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How to Salvage my Academic Career?

  1. Jan 1, 2017 #1
    I'm not sure how to best put this, but I'm in what seems like an almost un-fixable predicament. I graduated in 2015 with two degrees, one of which is a B.S. in Physics with a minor in Astronomy, the other a B.A. in Russian Language (did that one not really for career prospects but because I wanted to learn the language).

    I've struggled to find a good job due to my mediocre performance in my Physics classes. I struggled in school for a multitude of reasons, almost all of which are deeply personal and probably not relevant, as employers or higher-education programs don't care about those details. My transcript speaks for itself. In a way, that's true, but suffice it so say I'm basically a different person now than I was even 1.5 years ago.

    My cumulative GPA was 2.93. My in-major Russian GPA was 4.0 until I got an A- in my last class for it. I don't want to even do the math to figure out how bad my in-major Physics GPA was. I always performed solidly in classes I took over Summer breaks to bring back with me in the following Fall as transfer credit (I did this to bring my total time for these unrelated degrees down to 5 years). I have zero research experience, because I did ROTC my entire college career, which absorbed all my time and gave me the "guarantee of a job" when I was done, only to be medically disqualified in the end. People like me can't even join any military branch until July of 2017, so maybe that's my literally last option if I had to, but I don't think I would feel safe going that route with my life anymore.

    I'm okay with knowing I could have done better. I know that it was not typical of me to perform so poorly, and frankly I'm embarrassed, and don't really divulge that information very often. Almost everyone who knows me has been surprised to find out I am currently struggling because I didn't go well in school (if that detail ever comes up). They all assumed, based on knowing me on a more personal level, that of course I did well. I typically excel at my work, am very driven to get what I want (now), and unfortunately lately have been driven to desperation.

    Being from a lower middle-class family, I was very strongly pushed to "go to college, get a good job, live the good life" that my family hadn't ever aspired to. I am the only one in my immediate family to finish college. I lived with my single mother my whole life, father not involved, and she had her own financial problems. But somehow I was unable to qualify for much aid at all, maybe $500 is the most I ever got. The entire rest of 5 years, plus summers, was financed through private lenders. I know I was a complete idiot for doing this now, but I didn't know before just how bad it was. If I did great in school, it could have been less of a problem, too. I should mention now that I am in the USA. Private student loans are quite nearly impossible to get rid of here except by paying up, and lenders are impossible to work with should you experience financial hardship.

    I have $90,000 left in private student loan debt. $25,000 in federal debt that I am not required to make payments on because I'm so poor. I got a second job three weeks ago. Before that, my first job paid very minimally. I was lucky to bring in ~$900+ a month. With this second job, that should improve by ~$400 a month. But as it stands right now, I am literally bankrupt. My boss lent me $20 for gas to get to work next week until I get my paycheck (talk about embarrassing--I was holding back tears as it was happening). I spent the last of my money last week on cheap groceries. I am couch-surfing for 2 more weeks until I have a stable place to stay.

    Suffice it to say, I have had enough of this. I'm quite literally floundering, with no real idea how to improve my situation.

    I've thought of hardcore studying and trying to ace the Physics GRE, but the more I think about that, the less practical it seems. Even if somehow I manage to catch up on what I feel like is a shaky base of knowledge, and even if I do SUPER well on that test, my academic record is still unimpressive and there is almost no reason to pick me over anyone else.

    I've thought about taking classes whenever possible, wherever possible, and to try and do something with those. But do what exactly? I don't know. Apply them to another bachelor's degree and be damn sure I'm the best student they've ever seen? That seems impractical. Though if I did, I think I would go for Computer Science or something.

    Then I heard about this concept of "post-baccalaureate" studies that are normally done in medical fields. I did some Google-fu to see if it's a thing in physics or astrophysics, and lo and behold it is, although quite rare. Maybe this sort of program could be my ticket. If I can apply and somehow get accepted, my loans can go into deferment since I would be a student a student, postponing that crap-shoot but at least providing some relief. I could finally get some research experience which is literally only a positive compared to what I have now.

    I don't know, though. Being so down in the dumps and stuck so far in this rut has made it difficult for me to sell myself and talk up my skills when I feel like I've failed.

    Does anyone have any advice?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 1, 2017 #2
    I'm sorry I don't have a lot of advice I just want to say that I feel I can relate when it comes to your grades. I only got a 3.04 GPA from six years of college. I am currently trying to get into graduate school and praying that one of the eight programs will say yes. But based on advice I hear from others I shouldn't base my happiness on my career anyway which sounds impossible for me to do. I graduated in 2014 and I feel like a lot has happened since then. I got a year of volunteer research experience in two labs. I feel like that helped me a lot.

    Right now I am working a menial job. It's definitely not my dream job but at least I'm making an income which I feel proud about. The work doesn't use my science but I still feel accomplished just by doing a good job. I'm still hoping that I get into graduate school and continue my education but I'm also learning to enjoy real life working and making some real life money.

    Anyway I don't think employers care that much about your GPA. Just getting a degree can be enough to them I think.
  4. Jan 1, 2017 #3
    You have my greatest sympathy Jenna ... the sad truth is you , and tens of millions like you have been suckered by the system!

    Overpriced education , banks willing to lend money , parents happy their child is going to college ... and millions of new graduates every year , with very few jobs for them....

    My advice to anyone thinking of a university education is , don't do it , unless you want to be in debt for the rest of your life ... instead look for an opportunity in the world around you , start a business ...anything but throw $100,000 away.
  5. Jan 1, 2017 #4
    Your situation is poor, but not unique. Plenty of people (sadly) do poorly in college and are unable to find jobs good enough so that they can pay off their loans. Most of the advice you're going to get here won't be physics related, since there is nothing you can do with a BS in physics with no research experience and such a poor GPA. I don't think there is some "magical" option that hasn't yet presented itself - you need to take the most well-paying job you can find (perhaps using your Russian language skills?). Once you are on your feet financially (which it sounds like you are not), then you can worry about taking courses. Perhaps save up enough to return to school full- or part-time. Plenty of people do poorly their first time and then return to school in their late 20s or early 30s and do just fine. For now, don't go applying to post-baccalaureate studies or anything - you will surely not get accepted, which it sounds like you already know.

    TLDR - your situation sucks, but it's not a lost cause.

    @oz93666 - I'm sorry, are you really encouraging people on a physics forum to not pursue secondary education?
  6. Jan 1, 2017 #5
    @Dishsoap Well of course I am aware I can't take classes right now. I don't have the money to, lol. But returning to school to fix this mess seems to be my best bet when it becomes financially feasible. The struggle now is just getting to that point at all..

    As far as finding better-paying jobs I can actually get right now, I suppose this is where I falter the worst. I have no idea where to look to apply the skills I have. I know I have the ability to be useful, but I don't know how to convey that without saying something to the effect of "look, I know how it looks, but I'm actually not so bad!" And that just seems like I'm asking for special sympathy when I don't necessarily feel I'm owed any.
  7. Jan 1, 2017 #6
    I started my degree course in 1971 in the UK (Nuclear Engineering) ..in those days perhaps 10% went to university , and the government paid everything , living expenses too .I dropped out after 2 years ,I could see where I was headed ...a 9to5 job ...no freedom ... a moderately well paid slave ... I've lived a very varied and free life , with a much higher standard of living than if I had continued univercity ... The best decision I ever made was to drop out.
    For youngsters today it's an easy way out to go to university , parents think it's wonderful , and they don't have to face the challenging task of making their way in the real world .... but at the end of three years , the dream comes to an end with a bump ... massive debt and for most , flipping hamburgers in mcdonald's.
  8. Jan 1, 2017 #7
    its not as if the op got a degree in womans studies. This post does not help op!!
  9. Jan 1, 2017 #8


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    Decide what you want (make it realistic) and go after it. You spent a lot of words describing your situation and essentially nothing describing plans and goals. Floundering is largely caused by indecision and lack of motivation/effort.

    For example, the two jobs you have are terrible. Barely above minimum wage. No one with a high school diploma should have to work such low paying jobs. How hard are you trying to do better? How realistic/reasonable are your goals?
  10. Jan 1, 2017 #9
    Overcoming adversity gives you perspective in life. Don't waste time moping around in self pity. Just focus on what needs to be done and DO IT.

    Albert Einstein was unemployed for a while, Fields medal winner Stephen Smale almost flunked out of college, and Stephen Hawking has a disability that would make most give up right away. All of these people have will power.
  11. Jan 1, 2017 #10
    That's a lot of debt. Usually students with ROTC have enough ROTC-related financial aid not to accrue those debt levels.

    Planning on military service through college and then changing course with that level of debt does become problematic.

    On thing I recommend is not putting too many other constraints on your job and career choices in the next 5-10 years. For example, be willing to relocate as needed to find a job to begin paying down that debt.

    The approach to take in many job searches really depends on the local markets. You might want to move to a city with strong local markets and a lot of demand in areas that match your skill set. But a degree in Physics (by itself) does not define your marketable skill set very well.

    I've found the book "What Color is Your Parachute" to be useful for folks trying to articulate their skill sets in ways that help them choose promising avenues for employment applications and to communicate those skills to employers.
  12. Jan 1, 2017 #11

    Vanadium 50

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    I'm also surprised at the amount of debt for a ROTC student. I couldn't get to $115K by using Harvard's numbers, and I presume you are somewhere less expensive than Harvard. In any event, your priority has to be to get that debt down, starting with the private debt.

    I didn't understand the title. If by "my Academic Career" you mean "my future career as an academic, I am afraid that ship has sailed. Each professor graduates perhaps ten students, only one of whom is needed to replace him. So after finishing grad school,your odds are around 10%. Considering attrition, your odds at the beginning of grad school are maybe 8%, and since ~twice as many students apply as go, that's down to 4%. Your plan to find a post-bac is a plan to get you to a 4% chance. Given where you are, this does not seem like a very viable plan.

    If instead you mean "my time as a student", I'd also say that ship has sailed. It's like the Minnesota Twins trying to figure out what to do to improve their standings. You have two degrees. That part of your life is past now. I'd also question whether another degree is the right thing to do now. If you can't find a job with two degrees, what makes you think a third will change anything?

    You say you can't join the military until July. That's only half a year away. Maybe it's not your first choice, but you owe $115K, so you may not get your first choice. The Navy IS/CT community might be a good fit - it's undermanned at entry and mid-career levels, it has a fast WO/LDO track, you've had military training, An enlistment bonus can take a huge bite out of that debt.

    You need to start attacking that debt. You are probably accruing somewhere around $500/month in interest, even if payment is deferred. And the longer it's deferred, the bigger it will grow.
  13. Jan 1, 2017 #12


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    My first question I would have to the OP is why she was medically disqualified, and given that situation, how is she able to join any military branch by July. My understanding is that someone is medically disqualified on a permanent basis, but someone could be temporarily deferred on medical grounds.

    I do agree with Vanadium 50 is to attack the debt, and the sooner that is done the better. I have a good friend of mine through university who was in similar circumstances (graduated from university with debt, and her first job's salary was insufficient to cover living expenses and pay off the debt) but who was able to overcome her circumstances and achieve financial independence in a few years time.
  14. Jan 1, 2017 #13

    Vanadium 50

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    Not necessarily. Something like color-blindness might make some ineligible for ROTC-pipelined commissioned officer positions, but not for other positions.
  15. Jan 1, 2017 #14


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    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." (Hamlet 1st act 5th scene, W. Shakespeare)

    I only wanted to mention, that it is usually difficult to get a complete picture from an outside point of view no matter how detailed a description might be and even more, if it touches circumstances that might be difficult to disclose to the world-wide public. We should respect this and think about the question within the constraints given.
  16. Jan 1, 2017 #15
    @russ_watters Outside of getting my personal life straightened out, I was okay with the status quo at the time. I was far too preoccupied with those other matters. I was making just enough to make my payments, and had a place to stay. Several months ago, I budgeted out a year ahead and realized what I was in for around this time of year. I suppose it was too late to catch because nothing has come of my efforts yet. Luckily, this only increases my desperation to try harder. I wouldn't even be asking internet people for help otherwise. I realize there is no shame is asking, but I don't often like to ask for things unless I feel I really need to. That's probably a personality flaw.

    @FallenApple These coming months are going to be intense, working 7 days a week and trying to move forward with life, but I don't have a choice. I have to suck it up, figure it out, and do it. You're right.

