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Fulltime Jobs while doing a Phd

  1. Nov 20, 2009 #1
    Hi, I probably have said this else where but I am 29 a software engineer with a masters in mathematics. I have become bored with the mediocrities of IT work in the corporate world and decided to go for my Phd. Aside from where I been trying to figure out how. Might anybody have any suggestions about the types of Jobs I can do while going to school and also support my future wife and family.

    On a side note, I have asked in other posts (still getting used to the forum culture) I want to start studying physics independently. I am not sure where to start since I have formal training in graduate level mathematics (I graduated 4 years ago). Should i step back and start with general calc based physics or start with advanced undergraduate physics such as formal classical physics.

    Any help is greatly appreciated :D
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 20, 2009 #2
    I don't have much to offer, I'm just replying so I can follow this thread. I will eventually be in the same boat as you. I am old enough now that I have to keep a full time job, but would like to pursue graduate studies.

    So good timing with the thread. :)
  4. Nov 20, 2009 #3
    I am glad im not alone. I am happy I found this forum because aside from my college professors who I do not see, I have no one to relate with. :D
  5. Nov 20, 2009 #4
    Oh I can offer assistance...sort of.

    I think one thing that will help people answer your question is how many credit hours can you handle with a full time job? I know some people that can't even do 5 (how I don't know) where as I am pretty comfortable around 15.

    That would be the biggest factor on where it's possible or not.
  6. Nov 20, 2009 #5
    I am not so worried about credit hours. I worked two part time jobs (35 hours a week) plus grad school and although i had little life i was able to manage. It's just finding a job that pays enough to live, not be insanely poor but gives me the flexibility to take classes that might not always be at night.
  7. Nov 22, 2009 #6
    Awesome that I found someone too. I am 28 years old tired of the "cubicle" work setting. I currently work in teh accounting sector. I received by bs in math in 2005 and am looking to get my masters and then phd, maybe 2 in math and physics. It is my passion. I have a wife and a 1.5 year old daughter who will turn 2 in March (on pie day ironically :). I need to continue working throughout getting my ms, I will be going to school in teh nights m-th and working full time in the day so I know its going to be crazy. after I get my ms I would like to get my phd and become a researcher/professor. Keep me posted on your progress....
  8. Nov 23, 2009 #7
    You'd be hard-pressed to find a PhD program that would let you work full time *and* work on a PhD. In the US, PhDs tend to take 5-6 years with the grad student having NO other commitments. If you had a full time job on top of that, you'd probably be looking at 10+ years to get a PhD, if you could even find someone to fund you for that long. Not to mention that you'd never have any time for your family, which doesn't seem to be your goal.
  9. Nov 23, 2009 #8
    Is that truly realistic? I have heard of people working while they went for their Phd. NYU has a part time Phd program for Computer Science. I have read on here about people going for a Phd later in the game while supporting a family. I know there has to be a way. If there is I will find it. That I know.
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2009
  10. Nov 23, 2009 #9
    People who work while they went for their PhD typically only work part-time (and then probably not very many hours). People getting a PhD late in the game are usually doing their PhD full time anyways. While there are probably exceptions, that's just how it works.

    I think it is completely realistic to expect a part-time PhD to take 10+ years. If you estimate the typical grad student works an average of 60 hours a week for 6 years to get their PhD, then if you are working full time and devote 30 hours per week on top of that to your PhD then you ought to take about 12 years to finish. Of course, then you'd be working almost all of the time and have very little time for your family. A PhD doesn't magically take less total hours just because it is part time.
  11. Nov 23, 2009 #10
    Looks like I'll be stopping at a masters. ;)

    I'd be almost 45 just graduating. I'd like to officially punch myself in the face for working through my 20's. Kids, let this be a lesson to you. If you have any sort of plans to get a degree, do it now. Otherwise you will have one foot already in the grave by the time you graduate. :rofl:
  12. Nov 23, 2009 #11
    I am attempting to get a job as a software developer or network engineer at the local college's around my area. From there I am tackling my second masters (this one in physics) and seeing where I can go from there. Regardless I won't need a Phd to tell me I can study nature :D
  13. Nov 23, 2009 #12


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    I don't know what your budget is but a masters in physics might be possible given your math background.

    Another thing to point out is that once you become integrated into the workforce for a particular job whether its physics, IT, math whatever a job is a job and its basically an exercise in weighing up the downsides and upsides so that in your own personal view you can handle the downsides enough to enjoy the upsides.

    Two-fish quant contributed to a thread about his work with insights into his job and I would try and put some of the things he said into context about finding a job in a new field. I don't know what your motivations are for doing physics but I would imagine a lot of physicists get bored with their jobs as well.

    Physics is generally just applied maths anyway, and your math background would prove valuable. It would allow you to take a step back and to use your experience to see not only what makes sense but why. Typically having read different authors work I find that very good physicists are good mathematically as well. Typically maths is extended in some form and if the physicist has that "mathematical mindset" (for example they are aware of the assumptions that they are dealing with and can transform an initial set of mathematical facts into a model or a proof or something related), then they are going to be much better
    at looking at the big picture what something actually means.

