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Can I salvage a late start and a sketchy past?

  1. Jan 11, 2012 #1
    Hi, PF!

    I'm headed for a physics-based career. I have read the ZapperZ wisdom. Thanks, ZZ! I just want to relate my situation to see if you guys think I'm viable.

    After high school, I just drifted through different cities and did manual labor and entry-level jobs. I didn't really know anything except a little programming. At 25, I got a couple of CompTIA certifications and then I returned to college for a 2-year technical degree in EE. There I gave an hour lecture to some 30 faculty and students about a personal project involving microbial fuel cells. The experience inspired me to consider teaching or research. At 27 I then transferred to an EE BS and yesterday I submitted a form to switch to a Physics BS.

    I've especially homed in on condensed matter topics and I've begun plodding, gradually, through "Mathematics of ... Physics" by Byron and Fuller, as well as Jackson's EM, and I like where it is going. Most importantly, I do not want to ever run out of puzzles or to run out of new ways to look at things.

    Out of high school, I did get into some trouble with the law (for contraband and alcohol) and I'm curious if that will affect my job prospects. I got letters from the FBI, state police, and city saying that my offense had been stricken from the record as part of a second chance program. I am upstanding these days, but I read some things here on PF about security clearance and background checks, even polygraphs. I'm still worried I will somehow be prevented from getting jobs or internships.

    Will my history really be a big issue?

    Also, my resume before college is spotty. Will my degree heal this somehow?

    This is a wonderful website, by the way.

    Thanks for your consideration here.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 11, 2012 #2
    If ‘stricken from the record’ is the same thing ad expunging a criminal record, it means that the offense just doesn’t appear on your record at all. This shouldn’t affect your future job prospects. I had some trouble with the law as well, but my record had been expunged before I entered college, and I was told that I could continue as though I had never committed a crime. So, does that help a little?

    Why would your resumé pre-degree matter? For undergraduates who had gone straight to college after high school, their resumés are less than impressive; they have practically no experience in the lab, around lab equipment or with research, which is everything they should gain during their undergraduate years. You build your physics-relevant resumé as you’re studying.

    Regarding your late start: I’m friends and colleagues with a woman who has just finished her degree in her fifties, which is much later than you. :) She did it out of love for subject, and according to her, she doesn’t regret quitting her job to return to uni.
  4. Jan 11, 2012 #3
    Thanks, Faren! You made my day.
  5. Jan 12, 2012 #4
    Well...since the OP specifically references security clearances, this isn't entirely true. What's on the SF-86 (the form used for these things) under "Police Record" is:

    On the other hand, they only ask for information going back 7 or 10 years (depending on the level of investigation), which sounds like it wouldn't include whatever trouble the OP had by the time he finishes his degree. Besides, minor criminal incidents in one's past are not necessarily an impediment to a clearance.

    That said, there are far more jobs out there that don't require a clearance than those that do, so it's not something to base your major on in any case.
  6. Jan 12, 2012 #5
    In industry, it's not going to hurt you too much as long as you haven't had any recent problems. One reason is that no one is perfect, and pretty much everyone has something in their past that they are getting away from.

    Yes. No one is going to care.
  7. Jan 12, 2012 #6
    Well, got that neurosis temporarily out of the way.

    JDGates, that is very specific and helpful. Thanks! Did you have the form because you got hired by the government? Or is that fact only available on a "need to know"?

    Twofish, I have come to respect your opinions on the sociosphere. Thanks! Keep on quanting.
  8. Jan 12, 2012 #7
    Behold, the SF 86 in all its 127-page glory:


    If you think you think there's even a chance you might have to fill one of these out in the next few years, start recording your addresses, employers' info, and trips outside the country -- it's no fun trying to pull together details on the last 10 years of your life.
  9. Jan 12, 2012 #8
    In the very ordinary fields such as electric and water utilities, you can often find a lot of people who have had very checkered pasts. I know several with drug and driving while intoxicated convictions.

    The only thing that definitely will get you fired on the spot is on the job theft or violence and falsifying official data reports. I have known some truly weird and wonderful people with some very bizarre backgrounds. Nobody cares where you're from. They only care whether you take your job and the community's safety seriously.

    Postscript: I'm only speaking of engineers. If you want to know the truth, the technicians and operators can be from anywhere. We used to have one guy on staff paid his debt to society for murdering his mother. He was a bit odd, but he did his job and nobody cared much about what he did in the past.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2012
  10. Jan 12, 2012 #9
    One other thing that might be of interest is how most large companies handle these sorts of things. Usually, the people that do the interviewing handle only job-related qualifications (i.e. technical ability, communications ability, and personality). There is someone else in human resources that runs a criminal and credit background check, but that person (intentionally) never talks to the candidate.

    The reason for this division of labor is that there are dozens of laws and regulations on what questions you can ask and what questions you can't, and human resources is the specialist in this area. The interviewers only care about job qualifications, and intentionally don't consider other issues because that gets outside the area of their expertise.

    Old drug and alcohol issue usually don't matter (and sometimes this is by law). What will get you in trouble are *recent* issues (i.e. I had to pee into a cup to get my current job). The other thing that companies care about are anything that suggests issues with theft, violence, or harassment.
  11. Jan 16, 2012 #10
    Excellent! Thanks for taking the time to respond.

    Now it's only a matter of elbow grease.
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