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Other I messed up and I’d like to return to school at 30

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I’m disappointed with the position I’ve put myself in and I’d appreciate advice on how to move forward. For reference I’m 30 years old and living in the Chicago, IL suburbs.

I graduated with a bachelors degree in 2012. It took five years and I failed many physics and math classes, but I somehow ended up with enough passing credits to fulfill the requirements for an interdisciplinary science degree. I didn’t deserve the degree. I rationalized my failing classes by pinning blame on the school, the teachers, and the textbooks. I spent more effort finding homework solutions online than I did in working out problems. I was fortunate that my university offered me a last-minute position in the masters program.

I started participating in classes, working on assignments myself or with peers, and meeting with teachers when I encountered obstacles. My grades weren’t perfect, but there was a positive progression from undergraduate to the first year of graduate school to the second year. Ultimately, I never finished my thesis and I did not earn a masters degree.

In retrospect, I should have worked harder to finish the thesis. It was an ambitious project for me and it aligned with research at my ideal PhD program. My advisor was extremely supportive and offered to help me finish on two separate occasions after the masters program, but I still didn’t finish. It has been three or four years since I’ve contacted him.

I’ve worked various retail and manual labor jobs the last five years. I miss learning and sharing ideas with others. I miss the challenges of coursework and research. I’d love to return to school, but I haven’t accomplished anything that would suggest that I am capable of handling research commitments. At this point I have a few thoughts on ways to proceed:

(1) Reconnect with my advisor to see if he needs any help with research or if he would be interested in restarting my research. Admittedly, I’m a bit embarrassed to contact him because I haven’t done anything productive in years and I’ve already wasted his time three times in the past. But I feel like this is the only way to continue to a career in math or physics because I would need letters of recommendation from him and other teachers at the university.

(2) Learn programming and find a programming job. I did some programming with my research and it was fun, but not as enjoyable as the math and physics aspects. It looks like there are “boot camps” that get users up to speed in a few months.

(3) Find a better job.

Ideally I’d like to return to math or physics, but I’m open to advice and suggestions especially if anyone returned to school or started school after 30. Maybe I need to do another bachelors degree somewhere?

This was a bit longer than I anticipated. Thank you for reading.
 
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Other than having to swallow some pride, what is the downside to reaching out to your advisor? Seems to me like starting there might not be a bad idea.
 

symbolipoint

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Not my area so I only have opinions which are not exactly best-solutions.
Option 1 feels not too valuable. You've been out of school for a while and you should start fresh, like find new advisores.
Option 2 is probably good, but not not be enough of what you want.

Unclear how one gets into another Masters' program if one had previously been in one but not succeeded.

Your first few paragraphs seem odd; that you barely earned your undergraduate degree but not understood how you did so. Further, by not doing well in your undergraduate program, entering a Master's Degree program would seem either improbable or impossible.
 
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Thanks for your responses.

Your first few paragraphs seem odd; that you barely earned your undergraduate degree but not understood how you did so. Further, by not doing well in your undergraduate program, entering a Master's Degree program would seem either improbable or impossible.
I’m not sure if I understand your comment so let me know if I’m misinterpreting it. My intention was to be transparent with my academic past. I’m realizing now that I could’ve avoided those paragraphs by just including my undergraduate and graduate GPAs.

I’m not averse to staying out of academics either. I’ve been out for so long and I don’t have much to show so my time might be better spent elsewhere. Ideally I would go back, but ideally I wouldn’t have put myself in this position either haha
 

symbolipoint

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I started participating in classes, working on assignments myself or with peers, and meeting with teachers when I encountered obstacles. My grades weren’t perfect, but there was a positive progression from undergraduate to the first year of graduate school to the second year. Ultimately, I never finished my thesis and I did not earn a masters degree.
I’m not sure if I understand your comment so let me know if I’m misinterpreting it. My intention was to be transparent with my academic past. I’m realizing now that I could’ve avoided those paragraphs by just including my undergraduate and graduate GPAs.
I had the recheck carefully what you first said. So, as a graduate student, you were not weak, and you WERE QUALIFIED to enter that program.