    Also getting a PhD in physics is no easy task and requires enough dedication even without work and there is the possibility that you will get a TA or something to earn your way through the duration of the doctoral program.

    I don't have a PhD in physics or math (but i'm studying math) but i think based on what i've seen for that kind of coursework that the more you understand the math in depth the better you will be to not only grasp the subject but get the "big picture".

    Having a masters in math could set you up to an academic position dealing with math and it could be possible to transition to doing something related with physics based on your math knowledge.

    Hopefully people who have done this kind of transition can give you some more advice.
  14. Nov 23, 2009 #13


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    Because it hasn't already been mentioned, it bares noting that most graduate students are offered some form of support - if not through direct scholarships then by way of research or teaching assistanceships. It's not a lot of money, but it's usually enough to keep you from assuming any more debt.

    I worked part time about eight hours a week on average with the campus police. And while I enjoyed the work for the most part, even that hampered me time-wise and I ended up graduating about 6 months to a year later than the others who started with me.
  15. Nov 30, 2009 #14
    Based on the fact that you are bored of your job, I infer you need something interesting. So I would suggest you to start with some modern physics like Quantum Mechanics, Special Relativity. If you feel difficulty somewhere you can always revert to basic maths and classical physics. Doing classical physics in the first place would be boring and little useless too.
    Further, I don't think you would be able to do a PhD with full time job. All you can hope is TA, RA but that would not pay you enough to sustain a family. But if you can find TA, RA or some scholarship along with a part time job that may work.
  16. Dec 1, 2009 #15
    Thanks Kista for your response. How much to TA's and RA's generally make? I have a side business I am working if it takes off then I'm going all the way just for the study. I think even after I do a Phd I would like to remain a independent scientist. I fear politics of science would sour my love inquiry.
  17. Dec 2, 2009 #16
    That depends on university and no. of hours you work as TA/RA. But usually its about $18k to $22k.
  18. Dec 4, 2009 #17
    It is possible to get a PhD while working full-time, but it is a very difficult road and requires a lot of variables to come together in your favor. A very good friend of mine just completed a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Minnesota. He was working-full time as an engineer at a major medical device firm while doing this, and also has a wife and four children. His company picked up the bill for the tuition, and since his research was aligned with a major research initiative at the company, they also paid for his research. In fact, he was able to do the vast majority of his research on the clock while he was at work! For the coursework, prelims, and dissertation, he would work from 9PM to 1AM six or seven nights a week, sleep from 1AM to around 7AM, and then get up to be back at his "day job" around 8AM. The coursework/prelims lasted two years and it took him about six months to write his dissertation. It was a very difficult journey and there were times where it pushed him to the breaking point, but he was able to do it without serious neglect of his other responsibilities. Luckily, he is someone who doesn't need much sleep. I am wrapping up my masters' degree this year (while working full-time) and am hoping to also get a PhD at some point, but I'm not sure I can handle the chronic sleep deprivation.

    I hope that provides some insight.
  19. Dec 4, 2009 #18
    Oh, I forgot to include that the total amount of time from the start of coursework to the awarding of the PhD was about 5 years. He had a masters' in Mechanical Engineering going into it.
  20. Dec 4, 2009 #19
    That is a very encouraging story thank you for sharing it ies0716. I figure if it's meant to be I'll find a way. i have my masters in math as well so hopefully that would give me a little boost. I am trying to land a job in IT at a few of the universities in the area. Perhaps after working I can work it out since the location can be convenient.
  21. Dec 4, 2009 #20
    I think it's doable, it's just a matter of finding the right program, staying motivated, and being willing to make sacrifices.

    The right program is key because since you're a nine-to-fiver you need a program that offers classes in the evenings. The NE department at my school does really well there. Most of their grad courses start at 5 PM and they meet for 3 hours 1 night a week. A lot of them are offered online as well, so you don't even have to run to campus every time. At the other end of the spectrum are the math and physics departments. No online classes and their grad classes have schedules like 11-12 M, W, F.

    For the coursework, the main thing is staying motivated and keeping at it. I think our PhD program is 60 hours of course work (not counting the 24 research hours which aren't actually classes) from BS to PhD. If you only took one 3 hour course in the Spring, Summer, and Fall of each year you would get 60 hours in ~ 7 years. If you could handle a somewhat tougher load, say 6 hours Spring and Fall and 3 in the Summer you could finish in 5 years.

    Probably the biggest obstacle in your situation is the research. A dissertation is probably a year absolute minimum from start to finish if you work on it 100 hours per week, but 18 months to 2 years (or more) is going to be a lot more normal. Most people I'm going to school with get a head start and end up doing the dissertation in an area where they've been working as a research assistant for a couple of year while finishing their course work, but with a full time schedule, you probably won't be able to do that.

    Your best course of action would be to get a job that ties in with the major after you get your MS (or earlier) so that you can either work on the research at work or else have them let you take time off to work on it. I have two friends at ORNL that are trying to finish their PhD's that way. One is trying to find a funded project that he can use for his PhD (so his job will be researching for his dissertation) and another who is taking a semi-sabbatical and dropping his work hours to 20/week so he can spend 40-60 off the clock working on his research.
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