1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

How many degrees( bachelor, or grad ) can have one have?

  1. Nov 26, 2009 #1
    Suppose X is a successful practicing lawyer. He already had a bachelor degree, and some graduate degrees under his belt. He realizes after watching startrek, he wants to be a research physicist in a university. Is he too late to go back to school? I suspect he needs to get in order:

    1.Bachelors degree in physics.
    2.Masters degree in physics.
    3.Ph.d in physics.

    He would have to get all 1, 2 and 3 in order to reach his dream of being a research physicist. My question is: Is there a limit to he number of graduate degrees one can get in a lifetime?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 26, 2009 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Although this wouldn't apply for PhD's theres possibly no limit for undergraduate or graduate coursework you can do but the money would be fairly high so I guess if you can fund it and have the tenacity to get through it then the skys the limit!
  4. Nov 26, 2009 #3

    So i guess you can ` t get more than one ph.d s? Just curious!
  5. Nov 26, 2009 #4
    It's rarely allowed (most departments won't let someone who already has a Ph.D. earn another one), plus most Ph.D.'s you talk to will probably balk at the idea of going through the whole ordeal again.
  6. Nov 26, 2009 #5
    Yep, i am sure it is hard work getting that ph.d, but the official policy for a university is limited to the number of graduate degrees where the degree is obtained. That means, there is a quota on the number of degrees one can get at a particular university. At least that is all i know from a career councelor at ucla. Curiously, a person can get a ph.d at university A, and go to university B to get a second one. In reality, it is all about networking. It is about who you know. My friend got admitted at a phd program from a masters just by knowing a few good friends. Not sure if you can network you way into a second ph.d from the same institution.
  7. Nov 27, 2009 #6
    Most universities will not allow X to get a second bachelor's. Fortunately for X, he can get into a grad program even if his first bachelor's is not in physics (although something sciency is preferable, and not a B.A. in underwater basket weaving). Unfortunately for X, grad programs are fairly selective and it's difficult to get in. There's also a significant financial factor in all this. Even if he were admitted, X would have to trade in his Porsche and spend 4 to 8 years in the university on starvation wages, and end up getting a job that pays substantially less than law practice (if he's lucky: most Ph.D.s end up working outside academia, we just had a thread about this).

    A reasonable route would sound like this.

    - Get a bunch of undergraduate physics textbooks. Repeat everything that X studied back when he was an undergrad student getting his bachelor's, learn things that weren't part of his curriculum. Work on solving problems.

    - Ace GRE general and GRE subject physics.

    - Apply for Ph.D. program at a local university. Offer to pay his way through while working part time. If X has connections in the physics department, that's a big bonus, especially if connections are at faculty or administrative level.

    - Spend the first 1-2 years taking prerequisite courses while working and saving up money.

    - Find an advisor ASAP. That's a big potential pitfall for someone who pays his way through. Most students get advisors right away because they need financing. If X pays for his own education, he runs the risk of getting stranded with no advisor and nothing to do once his prerequisites are complete. Should that happen, there's a fair chance that X will drop out. The advisor should be sufficiently interested in the student to take over the tuition check, because his funding is limited. That's the biggest obstacle. Getting in and paying out of his own pocket lets X establish relationships with professors and demonstrate his capabilities. That is assuming he is in fact capable of research work. He'll capitalize on that by getting an advisor.

    - Once X is done with classes, he'll spend increasing amounts of time at the university. If he's in theory, it may be possible to go on working part-time for a while, though that is unadvisable. An experimentalist would have to be present at the university full-time.

    If X were to start doing all of the above now, he might still have time to get into a graduate program starting fall of 2010, assuming his knowledge of physics is fresh and complete ... otherwise, it's best to start studying and apply next winter.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2009
  8. Nov 27, 2009 #7
    Actually, when it comes to Ph.D.s, university B might not let you in because you already have a Ph.D. from university A. But the actual policy depends on university B.

    As for undergraduate and graduate degrees, the only real limits are time and money. Take a look at Michael D. Griffin, former head of NASA, for some idea of what is possible. And I'm sure he doesn't hold a record here...

    I also have to say, I'm slightly skeptical about the possibility of getting into a physics Ph.D. program with nothing more than a good physics GRE score. I'd love to hear about someone who's done it though.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2009
  9. Nov 27, 2009 #8
    I don ` t think a good GRE physics is enough to get into a top or even good ph.d program. It is probable better to apply for a masters, then follow by a ph.d.

    Plus, i know alot of lawyers that hate their job.
  10. Nov 27, 2009 #9
    I suspect a group of people will sit in a room to vote on it.

