How to begin a career change to physics?

In summary: I'm still interested! I guess what I'm wondering is whether I should continue on with undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics, even if I only finish one course per semester. That seems like a lot of time and effort, but if it turns out that I really enjoy it and it's something that I could see myself doing for the long haul, then that's what I'll do.Thank you, Niflheim. I agree, and I'm fully aware that I really don't know what I'd be getting into with formal physics study. As I mentioned in my opening post, that's why I want to take an introductory undergrad physics course first, to...well, to see if I
  • #1
LawyerMom
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I'm a 38-year-old lawyer who left my law practice in NYC a few months ago to stay home with my toddler. I am also expecting a second child. I have a deep regret that I did not study physics, astronomy, and mathematics in university. I started as a math major and completed almost enough credits for a minor. But I ended up with a triple major in the humanities; worked a couple of years; graduated magna cum laude from a top-10 law school; and practiced for 8 years as a lawyer in NYC. I would like to take a basic undergraduate physics course to test my interest -- preferably online, if well-respected, or at a university in NYC. If I am still as interested as I think I am, then I want to complete undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics -- as slowly as it takes, even one course per semester, even if I finish when I'm 55! I am looking for advice on (1) WELL-RESPECTED online courses in physics; (2) physics B.S. programs in NYC for career changers that would not require me to re-take all the non-science requirements; (3) physics programs geared toward a strong interest in astronomy/earth science (astrophysics?). (As an aside, the last physics course I took was AP Physics in high school in 1993-94!) Thank you!
 
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  • #2
You can speed up a graduate degree if you have a clear idea on a topic for a thesis , and you develop it while in undergrad. Some people obtain PHD's in around 1.5-2 years by doing that in Mathematics; maybe it is possible in Physics too; maybe others here in Physics can advise you better on that. Of course, that is not likely an option for you now, but you may want to think about it as (if) you start up on a Physics program. Good luck!
 
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  • #3
One of the issues with online courses physics courses is that particularly first year physics courses have a laboratory component. If you don't complete the lab, the course is unlikely to satisfy the prerequisite requirement for the more advanced courses.

That said, I think there are ways around this. I believe there are some programs out there that have all the lectures, assignments etc. online, but then provide a lab for the students to come in can get their hands dirty. I don't recall where those programs are, but that might be something to keep an eye out for.
 
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  • #4
Thank you for your responses. I'm, in fact, not sure whether lab work appeals to me. I enjoy reading lay-audience materials concerning topics in the fields of physics and astronomy, and I loved my math courses in college (calculus I, II & III; honors linear algebra; a graduate course in geometry), though that was nearly 20 years ago now! If I'm feeling uncertain about lab work, does that mean I'm probably not interested in studying physics, after all? Or perhaps it's simply because I've never actually worked in a lab. On the other hand, tracking data from telescopes sounds endlessly fascinating -- should I be looking into astronomy, instead? Thanks again for any further insights.
 
  • #5
LawyerMom said:
Thank you for your responses. I'm, in fact, not sure whether lab work appeals to me. I enjoy reading lay-audience materials concerning topics in the fields of physics and astronomy, and I loved my math courses in college (calculus I, II & III; honors linear algebra; a graduate course in geometry), though that was nearly 20 years ago now! If I'm feeling uncertain about lab work, does that mean I'm probably not interested in studying physics, after all? Or perhaps it's simply because I've never actually worked in a lab. On the other hand, tracking data from telescopes sounds endlessly fascinating -- should I be looking into astronomy, instead? Thanks again for any further insights.

Okay, this is important: If your knowledge of Physics is from layman material and popular science books, you really don't know what you're getting into. Your interest in math is a good sign, but take a review course in math or self study to refresh yourself and take Calculus based Physics 1. Don't commit to getting a full degree and expect to love Physics because of what you read in those books. If you do well in General Physics 1 or whatever it's called and you really like it, then I would consider going for a degree and everything.
 
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  • #6
Thank you, Niflheim. I agree, and I'm fully aware that I really don't know what I'd be getting into with formal physics study. As I mentioned in my opening post, that's why I want to take an introductory undergrad physics course first, to test my interest. Some of my original questions concerned the best way to do this: is there a reputable institution that offers courses online? If not, or if as another poster indicated, lab work would be required, does the particular university at which I take Physics 101 matter? I live in New York City, so there are many options. I assume there are advantages to taking even an introductory course at a high-ranked institution such as Columbia. How do I go about doing this? Introduce myself to the department chair and ask whether I could enroll in a course? I also assume I should not merely audit a course, given that I may want the credits to transfer toward a degree at some point. I'd appreciate any practical advice on the mechanics of doing this. Thanks once again!
 
