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I'm 31 and I think I want to study physics

  1. Sep 8, 2009 #1
    I hope I'm posting this thread in the right subforum.
    As in the thread title, I'm 31 and I currently work a low paying job. I have a partner of nearly 10 years who is about to graduate as a registered nurse and enter the workforce. At the moment my income supports both of us and has enabled her to focus on study but when she commences work as a nurse I'll have a golden opportunity to pursue an area of study without having to worrying too much about supporting myself whilst doing so. I can't imagine that many, if any, of you have worked on a chicken farm but you can take my word for it when I say that it is something you wouldn't want to do for the rest of your working life.

    I live in Australia so I can only describe the educational system as it is here. I'm starting from scratch, or at least it feels that way. I left high school early which means that before I even think about going to university I will need to catch up by doing Year 11 and 12 studies. I don't know what area of physics I am interested in yet. I've been reading about relativity and quantum theory and I'm excited by it and very keen to learn in more detail. I realise that mathematics is the framework for physics but I don't feel put-off by that aspect. I want to learn. I want to study hard.

    But, again, I'm 31. I don't really expect there to be some arbitrary answer to the question of what investment of time I should be prepared to put in. At the back of my mind though, there is the nagging feeling that it's too late for me to be tackling something like this.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 8, 2009 #2
    Hi there,

    Firstly, I don't believe that its ever too late to change field, and certainly not at 31. You still have a few good years to give, before retirement.

    Secondly, hold it there. Don't jump to far ahead, seeing yourself a specialist in general relativity, or quantum physics. I would suggest to start studying the field, you might find some interest in fields you never thought exist. I always believed I would become a astrophysicist, and ended up studying environmental nuclear physics.

    I also want to congratulate you for thinking of going back to studies. Just make sure that physics is truly the field that interest you. It's just that going back to studies, in field that you end up disliking, would set you back to your chicken farm. Therefore, make the wisest decision possible, by looking in other fields, like engineering which might be more oriented on real life situations. I don't know, but just be careful with your decision. If it is physics that you like, then go ahead and enjoy it.

  4. Sep 8, 2009 #3
    Thanks fatra2, I appreciate the response. Just to be clear, I only mentioned relativity and quantum physics because it is these two things that I've been reading about that have piqued my interest. I've not given too much thought about where I'd like to specialise. I'm a long, long way off making any kind of decision like that and I feel that by doing the catch-up study required for university I'll have a far better idea whether or not I really want to get into physics.

    I'd be curious to know if there are any other late starters here and why they decided to change their career path.
  5. Sep 8, 2009 #4
    I'm in my 50s and started at university two years ago. I've been a software developer for about 40 years and decided it's about time to learn something I want to rather than something I have to. I would eventually like to teach, but at my age it looks like either high school or community college will be the venue rather than university.

    In any event, it's never too late to learn. What you do with your education remains to be seen, but at least you'll have opened more doors by getting a degree.
  6. Sep 8, 2009 #5


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    Hey 7roosters, I am in the exact same boat as you. Minus the Australia and chicken farm part.

    I am also 31 and looking for a return. I dropped out of high school early, although I did go back for my GED.

    Currently I am trying to figure out if physics or engineering is right for me, and what school I can do this through entirely online. My dream is to solve the "Theory of everthing" dilemna, but for some reason I doubt that will happen.

    It's an interesting situation we are in. Neither one of us is happy with where we are, and we are stressing ourselves out trying to figure out how to stress ourselves out for the next five+ years...

    Good luck to you.
  7. Sep 8, 2009 #6
    31 is certainly not too old imo, I know a family friend who started a medical degree at 40, which is arguably a far more drastic decision to make, you clearly don't wish to continue in your current work, so as far I'd be concerned, what you should do is definitely go for it. :)
  8. Sep 8, 2009 #7

    I just wanted to insert my view on the topic. I'm a major in physics.

    First of all studying physics is very different from studying medicine you can't compare them.
    Medicine is somewhat more standardized while physics depends much more on the
    faculties where you are studying.

    To be perfectly honest with you, to become a full-blown theorist in quantum field theory, string theory or such is not very realistic, as it is not very realistic for the decent person who is much younger than you. That doesn't mean that you can't take courses in such fields or learn something about it.

    A huge amount of physicists are dealing with much more applied problems like experiments
    (I guess that probably 85-90 % of all the physicists are experimenters)
    or computer simulations where a solid physical background is needed.
    And the biggest part of actual research is concerned with

    This being said there is no reason why you should not earn your degree in physics.
    If you are ok with learning hard for the next 4 years it's possible as long as >>you<< really want
    this. Be prepared that at a lot of times you will have to change your point of view without dropping
    the studies! It's no picnic and you have a life too. There are a lot of subjects in physics
    the rest of the world is not aware of, there's not only particle physics, relativity and strings.

    I have a good friend who is studying physics with us and he is 32 or something (near the end of his studies). But he just looks like someone of us, you can't tell that he is a little older.

    You can also become a physics teacher.

    Good luck by making a decision!

