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Physics Getting a Late Start on Physics (Without a Background in Science)

  1. May 4, 2009 #1
    I am 24 years old. On Saturday I will graduate from college with a B.A. in Political Science and a B.A. in Philosophy. I have not taken any math higher than pre-calculus. I want to learn physics and become a patent lawyer.

    What are my options?

    Edit: What would it take for a liberal arts major to get a masters in physics?

    (Please be gentle.)
  2. jcsd
  3. May 5, 2009 #2


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    You went through your education for 2 undergraduate degrees with good speed; maybe you are naturally sharp enough to achieve something in Mathematics & Physics, but reaching a Master's degree will probably be very difficult.

    ~ less as opinion
    If your last Math course was PreCalculus, then study this again on your own carefully and intensely. Physics will require a few courses which typically come after preCalculus, all relying much on algebra skills and some relying on Trigonometry. Will you be prepared to attend college or university part time for a few years to study Calculus, Linear Algebra, and some Physics courses with some of their lab sections, as well as a few other very useful (possibly necessary) subject areas?
  4. May 5, 2009 #3
    Many threads have come up on similar subjects, you should try a search. I guess if you haven't done anything since pre-calc then you're looking at starting from scratch - the only problem I can see would be financial constraints, and that's an issue you'll know about if it exists. 24 is by no means too late. (if you start now, ~35 year career? sounds reasonable!)
  5. May 5, 2009 #4
    Thanks for your response! After further research, I've found that I only need 24 hours of physics (for majors) to qualify to take the exam to become a patent lawyer. I would enjoy attending school to study any sort of physics or math that will help me do physics.

    If I went to school full-time, how many physics classes is it reasonable take at once? Other than that I guess I just need to take all the math pre-requisites to get into 24-30 hours of physics classes.

    Thanks again.
  6. May 5, 2009 #5
    I wasn't really sure what to search for. I wanted to find information specifically for someone with no science or math, I figured most people here wouldn't be as ignorant on those subjects as I am. I'll have to figure out what to do about the money. It just doesn't seem right to go through life without knowing physics.
  7. May 5, 2009 #6
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  8. May 5, 2009 #7
  9. May 5, 2009 #8
    That gave me a 404 Page Not Found error. For some reason there's a "..." where the rest of the URL should be.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  10. May 5, 2009 #9
    Try that link again, it's good stuff.
  11. May 5, 2009 #10
    Thanks. Though I haven't tried it, I am fairly sure that according to Zapper's litmus test I would find that I do not have the background for a graduate program in physics (plus, I'm a philosophy major :redface:). But I now know that I would be eligible to take the exam for patent lawyers as a category B applicant with 24 hours in physics for majors.

    So, I need to know what I need to know to be ready for 24 hours of physics. Algebra, calculus, analytic geometry? And how many semesters of the different maths would I need?

    Thanks again for all the help. This is a great forum.
  12. May 5, 2009 #11
    Probably the best thing to do is sit down with your advisor and figure out what you need to take. IMO you will need Calc 1, 2, 3 for sure. Take the 200 level physics classes (usually a mechanics, E/M, and intro to modern physics.) Then comes the 300 level courses, usually just E/M and mechanics. Also you may be able to take a thermo from the physics department. That should put you at something like:

    200-mechanics: ~4hour w/ lab
    200-E/M: ~4hour w/lab
    200-Modern: ~3hour
    300-Mechanics: 3hr
    300-E/M: 3hr
    that puts you at 17hrs

    Then you may be able to pick up some elective classes like optics, astronomy, etc to fill out the rest.

    The math classes are going to run you around 9-12hrs total. You may find it agreeable to pick up an elementary Differential Equations class and perhaps linear algebra depending on how much math you want to take.

    Get ready for some intense studying. If you have only had precalc, then your experience with this course work is going to totally different than what you have been doing.
  13. May 5, 2009 #12
    I can tell it's going to be challenging but it will be worth it. I can't believe I only just realized how important and interesting physics is. Thanks for your help.
  14. May 5, 2009 #13
    I would say that it takes three years to be prepared for graduate level physics

    1st year: Intro Physics and Calculus
    summer: vector calculus, differential equations
    2nd year: Electromagnetism, Classical Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Mathematical Methods, Linear Algebra
    summer: abstract linear algebra
    3rd year: Quantum Mechanics, miscallaneous electives (Relativity, Optics, Solid State, Statistical Mechanics).

    I also did a philosophy major, where physics especially pays of when studying Plato, Aristotle, Leibniz, and Kant, since of the list of major philosophers these fellows especially praise physics and mathematics, and it is nice to know what they are talking about!
  15. May 6, 2009 #14
    I don't think you can consider yourself complete until you have a good understanding of philosophy and physics. (There might be a couple of other important subject areas, but for now I'm going to have my hands full with this physics stuff.)
  16. May 6, 2009 #15


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    Here's something that I still don't understand. Why are you trying to pursue a graduate degree in physics? Is it not possible to simply have a minor in it, since you do not intend to be a physicists, but rather an attorney with some physics background to be a patent lawyer?

  17. May 6, 2009 #16
    I don't even have to have a minor:

    My problem is finding out how what classes I need to be ready to take 24 hours of physics. Looks like I'll need some math first.
  18. May 6, 2009 #17
    Also, once I have the math, assuming I were going to school full-time (which I may or may not be) how many physics classes could I take at the same time before becoming counterproductive?
  19. May 7, 2009 #18
    Just thought I'd let you know I've postponed my graduation and will be pursuing a B.A. in physics if I do well in calculus over the summer. Thanks for all of your help.
  20. May 8, 2009 #19


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    I never read anything about him wanting to be a graduate student.
  21. May 8, 2009 #20


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    Your nuts. I would graduate and just pursue this part-time.

    I'm in my 7th of post-secondary education, and going into my 8th. I wonder what the working life is like. I haven't like worked worked in like a year or two.
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