  • #7
LawyerMom said:
Thank you, Niflheim. I agree, and I'm fully aware that I really don't know what I'd be getting into with formal physics study. As I mentioned in my opening post, that's why I want to take an introductory undergrad physics course first, to test my interest. Some of my original questions concerned the best way to do this: is there a reputable institution that offers courses online? If not, or if as another poster indicated, lab work would be required, does the particular university at which I take Physics 101 matter? I live in New York City, so there are many options. I assume there are advantages to taking even an introductory course at a high-ranked institution such as Columbia. How do I go about doing this? Introduce myself to the department chair and ask whether I could enroll in a course? I also assume I should not merely audit a course, given that I may want the credits to transfer toward a degree at some point. I'd appreciate any practical advice on the mechanics of doing this. Thanks once again!

I have been able to sit in on classes at Columbia by just showing up the first class, listening to the lecture and , at the end, asking the prof. politely if it is O.K for me to sit in without being registered. Most profs like seeing people who are there because they are interested , not because they have to. This has worked for me a few times. Some may even be willing to grade your work. I heard of similar situations at CUNY and NYU. But maybe you want to audit or do something else in-between.
 
  • #8
I'm a career changer myself and express my respect for you pursuing your interest in physics while raising a family. I also live in New York and understand how hard it is to leave an established career in this expensive city.

Before taking any classes, what's helped me gauge my interest is reading the following:
- Resnick's and Halliday's Physics (1966 and 1978 editions are what I have)
- Lang's First Course in Calculus
- Feynman's Quantum Mechanics and Path Integrals

I started out my career change trying to make up my mind about going into science or medicine. After reading these, I gained confidence in my interest in physics and my ability to handle the material.

Good luck, I'm excited for you.
 
  • #9
One life, one chance.

You need to check out The Open University in the UK. They are probably the most respected distance learning research Uni in the world (originally started by Cambridge academics). They have a fantastic physics programme and specialize in space science with a few of their academics working as project leads recently on Rosetta in particular. I don't know how the fees are for non-EU but probably comparable to US tuition nonetheless.

The Astrophysics Institute at Liverpool John Moores Uni has recently begun an Msc Astrophysics by distance which seems amazing. You get prebooked time on their robotic telescope in the Canaries to undertake original research as well as access to some of the best academic astrophysicists in the world.

Do what you want, you only have this life, have some fun.
 
  • #10
Probabilist said:
One life, one chance.

You need to check out The Open University in the UK. They are probably the most respected distance learning research Uni in the world (originally started by Cambridge academics)..

Hi

my reply comes a bit late but I wanted to react to the above statement, which, I must say, is absolutely WRONG. Or, should I say, ir RIGHT, if you mean.. the english-speaking world. France has online distance-learning degrees which are not very well known but that completely kills and overblasts pretty much you can find anywhere in terms of online degrees in physics and mathematics. To give you an idea of my background: I did a MSc Theoretical Physics at Imperial College London a few years ago (the so-called "MSc Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces") and recently I was looking for an online degree in Maths. The huge problem with most online degrees is that, many of them do not require to sit final exam, so it's hard to say that the degree is reallu equivalent to the full-time one. At best you can find some very rare MSc programmes (Astrophysics at LJMU, Medical Physics at UCL) which actually requires sit examinations, but they are extremely expensive. At undergraduate level, a good quality degree is virtually (no pun intended) impossible to find. BUT ! If you speak French, or are willing to learn it, you can take online degrees in Physics or Maths, it takes 6 years part-time, but you can reduce it by taking more courses at a time. Plus, it's very cheap. But it's definitely not a pice eof cake and requires very hard work, and coming to sit exams with regular students in June (with a possible resit in september). I am currently doing a BSc in Pure Mathematics online with a French University, from the UK. And let me tell you one things: it completely blasts Open Univ. In Mathematics, three French Universities organize it online: University of Paris, University of Marseille, and University of Franche-Comte . I do it with Marseille, because Paris only organize it in "full-time distance learning" (3 years instead of 6) which is impossible to cope with if you have a family. The main mathematics page is https://www.i2m.univ-amu.fr/~murolo/PWTE/Etu

University of Marseille (full name: university of Aix-Marseille) also organize the degree in Physics. It is a prestigious institution, home universities of Carlo Rovelli, one of the founder of a competitor of string theory called loop quantum gravity,
 
  • #11
If it's not clear already, physics isn't a career for the vast, vast majority of physics graduates, given that you were a lawyer money probably doesn't matter at this point but regardless you would likely be wasting what ever money you put towards courses.

You would be better off independently learning.
 
  • #12
Crek said:
If it's not clear already, physics isn't a career for the vast, vast majority of physics graduates, given that you were a lawyer money probably doesn't matter at this point but regardless you would likely be wasting what ever money you put towards courses.

