Entering a PhD Physics Program While Teaching High School?

  • #1
Hello,

I am currently a high school physics teacher in Chicago. I am thinking about going back to school to get a PHD in Physics. I currently have a B.S. in Applied Physics and a secondary education license.

I would like to find a way to go back and get a PHD. I cannot afford to quit my job and go back to school full time. Has anyone else have had a similar experience, and if so how were you able to go back to school while teaching full time? Any advice from anyone would be appreciated.

Please let me know.

Thank you,
Alex
 

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  • #2
ZapperZ
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Hello,

I am currently a high school physics teacher in Chicago. I am thinking about going back to school to get a PHD in Physics. I currently have a B.S. in Applied Physics and a secondary education license.

I would like to find a way to go back and get a PHD. I cannot afford to quit my job and go back to school full time. Has anyone else have had a similar experience, and if so how were you able to go back to school while teaching full time? Any advice from anyone would be appreciated.

Please let me know.

Thank you,
Alex

Wait... let's think about this for a minute. The period when you are the busiest with your teaching tends to also be the time when you will be busiest with school work. How are you going to manage this? How are you going to get away from your teaching responsibilities to attend classes? And worst still, if you end up doing experimental work, how are you going to just leave in the middle of an experiment to do your teaching responsibility? Don't high school teachers have to be on the high school campus the entire time?

I don't know how you plan on doing this.

I know of one high school physics teacher who QUIT his job to continue with his PhD, not doing both at the same time.

Zz.
 
  • #3
Vanadium 50
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I'm with Zz. I can't see how this is going to work. Getting a PhD in physics is a full-time job. Even if it weren't, it takes 7 years on average. At 1/3 time that's 21 years. At 1/4 it's 28. How is this going to work?
 
  • #4
analogdesign
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I knew a guy who tried exactly this. He had to quit teaching.
 
  • #5
WWGD
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What if you start with a clear, specific topic for your thesis, instead of going through your coursework and passing quals before beginning to work on it? This is what Wolfram did which took him, I believe, two years. True that he's brilliant, which helped too. Even better if you've begun research on your intended topic. It may help speed things up.
 
  • #6
Choppy
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There are ways to complete a PhD while supporting yourself. Remember that most physics PhD students are supported with a combination of stipends, scholarships, research and teaching assistanceships. It's not a lot of money and it's very difficult to support a family on, but it's something and it's usually enough for a student to support him or herself. And it's not unheard of for graduate students to take on additional part-time jobs too. As a qualified teacher, you might be able to get gigs teaching night school classes, tutoring, substituting, etc. to make up the difference in income.

That said, I agree with the others that a PhD is a long and challenging road and a full-time committment. Even a part-time job outside of it comes with consequences that will tend to stretch out the length of time you need to complete your degree.

Another option to consider - I know it's not uncommon for teachers to do master's degrees over the summers. You could look for a physics master's program that's run like this. That might help you to get a jump on the graduate coursework while still teaching full time, and give you a means of both advancing your education and testing the waters for a bigger commitment. The fine print to be aware of is that not all graduate coursework transfers though, so there is a risk of needed to repeat graduate coursework if you eventually enroll in a different school for a PhD.
 
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  • #7
ZapperZ
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What if you start with a clear, specific topic for your thesis, instead of going through your coursework and passing quals before beginning to work on it? This is what Wolfram did which took him, I believe, two years. True that he's brilliant, which helped too. Even better if you've begun research on your intended topic. It may help speed things up.

That makes no sense. What if you start with a clear, specific topic for your thesis and then FAIL your qualifying exam?

Zz.
 
  • #8
ZapperZ
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Another option to consider - I know it's not uncommon for teachers to do master's degrees over the summers. You could look for a physics master's program that's run like this. That might help you to get a jump on the graduate coursework while still teaching full time, and give you a means of both advancing your education and testing the waters for a bigger commitment. The fine print to be aware of is that not all graduate coursework transfers though, so there is a risk of needed to repeat graduate coursework if you eventually enroll in a different school for a PhD.

Caveat: Most of these "Masters Programs" are actually teachers training programs. I have ran a few of these. They give a Masters in Educations with a specialization in Physics Education. It is not a M.Sc. in Physics.

Zz.
 
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  • #9
WWGD
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That makes no sense. What if you start with a clear, specific topic for your thesis and then FAIL your qualifying exam?

Zz.
Well, if you fail your quals, you're screwed, no matter what, or, in some cases you may retake them. But a lot of time is often lost in selecting topics, advisors. Yes, my comment assumes you will pass them at some point. And when you do, you will be far ahead of those who have not chosen a topic. Edit: It may be worth looking into how Steve Wolfram finished his Phd, I believe, in less than 3 years.
 
  • #10
ZapperZ
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Well, if you fail your quals, you're screwed, no matter what, or, in some cases you may retake them. But a lot of time is often lost in selecting topics, advisors. Yes, my comment assumes you will pass them at some point. And when you do, you will be far ahead of those who have not chosen a topic. Edit: It may be worth looking into how Steve Wolfram finished his Phd, I believe, in less than 3 years.

But this is putting the cart before the horse!

In many instances, a faculty member will not take you on as your thesis advisor until AFTER you pass the qualifier. Depending on the school, the chances of a student NOT passing the qualifier is not negligible, so this is not a done deal by a long shot!

But this is all moot. If the OP is not able to leave him/her job during the day for classes, everything here is pointless.

Steve Wolfram was not a high-school teacher.

Zz.
 
  • #11
WWGD
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Yes, his position is clearly not ideal , so I suggest to see if there is something from Wolfram or other successful people that can be salvaged and adapted to his situation, as clearly a straight-line traditional approach will not likely be helpful. Just looking for solutions, as it is clear the situation is not ideal.
 
  • #12
ZapperZ
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Yes, his position is clearly not ideal , so I suggest to see if there is something from Wolfram or other successful people that can be salvaged and adapted to his situation, as clearly a straight-line traditional approach will not likely be helpful. Just looking for solutions, as it is clear the situation is not ideal.

But is this rational? Using the EXCEPTION as the rule?

You cannot use examples from highly unusual situation and say "Hey, look! It can be done! You should be able too do that too!"

You might as well say "Hey, plan your life on winning the lottery because look, many have won it!"

Is this rational to you? Is this sound advice?

Zz.
 
  • #13
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But is this rational? Using the EXCEPTION as the rule?

You cannot use examples from highly unusual situation and say "Hey, look! It can be done! You should be able too do that too!"

You might as well say "Hey, plan your life on winning the lottery because look, many have won it!"

Is this rational to you? Is this sound advice?

Zz.
Agree. That's like all the posters who write, "Well, Albert Einstein did all this groundbreaking research while he was employed as a patent examiner!" To which I typically respond, "Anyone of that caliber would not be writing to a web forum for advice."
 
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  • #14
WWGD
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I think you may have misunderstood what I meant
. Just see, study what people who succeeded through kludge did and see if something reasonable can be gained through this study that may successfully be applied to your case. If something is not workable, ignore or dismiss. Desperate times..... . It does seem rational. But I'll let you have the last word as it doesnt seem likely we will see eye to eye on this.
 
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