in their studies and when conducting research, according to some of the professors here.

    It's not an upper tier school, but think of it as a place to go full-time accumulate the course requirements and research/TA work experience and then transfer into a PhD program. This is my ultimate goal. It may take a long time, but when you've got, you've got it!

    I don't know if there are similar programs anywhere else.

    Last edited: Nov 19, 2003
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