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Going back to school (So many choices)

  1. Jun 2, 2008 #1
    As much as I don't want to make my story too drawn out for the sake of drama, I feel like I have to give it so whoever has an even better idea of my position. Here we go.

    As long as I can literally remember i've been obsessed with Paleontology, Geology, Astronomy and well, science. I read every single book associated with those subjects that I could get my hands on and that was in my grade school libraries... on my own accord out of sheer obsessive fascination. Up to high school I was a general science wiz. In elementary school up to mid-high school I was always the one winning first place in the science fairs and easily breezed through the science classes without ever having to study or feel as though I needed too, because I didn't have too. I typically knew the information long before the teacher even got a topic in class. My parents naturally picked up on this and through their connections, I was allowed to sit in on Geology lectures at our local university when I was in the 5th grade... the professor actually allowing me to go on a few fossil digs and site field trips with them. The (much) older students in the class always got a kick out of quizzing me because I typically knew the right answer... felt like a game to me.

    OK, fast forward a few years up to my mid high school year. At that time I really started loosing interest in all the other subjects (English, Mathematics, History). I started giving up out of boredom... feeling as though it was time to be done with it and get out. I was usually able to pass the in-class tests and exams with at least Bs since I was there, but since I flat out refused to do the homework, you can guess where that kept landing me. Well, I never even passed pre-algebra due to this. I never got past grade 11 English... which I skimmed by with a C. I did OK in history, but again I barely got by because I refused to do the homework. I passed Biology with an A+ and extra credit due to the fact that I actually cared about it, but.... and here's the kicker..... it never went any further than that because I dropped out of high school when I turned 18. Big time regrets. Biggest regret of my life actually.

    I went on to get a job as a machinist. My boss was a friend of the family and knew what I was capable of, so he gave the job as a CNC programmer making small precision parts for dental, aviation, and general industrial use... both government and commercial. After working there for a year he started pushing me to get my GED so I did. I can't remember my overall score, but I do remember scoring within the top 99 nationwide percentile in science, around the top 88% in history, a little lower than that in English and pretty much average in math.
    I did the CNC thing for 7 years and got tired of it. I got out went on to work in a network operations center for a mid-sized telecom company. To fill in a bit of info, from about 7th grade and up I was working on computers for people... I loved hardware, but never cared much for software and programming (even though I was a programmer for 7 years).

    I did the network ops thing for 3 years all the while building and working on computers for people as side money. I would do business and home network troubleshooting along with new installs and setup. I actually went in with a friend and whom I started a small business with on the side. Well, after about the 3 year mark the telecom company decided to sell out and proceeded to lay off 90% of the employees and outsource the rest to overseas. The personal computer biz I have isn't doing so hot... at least not enough that i'm satisfied with. I also have a lot of regrets on my shoulders (mainly, one BIG regret). Which puts me in the position i'm in now; 27 years old and wanting to make a change. Sorry for the long background (aka rant)

    I've thought about trying to get an engineering degree, but I have a lot of catching up to do but honestly, I never really understood the academic path or construct. I really, seriously want to get back on track from where I was when I was younger, make a change, and put fourth 120% effort towards it. I've also thought about possibly doing something with geology since I at least have the early foundation and understanding present. I've also thought about taking it to the top, if possible, and getting a Ph.D in one..... but i'm having trouble deciding. I understand that a Ph.D is a long way down the road, but i've always been a person that needs a positive, no-doubt plan before I fully commit. At the least, i'd like to make sure I have the proper foundations laid to be able to properly divert do a different area of study later on. I just want to be sure that I make the early, beginning babysteps, the right steps that won't somehow limit me later.

    Any advise at all would be greatly appreciated.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 2, 2008 #2
    Just to add, I went to Space Camp three different years.:shy:
  4. Jun 2, 2008 #3
    You are one of the poor unfortunate souls that could do just about anything. Ben Franklin was like that. The difference is, in Franklin's day that was valued and respected. Now, if you want compensation working for someone else, you have to specialize.

    The good thing is you seem to have no problem learning. Take advantage of that while you are still young. Have you looked into CLEP tests? You could get credit for a significant portion of the lower division work required for a degree using CLEP. That might help maximize the result of your study time and minimize the BS (as you put it).

    Paleontology, Geology, Astronomy... Just daydreaming about how they might go together in a way that you could make a living with just a BS degree (different BS), I am thinking oil.
    The exploration here in the U.S. is really beginning to pick up; especially around Montana and South Dakota. They have dark skies and dinosaur bones there as well as oil. You could make a living and have easy access to a couple of great hobbies.