Now, more experienced forum members could maybe say if or how you might be able to enter into a Masters' program, after having previously been in one but unable to complete it.
 

symbolipoint

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enough passing credits to fulfill the requirements for an interdisciplinary science degree.
Is that a specific name of degree, or is that a description without stating the name of the degree and subject? You could respond privately IF you want.
 
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Most masters degrees let you do a project or expositor paper to graduate, why on earth didn't you finish?
 

Dr. Courtney

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A dear friend of mine returned to school at 33 and, having grown up a lot in the interim, improved on his performance in his first try (18-20ish) from flunking out to a 4.0 GPA. But his father had passed away and left him enough money to keep the ship afloat while he focused on school. (His wife is also an attorney with a good income).

The biggest challenge I've seen for most in their 30s is not navigating the academic challenges - nearly all are mature enough to make good decisions on their paths, future employability, and coursework. The biggest challenge is keeping the ship afloat with the larger set of life responsibilities in one's 30s than when 18-22. Accrual of significantly more debt is not a recommended path. Figure out the money side, and then pick a path that is affordable in your big picture.
 
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Is that a specific name of degree, or is that a description without stating the name of the degree and subject? You could respond privately IF you want.
It was called an interdisciplinary physics degree. It was the regular physics core with electives from other departments (in my case math courses).

Most masters degrees let you do a project or expositor paper to graduate, why on earth didn't you finish?
The project involved generating bifurcation diagrams for frequency and amplitude parameter spaces of a driving force in a modified version of Navier-Stokes. On the surface, the project made sense - I was determining the driving frequencies that would lead the system to chaos. But the more I talked about the project with others, the more I realized that I didn't actually understand the project. I didn't understand how this version of Navier-Stokes came to fruition. I didn't understand how I was generating the diagrams. I didn't understand how the system was driven. In fact, I didn't even understand how the system existed. So I went back to the papers and the physics reviews and fell into a rabbit hole. It was papers citing papers citing papers citing papers. I became overwhelmed and discouraged. Thinking back, I should have took time to understand the fundamentals and relevant sections of fluid mechanics and dynamical systems books. Before research I had zero experience with dynamical systems and my only exposure to fluid mechanics was Bernoulli's principle.
 
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A dear friend of mine returned to school at 33 and, having grown up a lot in the interim, improved on his performance in his first try (18-20ish) from flunking out to a 4.0 GPA. But his father had passed away and left him enough money to keep the ship afloat while he focused on school. (His wife is also an attorney with a good income).

The biggest challenge I've seen for most in their 30s is not navigating the academic challenges - nearly all are mature enough to make good decisions on their paths, future employability, and coursework. The biggest challenge is keeping the ship afloat with the larger set of life responsibilities in one's 30s than when 18-22. Accrual of significantly more debt is not a recommended path. Figure out the money side, and then pick a path that is affordable in your big picture.
This is a great point. I've lived with my parents since graduate school so I've managed to pay off debt and save money, but I need to consider if going back into debt is a reasonable decision at this point in my life.
 

ZapperZ

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I graduated with a bachelors degree in 2012. It took five years and I failed many physics and math classes, but I somehow ended up with enough passing credits to fulfill the requirements for an interdisciplinary science degree. I didn’t deserve the degree. I rationalized my failing classes by pinning blame on the school, the teachers, and the textbooks. I spent more effort finding homework solutions online than I did in working out problems. I was fortunate that my university offered me a last-minute position in the masters program.

I started participating in classes, working on assignments myself or with peers, and meeting with teachers when I encountered obstacles. My grades weren’t perfect, but there was a positive progression from undergraduate to the first year of graduate school to the second year. Ultimately, I never finished my thesis and I did not earn a masters degree.

In retrospect, I should have worked harder to finish the thesis. It was an ambitious project for me and it aligned with research at my ideal PhD program. My advisor was extremely supportive and offered to help me finish on two separate occasions after the masters program, but I still didn’t finish. It has been three or four years since I’ve contacted him.
Here's the thing that bothers me. In your lengthy description of your situation, nowhere in there did you offer a reason for your state of ennui. Is there a reason why you seem to be "too lazy" to finish your thesis and get your Masters degree? What exactly is the source of your lack of drive to do that?