    Who is Michael D. Griffin?
  11. Nov 27, 2009 #10
    It's often a combined MS/Ph.D. program. Since MS in physics in and of itself is fairly worthless, it's given out as sort of a consolation prize for those who drop out before completing their theses.

    800 on GRE subject physics and general math, plus a strong essay, plus an assurance that Mr. X does not require funding and will pay out of his own pocket, plus some good references, especially from a professor in the physics department of the university, should be enough to get him into a top 50 program. That's speaking from experience. If X has an eye on Harvard or Berkeley, that's a different story, and those places are mighty hard to get in even with a bona fide bachelor's in physics.

    How much does our theoretical lawyer make, including bonus? Since he's stated to be successful, I'll have to presume at least 150K, possibly upwards of 200K ... if he becomes a research scientist at a university, he'll have to work hard to break into six figures again. Not to mention all the foregone income.

    Former head of NASA. Use Wiki.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2009
  12. Nov 27, 2009 #11


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    This idea of an MSc degree being a "consolation prize" for those who can't obtain a PhD is not universal and in my opinion is a poor way of looking at the degree. Many people will opt for a master's program because they want to advance their study of a subject beyond the undergraduate level, but are not interested in academia. Or, they want to investigate a research field, but do not want to commit 4-5 full time years of work to it. In some cases people in PhD programs who fail the candidacy examination are given the option of completing an MSc, but my experience has been that this is more the exception than the rule.

    With respect to pursuing a second PhD, I'm sure there are rules in place in some institutions against this, but they're not universal so I would say that in general it is possible. There are lots of cases in medical physics of people who already have PhDs in other fields (including other branches of physics) returning to school for an MSc degree to enter the field professionally.

    Since the original question was about jumping from law into physics, I suspect the "second" PhD rules won't apply because an LLB or JD is not a PhD. Like an MD, the JD is a professional degree.
  13. Nov 27, 2009 #12
    MS is a consolation prize? Really?

    If all there is are MS/PH.D combined programs.
    Think of a person Z that got a degree in socialogy, and wants to be a ph.d in physics after working in an engineering company for a while. Under your plan. He would need to pick up all the math and physics for a bachelor in physics and math by self-study. As much as i find it easy to do, i highly doubt other people can study like that. This itself is quite implausible if it is true. Secondly, if all there is are combined MS/Phd programs, this would entail Z to apply for a ph.d in physics after his bachelor in sociology. That is a big change. This is also quite implausible. In fact, i never seen anyone in such situation made it that way.

    "How much does our theoretical lawyer make, including bonus? Since he's stated to be successful, I'll have to presume at least 150K, possibly upwards of 200K ... if he becomes a research scientist at a university, he'll have to work hard to break into six figures again. Not to mention all the foregone income."

    First of all. I never said anything about "theoretical lawyer"( what is that anyway?). Secondly, my reply in the previous post is to state that i know alot of lawyers that hated their job. This does not at all entail they do not have a fat paycheck. Conceivably, the reason they hate their job is because they don` t like what they do in a day to day basis.

    "Former head of NASA. Use Wiki. "

    I did us wiki. That is not at all why i ask. I ask because i don` t know why the head of NASA factors into our discussion.
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2009
  14. Nov 27, 2009 #13
    Obviously, there are many reasons for why someone whould opt for a MS. One reason might be that person X had a different non-physics major, and wants to go into physics research. Obviously, getting that M.S entail studying all the lower, and upper division courses he did not take in his undergrad edu. It is outright crazy if X got admitted into a ph.d program, and yet, had to take upper division courses with the rest of the undergrads.

    That` s probably right. Would you agree with the following:

    1.The number of masters one can get? The sky is the limit assuming that money is not a limitation.

    2. The number of Ph.D one can get? Maybe. There are no fixed policy in place.
  15. Nov 27, 2009 #14
    He's got 7 or 8 degrees, which is why I mentioned him. (Not honorary degrees either... real ones.)
  16. Nov 27, 2009 #15


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I thought about Griffin when I saw the thread title. Sometimes, one has to lead a horse to water.

    I believe hamster was referring to the "hypothetical" lawyer in the OP.

    As question is how can a lawyer become of research physicist. Ostensibly, he/she must obtain a PhD, or perhaps an MS my suffice, depending on the competition, type of research and institution in which said research is conducted.