    Now if someone could just tell me what I should be when I grow up...
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2008
  5. Jun 2, 2008 #4
    Thankyou for your time montoyas. I'm actually about to head down to the local technical college within the next few minutes to speak with a counselor. I've never heard of the CLEP, but i'll definitely run it by them.

    You know, I did consider the oil industry at one time recently. The professor at the local university that I mentioned, actually ended up going into that field and is there to this day. I also like your line of thinking concerning the 'dark skies and dinosaur bones'. That would be a great one-two punch. One area that i've recently dreamed about was possibly planetary geology or astrogeology. I've been following the Mars Phoenix lander fairly closely since the mission was originally planned, and it seems as though every time I see the University of Arizona's name mentioned, i'll suddenly start daydreaming. It combines the geology, astronomy and NASA tie in a nice little package. One thing that i'd hate to completely dump is my knowledge and early dream of working for NASA, or at least a division of.

    Again, i'd like to stress my ignorance of the academic framework. Since I started slacking at at time in school where the fundamentals of degrees and the general 'path' for most was being discovered, I didn't experience this framework. I suppose you can say that I was pretty much a naive punk and expected to be handed a job after school, which leads me to these questions....

    Do classes leading towards a bachelors degree have to be taken consecutively? Can I start off with just an associates and then later, add on to it and turn it into an bachelors?

    Those are the kind of questions I'm looking at.
  6. Jun 2, 2008 #5
    I am going to assume that the counselor will answer your academic framework questions. But I do want to tell you this. Here in M'boro we are graced with the presence of a couple of former astronauts. In hearing what they have said about becoming an astronaut/NASA employee I have learned that academic pedigree really really matters. The good thing is you have none so you can create whatever you want! While it does matter where you graduate, an associates from a tech college may not be a bad thing. Vanderbilt has recently committed to encouraging promising local students. One of the engineers I work with went to Vol state, got a associates in technology and was accepted to Vandy with MONEY. I don't know how much exactly but he said it was a significant discount. He only did two years at Vandy but that doesn't matter. His degree is from Vandy.

    Good luck
  7. Jun 6, 2008 #6
    Yesterday I took the Compass placement test. Out of at a total score of 100 my reading comprehension was 96, writing skills 94, and my mathematics 55.:frown: I was VERY suprised at how hard even the very first problem was. Every single problem was actually way over my head. The only way I was able to pass the ones that I did was to break down the problems my own way... which I know wasn't the way I was originally taught. Anyway, it looks at though i'm having to start out at intermediate Algebra. At least it's a start.

    I was pretty concerned at how hard the problems were, so I called a friend of mine who graduated from the same college (later transfered) and is about to take his bar exam. He told me that our high schools math department was horrible compared to the rest of the state. He had spoken to a few other student who also went there and they said they also had problems with mathematics they went on to college. I guess combine my growing loss of interest with a lackluster department, leads to where I am now.
  8. Jun 7, 2008 #7
    I'm afraid there's no engineering you can do without a math background but if you're willing to work hard you can always build one
  9. Jun 7, 2008 #8
    Oh I understand that fully. A good friend of mine recently graduated with an engineering degree and the whole time he was in school, he griped about how much math was involved. I believe I can do it though. What makes me think this is that we've both been into automotive performance since our late teens, yet every now and then there's questions he asks me that seem very.... basic, coming from someone with an engineering degree. This happens a lot. I assumed that, given his mathematics background, he would fully understand the situation, or at least be able to relate to it somehow. He's a very smart guy, it's just those basic questions he asks surprises me a bit.

    My main problem is that my mathematics is spotty. I'm self taught. I know quite a bit about the algebra and geometry that's involved with fluid dynamics due to a few projects that i've built. A few years ago I built a homemade flow bench for flow testing cylinder heads on automobiles and motorcycles. I understand how the mathematics and relationships work for that specific application, but if I was to try and adapt them to something else, or if someone changed the problems around, I would be clueless. Hopefully the college teachers will be able to explain a bit more on the application side of the mathematics... what relationship the problem is representing.
  10. Jun 7, 2008 #9
    Please congratulate your good friend for me. I hope you respect his achievement even if he does ask you basic questions. Perhaps he can help you with your math skills in trade for your car skills.

  11. Jun 7, 2008 #10

    Oh I do, no question. I went to his graduation ceremony two years ago. The pieces that you highlighted in my paragraph, both didn't pertain to him. When I said "This happens a lot", I was implying with other people. If anything I said looks as though I have no respect for his accomplishments, it must be due to wording. Fully understand that I do.

