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Back to school help

  1. Aug 22, 2009 #1
    Hi everyone, I'm new to the forum, my name is Aaron and I'm not a physicist but would like to be.

    I'm 30 years old, I started working as a software engineer for a startup company before I graduated from high school. My software engineer career took off and I never went to college. Now, having been a successful software engineer for the last 13 years, I want to pursue my true dream. I want a career in physics.

    I'm currently taking my college general ed via an online university (Florida Institute of Technology) while I still work full-time. I plan to quit my job and go back to school full-time in about 6 months when I'm finished with my GE (crossing my fingers for UC Berkeley).

    What I'm wondering is... How far do I have to go? I would like to do government research, maybe work for JPL or LLNL in the area of quantum physics. Maybe be a university professor and do research for the university?

    I'd like my PhD, but it's going to be really hard, I'm sure. Assuming I'm starting as a junior transfer, how long will this take? 6 years? If I do the time, will I get a PhD? I've heard that some people never get them because a PhD is granted and not just something you complete? If I only get my MS in Physics, how far will that take me in my career?

    One last and very important question... Those of you with PhDs, what do you do? Do you love your job? In the software world that I live in now, its pretty mundane.

    Thanks in advance!

    PS - Whats the pay like?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 23, 2009 #2
    It will take two years to finish your bachelor's... figure on another 6 give or take for a Ph.D. after that. It's not that clear cut though... it can range from 3-10 years.

    No. You heard correctly... to get a Ph.D., you need to complete and write up a piece of original research. Many students can handle the coursework, but just can't manage to write an acceptable thesis.

    You are probably better off as a software engineer. :-)
  4. Aug 23, 2009 #3


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    As for how far you have to go - that's really up to you. If you want to do your own research, you pretty much need a PhD. You can do reasearch with an MSc, but you would usually end up working for someone else.

    I agree with TMFKAN64, that earning a PhD is not a matter of simply putting your time in. You do some course work in the beginning, but the real work is essentially a research project. Because it's research, it can be difficult to place an exact time constraint on it. For some people things work out well, and they can finish in three years. Others may take on part-time jobs, have results that don't work out as expected, have their work rejected from journals, have to wait six months for equipment to be delivered, etc. all of which can extend the amount of time it takes to finish.

    I enjoy my job. I'm in medical physics so there's a strong clinical component to my work that involves radiation therapy. But I also balance out my time doing some research and teaching.

    In academia pay can certainly be an issue. Once you've finished, it's not too bad, but you have to remember that it costs money to go through undergrad, and as a graduate student most people are barely making enough money for food, rent, and tuition. Post-docs do a little better, but you're looking at short term contracts with limited benefits. The point being that people who start out on this track straight from high school usually don't get to a permanent position until their mid-thirties, so starting at 30, you're about a decade behind the curve. I'm not trying to disuade you - just trying to paint a clear picture so you understand what you're jumping into.
  5. Aug 23, 2009 #4
    I have enough money saved to pay my way through graduate school to completion but not post-grad (PhD). When doing your PhD research, are you telling me that you get paid? That would be a big help b/c that would fill a hole in my budget!

    I don't mind that I'm starting late. I'm in good health and great shape and look like I'm in my early 20s so maybe it'll be ok haha.
  6. Aug 23, 2009 #5
    It is very common for Ph.D. students to be supported as either Teaching Assistants or Research Assistants. The pay is tuition plus a minimal stipend.
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