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Considering The Open University

  1. Aug 1, 2014 #1
    I've heard time and again on this forum that in order to understand Physics, wannabes and newbies need to bite the bullet, learn math, and go to University. I've taken it to heart and am in the process of doing just that.

    Since I'm in my 40's and I'm entrenched in an existing career and lifestyle, I'm trying to make the transition as smooth as possible. My plan, if it shakes out, is to earn an undergrad from The Open University (http://www.open.ac.uk) in the next 6-8 years. Then I would like to have the option to go after a post-graduate degree at (most likely) a bricks and mortar school in the US.

    I consulted with a two PhDs I know about this plan and they gave it a thumbs-up. But I'm interested in feedback from this community as well.

    There's also a little bit of a hiccup in my plan already. The OU doesn't offer Mathematics degrees to students residing in the US. My first choice for a degree was a BSc Mathematics and Physics as it seemed like the most serious minded course of study for someone with an interest in Theoretical Physics. The next best option for me available from OU would be a BSc Natural Science. If anyone has thoughts about the outlook of a Natural Science undergrad in terms of how it will effect trying to get to the next level (a postgraduate degree), I would appreciate it.

    Thank you!
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 2, 2014 #2


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    If you are entrenched in a career and only have about 20 working years left, I recommend in the most strong manner possible not to deviate now. It would be far better to save up or pay down your debts and ensure a very comfortable future for yourself and your family. They say that the working years past 40 are when most families go from being moderately insolvent to financially secure or even well off. You have a route in front of you to reaching that point of being financially free, free to travel or whatever. If you aren't there yet, think long and hard about it.
  4. Aug 2, 2014 #3

    Thank you for your reply and your concerns. I've been very fortunate in my career thus far and have achieved a level of financial freedom and flexibility that makes my aspirations as I've outlined in the original post well within my reach.

    It will take me 10-15 years to reach my academic goals. I'm not going to begin the pursuit in my 60's. I am not willing to wait another 20 years while I work, unchallenged and unfulfilled, in a field that I've already mastered.

    I will take steps to make the transition as smooth as I can—hence the desire to participate in distance learning at OU for the next 6 years—but achieving my academic goal going to happen.

    So I'm not really looking for life advice. I know where I am and where I'm heading in the broad sense. Really I'm looking for more specific advice about whether an Undergrad in Natural Science will hinder my pursuit for a post-grad degree in Physics since the Mathematics and Physics undergrad isn't an option for me this year.

    Again thank you. I appreciate your concern, but my financial ducks are in a row.
  5. Aug 2, 2014 #4


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    Sounds like you've got a good plan. Even if you didn't have your financial ducks in a row, I'd STILL say go for it because if it is something you really want to do then you're likely to be dissatisfied with your career as is and who wants to end up at 60 financially well of and feeling that they've wasted their life?

    I share your concern about a natural science degree but if you can fit in a lot of math and hard science courses then I would think that your maturity and obvious drive if you finish that program would make you a good candidate for the next step.
  6. Aug 2, 2014 #5


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    Staff: Mentor

    In order to get into a physics Ph.D. program in the U.S. you generally need coursework that is at least mostly equivalent to what a bachelor's degree in physics requires. There is a "core four" set of courses that they generally expect students to have studied at the upper-division level (i.e. beyond the freshman/sophomore introductory courses:

    • Classical mechanics (including Lagrangian formulation)
    • Classical electromagnetism (usually two semesters)
    • Thermodynamics and statistical mechanics (sometimes two courses, sometimes combined into one course)
    • Quantum mechanics (one or two semesters)

    I don't know what coursework the OU Natural Science degree entails, but you may need to supplement it somehow, as above.

    If you are in the US, can't you go to school here somewhere, either full-time after stopping work (or while working part-time), or part-time while continuing to work full-time?
  7. Aug 2, 2014 #6

    I too am in the same proverbial boat: I'm 40 something, live in the States and, in addition, I'm quadriplegic. I would KILL to study physics! I've been looking at the Open University also. As you know, the BSc in Mathematics and Physics isn't available to us. The problem with the BSc in Natural Sciences is that there are absolutely no higher level math modules offered in the US - not even Essential Mathematics I.

    Let me know if you find any alternatives, and I'll do the same.
  8. Aug 2, 2014 #7


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    Besides, nowadays you have many people who are 60+, who run marathons, have intense careers, and are healthier than many in their 40's (I meant both healthier than others in their 40's and healthier than most used to be, say in the 1930's, in their 30's-40's). There is something to the cliché that "50 is the new 30". Besides, doing something you like may keep you energized.
    Last edited: Aug 2, 2014
  9. Aug 2, 2014 #8

    Thank you! This is very useful information.

    I run my own business, and right now I can carve out the time needed to do the OU distance learning. But attending a local University in person is a larger time commitment (just driving to the campus would eat several hours a week) with less flexibility.

    I'll check with OU to see if they can meet the criteria you outlined. If they can't, I'll look for a local solution. I would have to hold off on enroll info for two or three years while I prepare the business to better deal with my absence.

    I would rather get started sooner (now with OU) than later (in 2017 at a local school), but only if it'll get me to the end I'm seeking (to understand the Standard Model). Anything short of that and it's not worth it.

    I suspect the OU program available here isn't going to be rigorous enough. I'm glad you've given me the criteria to seek so I can see if there's a way to work it out with them. Thank you very much.
  10. Aug 2, 2014 #9
    Thank you!
  11. Aug 2, 2014 #10

    Thanks for your response. I saw Essential Mathematics I as an elective for
    BSc Natural Science (actually it's required for Physics in stages 2 and 4), so I assumed we could at least take that? If it is off the table and we can't do a concentration on Physics, then it really doesn't seem worth it. It would be like training at soccer to play basketball.

    I'm going to talk with them next week and I'll let you know if I find out anything interesting.
  12. Aug 3, 2014 #11
    Incognito, I received the following email:

    Dear Dean Sparrow [my real name],

    Thank you for your email. Unfortunately, Essential Mathematics 1 and 2 are not available in the USA. The Open University is a university that applies the highest levels of quality of teaching and support for its distance learning students. Our Royal Charter requires us to have a strict governance regime to ensure this is applied to students in every country.

    As a result there is sometimes a more limited curriculum available in certain countries. The Open University is constantly aiming to expand its international curriculum, but never at the expense of quality and student support.

    We regularly update our product offering on the www.openuniversity.edu website. When you begin your studies with the university you can be assured of a high quality education with exceptional student support in your country.

    I hope this email answers your questions. However, if you do require further advice and guidance you can contact myself or a member of the Open University team free of charge by using the free call back option, or call directly on +44 (0)845 241 6555. You can also use the chat option on the website.

    Kind Regards,

    Lisa West
    Open University
    +44 845 241 6555
  13. Aug 4, 2014 #12


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    Just to get you thinking, Gerard 't Hooft is a Nobel laureate physicist who advocates for all of the above except the university part. No reason you can't start today.
  14. Aug 4, 2014 #13
    Thanks. I actually came across the program you linked about a year ago. I'm working my way through it (to some extent) already, but have come to understand that completing it alone is most likely beyond my capability and probably won't end in the result I'm looking for.

    Following his program (or attempting to) would probably leave me better off than doing nothing. But I think I need more guidance than studying these topics in isolation allows for. I'm also seeking to join the Physics community to some extent. Reading and learning on my own won't give me the ticket that I'm seeking.

    Add to that, that I have a whole host of quack theories that I want to t put to rest. As I've been doing self-study over the course of the past few months, I find myself inadvertently bolstering my own confidence in the quack theories rather than finding understanding about where I've gone wrong. I'm afraid that if I continue to study on my own exclusively, that I will tend to favor the facts and findings that support my quackery, while glossing over the established science that contradicts it. This is what has happened so far. It's unintentional, but confirmation bias has been a reality of my self study so far and I think I need the watchful eyes of professors, administrators, tests and the Physics community as a whole in order to make sure I learn properly.

    That said, I think it's great that 't Hooft has created that resource. I actually posted a link to it on another thread here on the same day as my OP. I think it would take an either an amazingly disciplined genius or a complete fool to do the whole thing. I'm closer to the fool than the genius. But at least I'm clever enough to know when I'm in over my head.
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