    My concern is that i'm not sure if the rigorous mathematics courses is going to be teaching me what I think i'm going to be taught. I was just using him as an example.
  12. Jun 7, 2008 #11
    I am currently working on my BSEE and would consider myself, at the moment, more in your shoes than the shoes of any upper division engineering student. I started back at school about a year ago and would consider myself essentially no further ahead than you. I was not confident in mathematics either and my abilities lacked more than my confidence. I began by taking a sequence of precalculus 1, precalculus 2. 2 focused exclusively on trigonometry. I am thankful I took a few steps backwards before proceeding to Calc1.

    I understood the purpose of your thread to indicate that you wanted to possibly pursue an engineering degree(among several other potential degree choices), that your particular weakness was in mathematics, and that you were looking for suggestions on achieving your goal(s).

    I suggested you trade your car skills for your friend's math skills. You are correct, I did consider your post to be a slight to your friend's achievement. I read it to mean that you judged you could be an engineer because your friend was one, and he sometimes asks you common sense questions to which you know the answer. I stand corrected in this misinterpretation.

    As of this post, I am only in Calc2. If you anticipate "rigorous mathematics courses", then what you "think you are going to be taught" is correct. Assuming you've narrowed your choices down to engineering, you will face many sequences of mathematics courses where not everything will lend itself to being boiled down to common sense, at least in my short experience, although I imagine common sense is extremely useful and desired.

    I am on the road to a BS in Electrical Engineering. Which engineering field are you interested in?

  13. Jun 7, 2008 #12
    If you knew what you were going to be taught, there would be very little point in going back to school. :smile:

    I'd certainly encourage you to try to go back to school... education is good, and more education is better. However, you need to be aware that:
    1. Engineering involves a *lot* of math, and
    2. Every engineering program that I am aware of has a humanities requirement. You *will* be taking English and possibly History courses... just not as many as in high school.
  14. Jun 8, 2008 #13

    Now that's the kind of post i'm looking for. Thank you.

    To be honest i'm not sure. I'm good at Geology, so I was thinking something that could be useful with that area. Say, a Mechanical Engineering along with a Geology degree? Something that could possibly land me a job in the petroleum industry, or maybe a job with NASA. Something along those lines. What do you link would be some good options?
  15. Jun 8, 2008 #14

    Friend, If you are interested in engineering and geology I recommend considering geological engineering. You also mentioned an interest in the University of Arizona. I currently attend school there and I can tell you that Geosciences department is topnotch. I have attended several lectures given by professors from that department (including the Dean of our college of Science). We also receive a lot of grants from NASA as you are probably aware. All around, it would be a great choice for your interests.
  16. Jun 8, 2008 #15
    You're basically the same person as me. I excelled up until high school at which point I started losing interest because some of the subjects required a modicum of study, which I hadn't had to do up until that point. I finished high school in the bottom fourth of my class and worked in tech support/service industry until I enrolled in a local CC at 26.

    Like you, I scored high on the Compass test (99/99/99). The high math score let me skip algebra and go straight to trig, which I found to be incredibly difficult (mostly because it was a 5.5 week course and the first course I had taken in >5 years). I took 61 hours in 1 1/2 years at the local CC and transferred into a top 10 engineering school. I'm in my final year of my BSEE w/ a 3.9 GPA and will be applying to law schools next semester.

    As for advice, I would recommend you forget about how well you did in 5th grade or that you went to astronaut camp for three years. You likely did poorly in high school for the same reasons I did; you always scored 99% in every standardized test and you were used to knowledge coming easy. This changes for most people in college. You have to internalize the fact that nothing worth having is easily attained.

    There were several times in that first trig class where I literally threw the book across the room in sheer frustration and told my girlfriend that I was done with this experiment. I went on, utilized the tutoring facilities that my CC offered and got an A in the course. You should be prepared for these moments of frustration and despair in your first (few?) math and physics classes. When they come, just get up from the table, calm down and remind yourself that no one is born with an innate understanding of these concepts and everyone (save a few geniuses) must work to master them.
  17. Jun 9, 2008 #16
    "What makes me think this is that we've both been into automotive performance since our late teens, yet every now and then there's questions he asks me that seem very.... basic"

    Firstly you have to understand what engineering is (at least university level engineering). It is not "let's build stuff" it is not anything like auto-shop (even if it were that is mechanical engineering which is just one type of engineering). It is more thermodynamic properties, circuit response (for electrical), minimizing stress and strain, increasing gain while minimizing noise in a circuit (again electrical), modeling ground water flow (civil) and math, math, math (and the type of math is calculus, calculus, calculus (real, vector, tensor and complex) i'm afraid). So, I think it's important you realize what an engineer does before embarking down that path. A mechanic and an engineer are two very different things (although certainly a person could be both). Therefore, I'd make sure you fully read up on the types of classes you will be taking and what kind of jobs the degree will lead to.
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