You would be better off independently learning.

You keep arguing that you'd be better off independently learning, but in your original post, you were a math major who is working towards a MS in electrical engineering, so you don't seem to be following your own advice above. :rolleyes:
 
  • #13
StatGuy2000 said:
You keep arguing that you'd be better off independently learning, but in your original post, you were a math major who is working towards a MS in electrical engineering, so you don't seem to be following your own advice above. :rolleyes:

Sure, it was a mistake - one that's being corrected and was largely based upon false advertising from science departments(though I have to say I am still happy I chose it over physics which is an even bigger dead-end).

OP already has a degree which provides greater qualifications then anything in physics she will get so for her it's throwing money at something which is pointless. She's likely too old to ever get a professorship, assuming she does actually complete a PhD and then completes a postdoc.
 
  • #14
Probabilist said:
One life, one chance.

You need to check out The Open University in the UK. They are probably the most respected distance learning research Uni in the world (originally started by Cambridge academics). They have a fantastic physics programme and specialize in space science with a few of their academics working as project leads recently on Rosetta in particular. I don't know how the fees are for non-EU but probably comparable to US tuition nonetheless.

The Astrophysics Institute at Liverpool John Moores Uni has recently begun an Msc Astrophysics by distance which seems amazing. You get prebooked time on their robotic telescope in the Canaries to undertake original research as well as access to some of the best academic astrophysicists in the world.

Do what you want, you only have this life, have some fun.
Do they grant PHD theses for non-EU students?
 
  • #15
Just in case people missed it, the OP hasn't been back since April 26, 2015.

Zz.
 
  • #16
Crek said:
Sure, it was a mistake - one that's being corrected and was largely based upon false advertising from science departments(though I have to say I am still happy I chose it over physics which is an even bigger dead-end).

OP already has a degree which provides greater qualifications then anything in physics she will get so for her it's throwing money at something which is pointless. She's likely too old to ever get a professorship, assuming she does actually complete a PhD and then completes a postdoc.

So are you concluding that apart from degrees in engineering, medicine, law, accounting, nursing, all other degrees are useless? As if all other knowledge is not worth pursuing, except by "independent learning"?
 
  • #17
WWGD said:
Do they grant PHD theses for non-EU students?

PhD's in the United Kingdom are definitely open for non-EU students, as proven by the large number of Chinese coming here, however the problem is the funding. Usually, non-EU are funded from their home countries, or through private institutions that promote excellence.

In fact, even for EU students, the funding is not automatics and is subject to relatively strict rules (such as having done the undergraduate degree in the UK, or having been resident for a certain number of years prior to the start of the PhD, etc.). If thos erequirements are not met, the funding is limited (fees-only).
 
  • #18
Quantumjump said:
PhD's in the United Kingdom are definitely open for non-EU students, as proven by the large number of Chinese coming here, however the problem is the funding. Usually, non-EU are funded from their home countries, or through private institutions that promote excellence.

In fact, even for EU students, the funding is not automatics and is subject to relatively strict rules (such as having done the undergraduate degree in the UK, or having been resident for a certain number of years prior to the start of the PhD, etc.). If thos erequirements are not met, the funding is limited (fees-only).
Thank you, sorry, I forgot to mention I was asking about the open university.
 

Related to How to begin a career change to physics?

1. How do I know if I am suited for a career in physics?

To determine if a career in physics is right for you, it is important to assess your skills and interests. Physics requires strong analytical and problem-solving skills, as well as a passion for understanding the natural world. You can also talk to professionals in the field, attend career fairs, and take introductory physics courses to gain more insight into the field.

2. What education and training do I need to pursue a career in physics?

Most careers in physics require a bachelor's degree in physics or a related field such as engineering or mathematics. Some positions may also require a graduate degree, such as a Master's or PhD. It is important to research the specific requirements for the career path you are interested in pursuing.

3. How do I gain experience in physics if I do not have a physics degree?

If you do not have a degree in physics, there are still ways to gain experience in the field. You can take online courses, attend workshops or seminars, or participate in research projects at universities or national labs. It is also beneficial to learn coding languages commonly used in physics, such as Python or MATLAB.

4. How do I find job opportunities in the field of physics?

There are various resources available for finding job opportunities in physics. Some common sources include job search engines, professional networking sites, and career websites of scientific organizations. It can also be helpful to attend conferences and workshops to network with professionals in the field.

5. What skills and qualities do employers look for in physics professionals?

Employers in the field of physics often look for individuals with strong analytical and problem-solving skills, attention to detail, and the ability to think critically. They also value individuals who are curious, creative, and have a strong work ethic. It is also important to have strong communication and teamwork skills, as many physics projects involve collaboration with others.

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