    @Dr. Courtney It wasn't a situation where they were paying. The prospect of a secure job is what kept me on-board that long. Regardless, it's done now. I will check out that book. Thanks for the recommendation :smile:

    @Vanadium 50 5 years at a not-so-low-grade state university, with everything financed, not just tuition. I got zero help from my family and essentially no other financial aid.

    And, I suppose what I meant by the title, was "how to fix what I messed up in my academic career to improve my prospects with my life moving forward." I know I am never going to be a PhD student, and I don't think I want to be. My intention from that title was to get advice on how to band-aid my transcript so an employer wouldn't throw me in the "NO pile" as frequently.

    As for joining the Navy, I've considered it, and I'm anxious to see how this summer plays out.

    @StatGuy2000 I'm gonna have to pass on divulging that information here. It's not necessarily something I'm proud of, has been difficult to overcome (I'm still trying to overcome it, actually), and once it's dealt with sufficiently, I want to just move past it. Not let it define me. Nor do I want to let poor life circumstances at a certain point in my life detract from my happiness the rest of my time on this Earth.

    I'm here, I put myself out there, and I admit that I've failed. I seek advice from anyone willing to give it. I would say that I thought there's nothing anyone could say to help, but that's the sense of failure poisoning my self-esteem and I know it's absolutely not true. So I went ahead and asked.
  17. Jan 1, 2017 #16
    OP, is it conceivable that you could work for a couple of years and save money for trade school?
  18. Jan 1, 2017 #17


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    If you have to wait until July for why I think you have to wait... I wouldnt put all my eggs in that basket either. Mad Dog is likely to overturn many of Ash Carters policies.

    Basically, you should just worry about finding a professional job now (one that doesnt pay minimum wage), whereever possible.
  19. Jan 1, 2017 #18
    You may also consider some out of the box thinking:

    Can you humble yourself, move back in with your parents (or other sympathetic relatives), ask them to keep the roof over your head and food on the table while you work toward paying down that debt and improving your earnings potential? Most parents are usually pretty amenable to these arrangements for recent college grads, though they may have rules regarding what they regard as destructive behaviors (drugs, etc.)
  20. Jan 1, 2017 #19


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    This indeed is a difficult situation to get out of. One option to consider is bankruptcy which in the short term might help alleviate the increasing debt burden but in the long term presents other problems especially in getting future loans. Another thought is whether you can restructure these loans into a single loan that is more manageable.

    I would ask how you applied to jobs? I know when I first applied I was very naive and created a single resume of all of my meager skills and coursework. I would send it to employers and get nothing back. It was only a connection I had through Explorer Scouts that got me an interview and then a job at a major company in my town. They hired me partly because I was the first to of the scouts to come looking for a job. The post specialized in computer programming.

    Academically I was about where you were also but didn't take the ROTC bait since it was during the Vietnam War and ROTC was not popular on campus. I did try the US Coast Guard Academy but got rejected due to bad eyesight in one eye.

    Nowadays applying for a job is somewhat of an art where you must craft your resume specific to each employer organizing and selecting your skills based on what they are looking for. As you begin to build your master resume, the basis for these custom resumes, you must address everything you know, all your hobbies and interests, and all your coursework. You must add personal projects too or begin to do personal projects so you can add them to this list.

    Your resume is a calling card, it needs to get you past the HR filter and into an interview. From there the resume will act as a screen play for the interviewer where they'll question you on weaknesses they see and you need to keep track of what resume you sent to each company so you'll be prepared to answer the questions.

    Also don't short change yourself like not adding a skill because you think you're not skilled enough. I've interviewed some students for summer jobs and they consistently forgot to mention MATLAB as a skill even though they used it in many classes. My nephew didn't add C programming to his resume because he didn't feel he'd mastered it. It was familiarity with this skill that got him his job.

    I would seriously suggest you learn programming independently at first to get comfortable with the concepts if you don't already have some background and then get into an accredited MS Comp Sci program which should accept your physics BS. This could allow you to turn around your grades too.

    Alternatively, you could look into data science which is getting a lot of press recently which requires analytical skills, statistical skills and programming skills. Your physics BS may help you here too but you'll need some programming skills in numerical Python, R, and MATLAB or Julia. I can give you further online references for these programming skills.