    (sorry my english is bad)
  9. Sep 8, 2009 #8
    I moved out of physics into computer science because there were not any "reasonable" jobs in physics. School courses in mathematics, physics (and computing) will certainly be good preparation for many things besides physics. Keep one eye on the job market, though, and try and decide where you are most likely to find a well paying job to keep that nice nurse happy...
  10. Sep 11, 2009 #9
    Hihi! Good to see you making such decision.
    If you really like physics,I strongly suggest you study it.
    I am 19 and i studied business in high school for 2 years. Now i return to science and i major in math and physics. Although i have to work really hard to keep up with the teaching, this period is the happiest in my life. Nothing is more fulfilling than studying the subject you love.
  11. Sep 11, 2009 #10
    My mother used to say if i would be 10 years younger i would go to the university. Funny thing was she said that sentence 10 years later too.
  12. Sep 11, 2009 #11
    I went back to study physics at 29. My situation was a little bit different as I had a previous degree in Kinesiology and didn't have to take many of the general studies courses that you will have to take.
    It's been very rewarding. As things currently are, I will finish next school year with a major in Physics, and minors in math and astronomy. I will actually have enough credits for a major in mathematics, but I chose classes based on what I felt would benefit me in physics, not what would meet the requirements for the major.

    I've enjoyed it very much.
    The only thing I can say is that if you haven't been to college before, be prepared for what the studying will entail. When I was in school for Kinesiology I used to think how it seemed like the History or Sociology majors had so little studying compared to my major.....well, I can say with absolute certainty that my Kinesiology program was a walk in the park compared to the time and effort required to excel at Physics.
    I say "excel" because Physics is a very competitive field, already filled with very intelligent and motivated individuals. To add to that, most of them realize that a Physics degree isn't a "get a job" degree and are planning to attend graduate school.

    So, you'll be among a group of very intelligent students that are studying physics for the love of it...not for future income...and most of them are planning on graduate school, and thus working very hard to earn good grades.

    As difficult as the coursework is, it was the best choice I've ever made.
  13. Sep 13, 2009 #12
    Thanks for the replies!
    I've found that the more I look into the business of getting a physics degree the more my expectations are revised with what the realities of such an undertaking entail. I don't feel discouraged.. yet.
    My biggest hurdle at this early stage (I won't be doing any study for at least a year yet) is the mathematics aspect. Are there any resources online, free or otherwise, that can help me to get up to speed. I mean, I have a year before I will commence any kind of actual study. Even though I'm working I can't see any good reason why I should waste a whole year when I could be doing something to prepare me for study in physics and to me, math is one of those big, glaring obvious somethings.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2009
  14. Sep 13, 2009 #13
    Also, I can't think of one response in this thread that hasn't been positive or encouraging in some way, so thanks again.

    MacLaddy, what has drawn you to consider physics? I'm curious to know.
  15. Sep 13, 2009 #14
    well working on a chicken farm will give you a lot of time to yourself to think about the sciences and mathematics i imagine. why newton thought deeply about gravity and its existence by simple pondering under an apple tree or as the story goes.
    first you need to focus on getting a ged or some equivalence of it, i am not aware of the way the school systems work in australia so bear with me. that part will seem like the hardest thing you've done in a while i imagine since you have to learn to learn again in subjects that may not readily interest you but thats only the beginning. if you can pull through that and your first semester of college your chances are greatly improved, in my opinion. as one stout harvard graduate/author once put it or at least something along the lines of "to study is to bask in the glory of the mind." albeit she was also a psychopathic it still rings true.
    not to be discouraging but it requires full dedication and only the most genuine of interest. good luck.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2009
  16. Sep 13, 2009 #15
    Before I consider university I will be doing Year 12 which, when I graduate, is the equivalent of your ged or high school diploma.. I think. I'm not sure.
    But yeah, I'm not going straight from a chicken farm into study for a degree.
  17. Sep 14, 2009 #16
    I'm 27 and have been working various low paying jobs since high school. Computers have been a hobby for a while now, so I started taking some college courses headed in that direction. But the more I think about it, the more I want to go towards physics/astrophysics.

    I know the feeling of getting a late start is discouraging, but I agree with the other posters here. It is definitely not too late for us! All it took for me to decide, was a thought similar to what Archis said.

    5 years down the road, you'll be in your mid 30's regardless of going back to school or not. So age is not a big factor. But how you spend those 5 years can change the rest of your life drastically. Sounds like the best possible choice for both of us is to start doing something we're interested in.

    Until we unlock the secrets of the universe and figure out how to create a time machine, so that we can go back to when we were 18 and tell ourselves to get started earlier anyway ;)
  18. Sep 15, 2009 #17
    it seems as if the bottom line is no matter how old you are, you could be 18 or 81, if you don't at least try now you will be asking yourself "what if...".
    and if you try and fail then at least you will know you have one less regret to take with you to the grave. you've got nothing to lose but some time at a chicken farm. you may study yourself silly but at least you will know what you are truely capable of.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2009
  19. Sep 15, 2009 #18
    Would it be a bit overblown to say that the desire to study physics, to understand the laws of nature, can give one a sense of purpose in life?
  20. Sep 15, 2009 #19
    of course its not overblown. its a universal truth that if one has a desire, whatever that may be, it gives a sense of purpose.
    the real question is what dictates a particular desire? my hypothesis is that desire is the great ushering hand of destiny.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2009
  21. Sep 15, 2009 #20
    I want to pursue something in life that satisfies my need for integrity, substance and meaning. In that way, I'll make my own, small, contribution to the greater good. :)
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