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I want to become a Physicist BUT

  1. Jun 12, 2010 #1
    Im 33 and financially set.

    I dont need the money and Im not looking for a career.

    I have a high school diploma (thats it)

    But what I want is to understand the knowledge and be able to work out advance equations an perhaps solve problems.

    If I went to school for this I understand that I would need to take 4 years of basics before I could even begin on Physics...right THEN 4 more years to become a Physicist...right? = total 8 years.

    Here's my question:

    Is it possible to do the 8 years studying (including school AND homework) 30/hours per week or less?

    What would be the minimum time I could spend on this per week?

    thanks in advance
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 12, 2010 #2


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    You don't need 4 years of college before studying physics. You can start studying physics as soon as you get to college as long as you're ready to take calculus. If you have to catch up on the math first, you'll have to wait a bit longer. Your 'basic' or general education courses can be taken at any time during college, not just your first year or two, and there aren't 4 years worth of them. The first 4 years would be your bachelors degree, and that would be in physics. You'd know how to work out equations at that point. If you want to do research, you'd have another 4-8 years of graduate school for a PhD.

    How little time can you spend on it? That depends on you. Some people don't need to study to get A's, others can't get A's no matter how hard they work. But if you're looking to do the minimum amount of work possible, this might not be the field for you.
  4. Jun 12, 2010 #3

    That is a really wonderful idea.
    As has been mentioned earlier, there is no need for the 4 yrs preparation.
    Once you know Calculus, you are in a good shape to start.

    In our department (Physics), there is a Physics PhD holder (retired from the job), who had his PhD in Physics nearly 38 years ago, he is currently studying in Physics Bachelor degree since he thinks that a lot has changed since then.

    Solving problems is a skill that you can gain from solving a lot of problems or exercises.
  5. Jun 12, 2010 #4
    If you just want to learn a bit about 'real' physics, you don't necessarily have to get a degree in it. The internet has made information easily accessible to anyone with a connection. One site that is designed specifically for such a purpose is http://www.phys.uu.nl/~thooft/theorist.html.
    I still go to that site at least a few times a month. There is also a link to a list of MANY sets of lecture notes and ebooks in math, physics, computer science, etc., towards the bottom of that page.

    If you want to go back to school to "officially" learn physics, then worrying about the minimum amount of time you'll need to spend per week is not a good sign.
    An undergraduate degree in physics is generally 4 years. If you have no math preparation and plan to do anything in physics that is highly mathematical, you will likely either need to go longer than 4 years, or spend more than 30 hours a week on your studies.

    If it makes any difference, I am in a somewhat similar situation. I am 31 years old and am a physics undergrad, beginning the application process for grad school next fall. I did have a prior bachelors degree in kinesiology from 2001, but had absolutely NO math or physics preparation. I had never taken a class in physics, not even in high school. And the last math class I took was a pre-algebra class in 10th grade....back in 1995.

    I have been very happy with my decision to pursue physics "officially." I have also spent much more than 30 hours a week for much of that time....especially now that I'm also involved in research.
    I don't consider that a downside though.
  6. Jun 12, 2010 #5
    Napoleon, I can't give any helpful life advice on what you should do with your career. But just an FYI: grad school is free, and they pay you to go. So you've still got to pay for four years of undergrad. I know people who work 30 hours a week and do that. You can't do grad school and work, but since they pay you (slightly above minimum wage), you don't really need to worry about not having an income source.

    But if you're already financially set, why would you want to become a physicist? I understand the whole desire to pursue knowledge and stuff, but you can do this without learning the nitty gritty and doing research. If I were financially set, I wouldn't personally mess with a good thing. But like I said, I can't offer any life advice, since I'm just one of thousands of physics grad students out in academiaworld.
  7. Jun 12, 2010 #6
    I'm pretty sure that's not necessarily the case. But I once heard an axiom pertaining to my own field: "If you have to pay for engineering grad school, you shouldn't be in engineering grad school." I think that can apply to physics as well.

    To the OP: If you're not interested in a career/job doing physics, and just want an extremely in-depth coverage on the subject, I would recommend looking into MIT's Open Courseware feature, which is totally free. I would also buy a number of physics and mathematics textbooks, and simply self-study. Knowledge is knowledge; one of the main reasons you go to university is for a paper proving that you have that knowledge in order to get a job somewhere. That's not a factor for you.
  8. Jun 12, 2010 #7


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    Physics grad schools are "free" because you work in the department as a TA or RA.
  9. Jun 12, 2010 #8
    What about for working people? I work half-time and want to attend graduate school for physics in a couple of years.
  10. Jun 12, 2010 #9

    Vanadium 50

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    It is virtually impossible to be a part time graduate student.