    I would also suggest you get some career counseling from your old school. Perhaps they can point you to someone who can be your mentor and help you out of this situation. The stakes are too important for you to do it alone.

    Do you have any relatives or friends with degrees and careers that can help give you advice or critique your resume and cover letters? You need others who can be there as support.

    We at PF can try to help but as you've seen our ability is limited to what you've posted and thus may not be the best advice. It's important that you find someone who's been there who can help you get to where you want to be.

    Take care,
  21. Jan 1, 2017 #20

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    It sounds like this better belongs in Career Guidance then.

    A few things to think about. One is that if the military date of July is not some sort of calendar-based eligibility requirement (e.g. two years post-disenrollment or some some such) but is instead a change in policy (as Student100 suggests) , I would not count on it. It wouldn't even have to do with the CoA - it could just as easily be postponed indefinitely because it takes bureaucracies longer to do everything than they expect.

    Be careful about refinancing your loans. In particular, if you roll your federal and private loans together, it all becomes private. That means federal loan forgiveness programs will no longer apply to the money you owe.

    Russ made a very important point here:
    You should think about it. Along with thinking about it, you might think about what your skills are. What is it that you bring to the table to a potential employer.
  22. Jan 1, 2017 #21
    @Dishsoap Yes, that's pretty much the ideal plan right now is to work for a then further my education if I feel I need to. It's that first step that's been the problem lately :-p

    @Student100 Insightful, you are! You're on the correct page. Now imagine a college junior with no prior issues besides "average grades" being told they're getting kicked out and all financial assistance retroactively repealed when some info about my past comes to light from outside of my control. Had to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to stay in the program on the basis that I wouldn't commission upon graduating, at least my unit was a little sympathetic there, but I held on to the hope that maybe something would change. That didn't quite happen.

    @Dr. Courtney Without knowing me personally it isn't possible to know why I avoid them like the plague. Absolutely not. They would drive me into psychosis.

    @jedishrfu My job-hunting ability is indeed lackluster and just from this thread alone I've learned lots of things I'm doing wrong, or not at all, which is great. Hopefully it will lead to some improvements in my prospects.

    As far as programming goes, I used to create projects in Java all the time just for fun. Usually automation-related things or useful little tools that I thought would be fun to create to help me do something easier (the most useful thing I ever made would register me for a class that was full--leave the tool running all the time, as soon as a spot opens, it signs me up). Simple things like that, nothing massive or collaborative. I started but never finished several things, too, the largest of which was a tile-based map editor, made from scratch, for some game I had a dream of making that never came to fruition.

    I have very brief experience with web programming but I really don't enjoy doing that. JS, PHP, and simple web-page design.

    A friend of mine told me about Julia last week and it seems promising. Maybe I should consider learning that and C/C++.

    Either way, programming has always been a favorite hobby of mine and usually when I look for jobs I look for something involving that. I studied physics and astronomy because I figured it would be easier to learn programming techniques on my own than things like quantum mechanics, and combining physics and programming in some way, while being paid to do it, would be awesome. That's kinda my pipe dream. :-p
  23. Jan 1, 2017 #22
    The thing I noticed about the OP is that she is evidently not making use of her principal asset, her Russian language major. There are many companies in international trade that need language expertise, irrespective of whether they would use her physics degree or not. I strongly suggest that she look in this direction.

    In my own backyard, I know for a fact that John Deere does business in Russia, so I'd bet they need folks who know some Russian.
  24. Jan 1, 2017 #23
    Student loan debt is going to implode in 20 years, OP should work on paying it sure but I wouldn't be surprised if there was substantial revision to the loan system.

    Also if you know Russian so well and like Russia, you could move to Russia and completely forget about paying anything back.
  25. Jan 1, 2017 #24


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    This is only a good advice if you're prepared to be politically absolute neutral and keep many of normal opinions on modern society on your own.
  26. Jan 1, 2017 #25
    ^ And if you have nobody cosigning on your loan which I bet OP does. And if he would have an easier time finding a job in Russia, which I bet OP doesn't. And if he has the money to move internationally, which I bet OP doesn't.
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