Finish Engineering Physics degree?


I am married with 2 teenage children. In 1999, I decided I should go to college and do something with myself. I took the ACT exam and scored a 34 composite score (out of 36). I then applied to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and was accepted. I chose to pursue a degree in Engineering Physics. I have heard that some institutions refer to this as Applied Physics.

I did very well in school. I earned an A in every class, including Calc1, 2, 3, Diff. Eq., Vector Calc, Partial Diff. Eq., Physics 1, 2, Statics, Solid Mechanics, and other humanities, social sciences, and such. I currently have a 3.93CGPA.

During my studies, I ran into a business opportunity. Ignoring my advisor's advice (after all, supporting the family is not easy), I took a new job. I worked very hard. My wife drove me everywhere so I could study and do homework in the passenger seat. In the 3 years I was employed by the company, I rose quickly.

After partnership promises (that were already agreed upon during negotiations) fell through, I went out and opened up a similar business of my own (it's an IT business, basically). My wife and I currently are running the business. We started the business with only about $10,000 so it has a shoe-string budget. It basically brings in enough income to pay for my $60,000 salary...not much more (my wife doesn't even pull a salary out of it).

But I am bored now. Not that I'm not challenged, because I am...I have to create all the marketing pieces, do all the sales (and I HATE being a salesman), all the installations, troubleshooting, support, etc.

I miss the enjoyment I got from working physics problems. I miss the challenges. I miss the team brainstorming. And I feel like a quitter for not finishing. My excuses were that if I spent another $25,000 to finish the degree, it would be a waste because I probably couldn't get a job that would pay me enough to repay the loans and support my family...much less be able to afford to go to graduate school.

I am through making excuses. I have gone to the closet and pulled out all my books and began reviewing everything so that I can restart where I left off...maybe even stronger than before...classes begin in January again, so this leaves me plenty of time. I am exactly half-way through the 138 credit program if I decide to continue with it. However, if I do this, I will not be able to ethically or morally sell the promise of continued full-time support to my customers, which means I will have to learn to live off of a bit less income during well as letting the business fall by the wayside eventually.

Any thoughts on this? Am I being a fool? Should I accept what I have (a business of my own), even though I'm not completely thrilled doing what I do? When I have a wife and children to consider, am I being childish to want to go back to school and pursue a new career at 30 years of age? Are there even non-sales related career opportunities today in physics?

In my industry, it feels like everybody and their brother is doing what I do for a living...I also like the feeling of being among a much smaller group of peers...I like the feeling that very few are capable of doing good physics.

Any comments would be greatly appreciated.

Well not to upstage you, but I have a similar story. Maybe it will be inspirational. To make it short and sweet, I've always done well scholastically, but a daughter side-tracked my plans. I got into IT myself and am doing well, but it's not what I want really. It's a job to me.

So I've decided at 28 years of age to pursue a longtime dream of mine to become a doctor. Of course this is long, and very difficult. I also am not sure how it will work for me since at some point I will have to give up working to go to school full time. No moonlighting allowed even if I wanted to. And I'll be almost 40 by the time I finish my residency in my specialty(thinking psychiatry). So lots of details. But I've decided it's what I want, and where there's a will, there's a way. I know I can do it if I'm determined enough, and so that's what I'll be doing shortly.

Don't give up on what you really want. Better to have walked the road to a dead-end then never to have followed the path to begin with.

Ivan Seeking

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Gold Member
You and I and Zantra have much in common. Zantra and I already have had some discussions on this point.

I left an 8 year career to return to school. My wife carried the primary burden of income, but I worked as much as I could. I made some good money tutoring among other things. If you can still rely on the business, even if scaled back, then that would be a true blessing. Once I turned student, my income earning capacity dropped by 50% not due to time, but due to expectations. Many companies aren't interested in hiring experienced people who will leave in a few years; they know your interests lie elsewhere. Also, unless you can get a good paying job in physics as a student - called a violation of physical law - the options can be limiting and depressing.

For me, first returning to school for a physics degree, and then half way through moving to Oregon [hated LA] set into motion a chain of events that I could have never foreseen. The final outcome has been nothing that I expected, and more than I could have ever hoped for. It was also a very painful road as an older guy. It hurts not to sleep!

If you love physics; if you pass the test for a physics major in the Fun Forum , and if this is a matter of desire and not just interest, then if you're like me, no other options will suffice. Also, as it turns out, I may even be able to justify my degree based on lifetime income one day!

A physics degree most definitely can open doors. The salesman in you will help here also. I find that a physics degree can be “sold” when not recognized as significant.

What are your expectations?

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