    It takes 7-8 years for a PhD. At half time, this becomes 15. Universities often have maximum degree times, as they don't want to grant degrees for courses that are obsolete. Thesis advisors won't want to take on students who will take twice as long as their peers.

    The only time I have seen this work is when the "day job" is somehow connected to the grad program - for example, earning a PhD for industrial research.
  11. Jun 12, 2010 #10
    Sorry. I meant for a non-thesis MS, not Ph.D.
  12. Jun 13, 2010 #11


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    An MS, even with a thesis, can be done in 2-3 years while working part time. Even at full time you'd probably only take 3 years. It's basically how my entire department works :rofl: .
  13. Jun 13, 2010 #12
    Really? I hardly ever hear of anyone paying to go to grad school in physics. I know of a few special exceptions, like people who've got medical issues and can't work reliably as a TA or RA. But it's always been my understanding that pretty much everyone in the States gets an assistantship and a tuition waiver. Am I missing something?

    OK that's true. But realistically, when I was a TA I spent about ten hours a week on TA related stuff, and the rest of my time working on my coursework. And now as an RA, I'm basically getting paid to do the research that's going to lead to my PhD. It's hard work and long hours, but I'm getting a fancy piece of paper and "Dr." in front of my name at the end of it all. Feels more or less free to me. But technically you're right, you've got to do stuff to stay in grad school.
  14. Jun 13, 2010 #13
    This seems to be true for North America (and UK), but does anyone know if it's the same in Australia, Japan and Europe, as well? I looked around and to me it seems this is NOT the case there, but perhaps I'm missing something.
  15. Jun 13, 2010 #14
    This strongly depends on the field. In some fields (educational administration, business administration, nursing, and petroleum engineering), most doctoral candidates are full time professionals in the field. Unfortunately for the OP, physics is a field in which doctoral programs to tend to be run by non-professionals.

    On the other hand, I don't see it as impossible for the OP to get the equivalent of an undergraduate physics degree, and then spend the rest of his life as a graduate student.
  16. Jun 13, 2010 #15
    Well, that's good to hear. lol.
  17. Jun 13, 2010 #16
    This probably means that anyone over the age of 30 who is interested in science would probably be better off acquiring an engineering undergrad degree and stop their formal science education at a master's, at least until the individual has enough capital saved to enter a PhD program later on.
  18. Jun 13, 2010 #17
    I think that a lot depends on the situation of the student.

    The problem is that if you go through a masters program, then as far as I'm concerned you really aren't doing any science research. In order to do any sort of science research, you have to be in an environment that is similar to a Ph.D. program, although it may not necessarily have to be a full blown Ph.D. What might work is to get at least a physics undergrad and then work as a lab technician.

    One problem that we have here is that there educational systems are just not designed for people that are in the OP's situation, so you have to get creative in order to get what you want. Also, you run into definitional problems. What, for example, is a physicist?
  19. Jun 13, 2010 #18
    People who go into a Uni as an MS student is not gonna get his tuition paid for (at least not in general). Paid tuition and a stipend are usually reserved for PhD students not terminal master's student.

    Now, no one said you cant apply and start out as a PhD student and then decide to quit once you fulfill the reqs for a masters...I know plenty of PhD students who have ZERO intentions on finishing thier PhD and are there just long enough to finish the coursework/exams or thesis for a MS.

    That said, as a PhD with a stipend, you are the employee of the Uni. Typically they dont allow you to work outside of the school (they are paying you to work there, not somewhere else; well thats the case as someone else said, for the sciences).

    Im 31 and financially set too (well my wife is), and I am in school full time. Granted, I dont work fulltime, and if I did I would probably only do school part time (though Im am sure there are plenty of student who work and go to school full time)
  20. Jun 13, 2010 #19
    From my point of view, the US "mainstream" educational system is not designed for students that must support themselves. It seems to me private for-profits sprang up to cater to the "non-traditional student" demographic but there's no scientific research done there, as far as I know.

    I'm beginning to think anyone who has financial and/or family responsibilities should steer clear of PhD programs unless they have significant capital to cover their responsibilities for at least 4 years.
  21. Jun 13, 2010 #20
    This is very field dependent. Ph.D. programs for math and physics aren't designed around students with jobs. Ph.D. programs in educational administration are.

    There are more non-traditional students than traditional ones. Also, there is quite a bit of scientific research done in the for-profit universities, but it's education administration and social science research.

    Again, we have to distinguish between different Ph.D.'s. The financial aspect of math/physics Ph.D.'s are very different than those in educational administration, health technology, or medieval French literature.

    As far as math/physics Ph.D.'s, I don't think that this is the situation at all. One thing about physics Ph.D. programs is that the income goes down, but you don't leave with massive debt. I was able to get my Ph.D. while having a wife and kids to support. It's tight, but doable. Once you do get the Ph.D., then the money starts rolling in.
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