    The starting point probably depends on academic and professional experience. If one has no math or physics background, then likely one will start at nearly scratch. If one has experience with basic math (calculus) and physics (basic mechanics/dynamics/thermo/EM/Intro QM) then one could ostensibly do upper level or remedial graduate courses for 1 or 2 years, then a MS in 2 years. If necessary, a PhD follows in 2 to 4 years.

    Being a professional student takes only time and money - as well as the capability.
  17. Nov 27, 2009 #16
    Two random examples.

    Northwestern: https://www.tgs.northwestern.edu/academics/schooloverview/wcas/physics/msdegree/

    "Students are not admitted separately for the master's degree. Only students in the PhD program can elect to apply for an MS degree. " (without elaborating)

    UCLA: http://academics.physics.ucla.edu/grad/program.php [Broken]

    "The department does not offer a terminal Master of Science program. The MS degree is awarded to students in the PhD program after satisfying the requirements described above. "

    Could have been worse. Mr. X could have been a proctologist. All I'm saying, money should factor in, because the switch would involve a decrease in his quality of life (outside work).
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  18. Nov 27, 2009 #17
    When you are a graduate student at a university, you are a physics researcher, so if you don't care about the title and you have the money, just find some professor that is willing to be your advisor and start researching.

    It's important to realize that you get your Ph.D. *AFTER* you've demonstrated the ability to do physics research. It's something of a prerequisite for getting a full time job as a researcher, but it's not a prerequisite for doing research, since that's what you'll be doing as a graduate student.

    Also don't get too many odd notions about what the job of a researcher is like. Most of it involves frustration and druggery. If you aren't prepared for huge amounts of frustration and druggery, you'll get disillusioned pretty quickly.
  19. Nov 27, 2009 #18
    It's not that hard to do research with Harvard or Berkeley physicists. Just hang around the campus enough, attend seminars and network.
  20. Nov 27, 2009 #19
    If said lawyer wants the title "research physicist" then it's hard, since jobs are few and far between. If said lawyer wants to research physics and doesn't care about the title, then it's not terribly difficult if they have money to support themselves.

    If you don't care about the title, then it's not too hard. There are numerous ways of getting the coursework. You can start doing some research with two years of undergraduate work, and you can do serious research with undergraduate + two years of graduate work.
  21. Nov 27, 2009 #20
    In that case most physics graduate schools just won't admit you. In some fields (business, finance, engineering, education), the masters degree is considered a professional degree, and so lots of people do get admitted to masters program. This is also the case in many mathematics programs. It's really not the case in physics where if you intend to stop at the masters, the grad school just won't admit you.

    Part of the reason is that the funding for physics graduate schools is very different from MBA's. Basically to make you profitable for the physics department, you have to go through the Ph.D. At one point I think the NSF was looking into trying to create some sort of professional masters in physics to deal with the glut of Ph.D.'s, but I don't think that ever went anywhere.

    It depends on the field, but in astrophysics this is pretty universal. They just had you a masters degree after you finish the coursework.

    One thing about academic rules is that if you get the right signatures, you can get pretty much any rule waived.
  22. Nov 27, 2009 #21


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Maybe you meant drudgery? But druggery is true too, what would we do without coffee?
  23. Nov 27, 2009 #22
    Also to the OP. You need to get into a room full of graduate students and physics Ph.D.'s and have everyone tell you how brutal and horrible graduate school is, and do whatever they can to talk you out of going through with being a physics researcher.

    I very strongly suspect that you are going into the field with rather unrealistic expectations of what physics research is like. Ninety percent of the job is pure drudgery and frustration (i.e. machines breaking down, formula just not working, unrealistic deadlines, stupid pieces of administrivia, no small amount of often cutthroat academic politics), and most of the remaining 10% involves pure relief that you are able to get any results at all. There are some crazy people in the world that can endure and enjoy it, but if your ideas of what it is like to research physics comes from Star Trek, you are likely to be extremely disappointed.

    The first thing that you really need to do is to get yourself in a situation where you can see physics research done first hand, so that you can make subsequent decisions based on what academia really is like, rather than what you see in Star Trek. One reason that you need a strong dose of reality rather early, so that you don't get very disillusioned once reality does hit.

    One other thing is that you have to be pretty clear about your motives. If you want a title or you want social approval, things are going to be a lot, lot tougher than if you just want to figure out something about the world that no one knew before.

    The good news is that if you want to research physics, there are a lot of ways of doing it.
  24. Nov 27, 2009 #23
    That goes without saying. If anything, the point of reference should be The Big Bang Theory, not Star Trek.

    Last edited: Nov 28, 2009
  25. Nov 28, 2009 #24
    got it.
  26. Nov 28, 2009 #25
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook