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Did I screw up my career?

  1. 25

    0 vote(s)
  2. 26

    0 vote(s)
  3. 27

    1 vote(s)
  4. 28

    3 vote(s)
  5. 29

    6 vote(s)
  1. May 14, 2009 #1
    I was just wondering how much damage have I caused myself by wasting the few years in the past? I started career fairly early. I learned calculus back when I was in the seventh grade. I then went on to take college-level mathematics starting from 9-th grade on, and college level physics starting from 10-th grade. By the time I graduated I finished low division sequences both in physics and math, and I also had 3 upper division math courses on top (complex analysis, differential geometry, and abstract algebra).

    When I did my undergrad, I probably kept moving at the average rate, but I was ahead due to my previous progress. So I only took 3 years to graduate, and within the space of 3 years I had taken 8 graduate courses (4 in math and 4 in physics).

    Then, when I started graduate school I screw myself up. I was assuming that graduate school is about courses, just like undergrad is. I had no idea it is about research until I learned it the hard way. To make it worse, I was "not liking" various concepts I had been dealing with, especially infinitely many conserved currents in string theory and grassmann variables in supersymmetry. I felt like I had to reinterpret them first, before I could allow myslef to ever use them. At the same time, stupidly, I insisted in doing string theory and nothing else because it is "theory of everything".

    As a consequence, I couldn't stay in my first graduate school, from which I ended up leaving with a Master's in 3 years. I then started graduate school at another university at which I had similar bad experience during the first two years I was there. They also wanted to get rid of me by the end of second year, but by some miracle I found a professor who was willing to take me on. Once that happened, I picked a rather rare area, called "causal set theory" in which only 20 people have worked world-wide. I figured that since such little progress was made, I am free to do it my own way openly. It worked, and it brought me to my graduation right now.

    Anyway, my regret is the time that I spent which I can't reverse. If I spent 3 years in first graduate school, and 5 years in my second graduate school, I spent total of 3+5=8 years in graduate school. This is probably longer than anyone else has spent. Also, I only started working in my new area of physics 3 years ago, so the first 5 years of graduate school (3 years in first graduate school and 2 years in 2nd graduate school) was wasted. More importantly, I am 29 years old right now and I know the most productive age is between 20 and 30. Is this true, or is it just prejudice some people have?

    At what age do people normally get their ph.d., and how many years am I below average? Do you think it is possible to make up for my mistakes by doing well in my future career?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 14, 2009 #2


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    I have worked with two gentlemen who have been quite productive into their 70's and 80's. Both started their own business.

    I recommend spending more time with one's girlfriend.
  4. May 14, 2009 #3


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    A "solid" progression in my mind to your phd is graduating with your bachelors at 22 and if you're lucky, 5-6 years to get your phd leaving you at 28 years old with your phd. That's of course, everything goes right. If you want a year off, get a bad advisor, switch majors, which is something a LOT of people do/have happen to them, you get pushed back a few years at least. Did you expect to get your phd in 4 years too?

    When people say you're most productive years are in your 20's, well that's when your productivity is based more on how enthusiastic you are and when you're "skill set" is pretty much already fixed. If you want to go into something that requires a PHD, obviously your skill set isn't complete (not that it ever actually gets completed...). That is, skills you receive through school.
  5. May 14, 2009 #4
    Dude, your poll ranges from 25-29...I'm sure some people here will be insulted. A lot of people work first and get their PhD's in 30's or 40's.
  6. May 14, 2009 #5


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    What future career? The biggest mistake people make in college is not planning for a career.
  7. May 14, 2009 #6


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    Science is not like the Olympics...you're not screwed if you haven't excelled by the time you're 30. I'm sure you're fine. :)
  8. May 14, 2009 #7


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    Sure you can, it totally depends on you, if you really want something you can get it, it won’t be easy either way [younger age or old], just consider that [wasted] time as your offbusiness time and your now back in business, just keep it up and work hard:smile:
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