Regardless of what you intend to do or what you end up pursuing, this lack of passion to finish something is problematic, be it in an academic pursuit, or in a career. Physics is not a simple path to pursue, and it gets even harder at a Ph.D level where you have to be completely invested in what you are doing. Often times, if you receive some form of assistantship, someone is depending on you to do something, so it is not just your reputation or your future that is on the line. Are you dependable enough to be given such responsibility, considering your track record?

I am in the Chicago area, and I'm curious to which school that you attended.

Zz.
 

symbolipoint

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The complaint:
Here's the thing that bothers me. In your lengthy description of your situation, nowhere in there did you offer a reason for your state of ennui. Is there a reason why you seem to be "too lazy" to finish your thesis and get your Masters degree? What exactly is the source of your lack of drive to do that?

Regardless of what you intend to do or what you end up pursuing, this lack of passion to finish something is problematic, be it in an academic pursuit, or in a career.
The previous explanation:
the more I talked about the project with others, the more I realized that I didn't actually understand the project. I didn't understand how this version of Navier-Stokes came to fruition. I didn't understand how I was generating the diagrams. I didn't understand how the system was driven. In fact, I didn't even understand how the system existed. So I went back to the papers and the physics reviews and fell into a rabbit hole. It was papers citing papers citing papers citing papers. I became overwhelmed and discouraged. Thinking back, I should have took time to understand the fundamentals and relevant sections of fluid mechanics and dynamical systems books. Before research I had zero experience with dynamical systems and my only exposure to fluid mechanics was Bernoulli's principle.
 

ZapperZ

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The complaint:


The previous explanation:
But that's what I'm getting at. We ALL went through the same situation when we first started studying a subject matter. A lot of things require going into one thing and another thing and another thing. Perseverance is under-appreciated when doing graduate work in physics. I want to know why the OP didn't persevere when he/she was faced with this obstacle.

Zz.
 
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Here's the thing that bothers me. In your lengthy description of your situation, nowhere in there did you offer a reason for your state of ennui. Is there a reason why you seem to be "too lazy" to finish your thesis and get your Masters degree? What exactly is the source of your lack of drive to do that?

Regardless of what you intend to do or what you end up pursuing, this lack of passion to finish something is problematic, be it in an academic pursuit, or in a career. Physics is not a simple path to pursue, and it gets even harder at a Ph.D level where you have to be completely invested in what you are doing. Often times, if you receive some form of assistantship, someone is depending on you to do something, so it is not just your reputation or your future that is on the line. Are you dependable enough to be given such responsibility, considering your track record?

I am in the Chicago area, and I'm curious to which school that you attended.

Zz.
I agree with you. I haven’t done anything to show that I can competently meet research obligations. Based on this history I’m not dependable and I understand why prospective schools and jobs would have concerns.

I felt like I was in over my head and didn’t have a clear path to completion. Looking back now I can see areas that needed improvement, but at the time I was overwhelmed. I wish I had persevered. I wish I had spent more time understanding what I was doing. The other students from my year contributed to existing projects for their theses. I believe that I would have finished if I took that route versus building my own project. It was my first experience with research and I didn’t prepare myself for that level of independence.
 
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StatGuy2000

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To the OP:

You've stated in your posts that you were in over your head and didn't see a clear path to completion of your Masters degree, and that there are areas from your undergraduate background that you need improvement. That's all fine and good, but the questions that I (and others) have are the following:

1. What's different with you now? Do you feel that you have the motivation and drive to continue and finish your graduate studies, so you don't waste your time and the time of your (past) advisor or any future advisors?

2. Let's say you do decide to pursue graduate studies again. For what purpose? What do you ultimately hope to do once you've actually completed your graduate studies? What is your end goal? What type of career do you actually want?

3. In your first post, you stated the other two alternatives to trying graduate school again -- learn programming to find a programming job, or get a better job. Besides the programming job, what skills do you possess that will lead to a better job from the one that you have (or had) up to now? What types of skills do you need to study or acquire?

You need to ask yourself and provide answers to these questions to determine what the best way forward for you would be.
 
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russ_watters

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2. Let's say you do decide to pursue graduate studies again. For what purpose? What do you ultimately hope to do once you've actually completed your graduate studies? What is your end goal? What type of career do you actually want?
This.

At 30, having worked menial jobs and still living with your parents, you are old enough/experienced enough with adulthood that you should be able to picture what the next 30 years of your life might look like, at least in broad strokes. The path you are on is (short) not a pretty picture (and doesn't seem necessary given your education, which is odd...). Decide what you want your life to look like, and put yourself on a path to make it happen.

But make it be realistic and goal oriented. Don't just go back to school because you like school. Don't pursue a phd unless you want to be a researcher and have a reasonable chance of succeeding at becoming one.
 
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To the OP:

You've stated in your posts that you were in over your head and didn't see a clear path to completion of your Masters degree, and that there are areas from your undergraduate background that you need improvement. That's all fine and good, but the questions that I (and others have) are the following:

1. What's different with you now? Do you feel that you have the motivation and drive to continue and finish your graduate studies, so you don't waste your time and the time of your (past) advisor or any future advisors?

2. Let's say you do decide to pursue graduate studies again. For what purpose? What do you ultimately hope to do once you've actually completed your graduate studies? What is your end goal? What type of career do you actually want?

3. In your first post, you stated the other two alternatives to trying graduate school again -- learn programming to find a programming job, or get a better job. Besides the programming job, what skills do you possess that will lead to a better job from the one that you have (or had) up to now? What types of skills do you need to study or acquire?

You need to ask yourself and provide answers to these questions to determine what the best way forward for you would be.
Thank you. This is excellent advice.

Despite feeling overwhelmed with completing the thesis, my actual research experience was immensely interesting and enjoyable. Even though I wasn’t doing anything impressive or groundbreaking, I felt so much satisfaction when I duplicated results in papers and ultimately produced something I hadn’t seen in papers before. It was a refreshing change from coursework and the first time I thought about “what do we want to do with this data” instead of being told to “use the data to find x” if that makes sense. I’d love to find a career that offers a similar experience at a lab or in conjunction with teaching.
 
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This.

At 30, having worked menial jobs and still living with your parents, you are old enough/experienced enough with adulthood that you should be able to picture what the next 30 years of your life might look like, at least in broad strokes. The path you are on is (short) not a pretty picture (and doesn't seem necessary given your education, which is odd...). Decide what you want your life to look like, and put yourself on a path to make it happen.

But make it be realistic and goal oriented. Don't just go back to school because you like school. Don't pursue a phd unless you want to be a researcher and have a reasonable chance of succeeding at becoming one.
I know this isn’t an appropriate place to discuss this, but for the sake of transparency I’ve been working menial jobs because my confidence has been at an all-time low since leaving grad school without a degree. I feel like a failure and I’m disappointed that I worked so hard on my thesis and couldn’t finish. And although my bachelors degree is real, I feel like it doesn’t mean anything because I survived on the bare minimum.

I’m tired of self-pity and I’m ready to make positive changes. I’ve been working on my health and fitness and I’ve been working through a math book to get reacclimated. It’s not much, but it feels good.
 

russ_watters

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I know this isn’t an appropriate place to discuss this, but for the sake of transparency I’ve been working menial jobs because my confidence has been at an all-time low since leaving grad school without a degree. I feel like a failure and I’m disappointed that I worked so hard on my thesis and couldn’t finish. And although my bachelors degree is real, I feel like it doesn’t mean anything because I survived on the bare minimum.

I’m tired of self-pity and I’m ready to make positive changes. I’ve been working on my health and fitness and I’ve been working through a math book to get reacclimated. It’s not much, but it feels good.
It's useful information for us and frankly, it's a good thing that there's a relatively clear-cut issue that you are aware of and want to fix. It would probably be appropriate to talk to a psychologist about this. Regardless, when you're in a rut, deciding you want to and believe you can get out of it really is half the battle.
 
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This is stupid, OP has a bunch of graduate credit, nearly every program will graduate you with something smaller than an actual thesis(like my departments essentially didn't have any requirement beyond demonstrating you learned something and writing it up).

Go back and find the bare minimum you need to graduate, change your thesis into something else that's easier.
 
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Just need to point out that many departments have a time limit so it might be too late to finish the MS that you started. 5 years is common for a masters, might be different where you are.
 

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