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Other Is it ever too late?

  1. Jan 3, 2017 #1
    This is more of a life question than a technical one.

    I hear conflicting opinions on this when it comes to switching fields late. Some say it's never too late, others say that chances are lower.

    My background is applied math, and I want to go into physics for a PhD. So I guess I will just have to fork over the cash for another bachelors degree. Shouldn't take me more than 2 years though since I have all math and GEs done. Though I have to finish a PhD afterwards, which is up to 6 years. By then, I'll be close to 40.

    I know that is a huge time and financial investment, but really in the grand scheme of things I will simply just have to retire late.

    I want to hear peoples opinions on this. What would you do in my shoes?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 3, 2017 #2


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    I think people often confuse "less than optimal" with "impossible."

    Sure it would be ideal to finish your bachelor's by the time you're twenty two, and be well into your post-doctoral research by the time you're thirty. But life doesn't work that way for everyone. People get sick. People have children. People take time off to discover themselves. And yes, not everyone knows exactly what direction to go in from day one.

    You do have to look at and consider the realities of the path you're deciding on though. Most people in their thirties (i.e. your friends) will be settled into career-type jobs, investing in long term relationships, starting or growing families, and paying down mortgages. Most of your graduate student colleagues will be in their mid-to-late twenties. As a graduate student you won't be making a lot of money - in most cases not enough to really start paying down a mortgage.

    You also have to consider your plan for what happens after your PhD. Assuming that you finish it, remember that the odds of becoming a professor are small - small enough that it's best to count on not making it. That doesn't have anything to do with your age. That's just the way the numbers work out in academia. Even if age does factor in somehow, it's a small enough effect that it's not worth worrying about. The work that you produce during your PhD and as a post-doc is much more important.
  4. Jan 3, 2017 #3

    I don't really want to compare myself to others. I won't care if other all my friends would be ahead of me(at least I hope I won't care). I used to think along those lines and let it affect me. I am psychologically prepared to face those facts.

    Maybe just saying this because physics is incredibly interesting. I could just zone in for hours on end. Hard to do that for anything else.

    I don't know if I want to be a professor or not. I do want to do physics for a living though. Or applied physics to something very closely related. Research based projects. Hopefully having a PhD would give me at least the prospects to do that.
  5. Jan 4, 2017 #4
    To be frank you're wasting your time.
  6. Jan 4, 2017 #5
    If I were 50 years old and I wanted to study art, would you tell me it were a waste of my time? OP like physics and wants to study it. So why shouldn't he?
  7. Jan 4, 2017 #6
    I do have some 60 years left in my life to learn physics. Unless I'm mentally challenged or have dementia, I'm sure that's more than enough time to learn physics.

    Of course, I plan to do it in less than 8 years.
  8. Jan 4, 2017 #7

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    Based on your postings, I think physics grad school isn't what you think it is. You will not be spending 6 years understanding The Mysteries Of The Universe. You will be spending it studying The Fermi Surface of Glopolium.
  9. Jan 5, 2017 #8
    I am 21 (22 soon!) and I already feel left behind cause most people my age are settled (whether they like it or not, life decided for them or they were lucky enough to decide for themselves) doing their degrees or in their first job. I missed a few years of school (never went) and regret it deeply :/, but no use crying over lost time. (sadly durign those years I never learned anything too, except for depression and sadness, now I endeavour to try to learn something new every chance i get)

    The problem is if you're seeing things correctly, ie is the reality close to your expectation. Because we are often motivated by our expectation, which differs from reality sometimes.and I can safely almost everything has proven to be different from my expectation (everything I tried)

    Ok you want to do physics or applied physics, is there an easier way to do what you want? I would look at the options that mhy applied math degree gives me in physics.
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2017
  10. Jan 5, 2017 #9


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    I think this is the most important sentence you've written so far. What kind of physics are you thinking? Physics (as an academic field) is incredibly broad, but the available/lucrative jobs (even research jobs) mostly tend to look a lot like engineering. If this is what you want to do, then a physics PhD might be right up your alley. Know, however, that the chances of you landing a permanent position (beyond an infinite series of postdocs) in fundamental physics research are vanishingly small. That said, knowing how to carry out a multiyear research effort (in any field, not just physics)--simply having had that experience--can be incredibly useful, and signals quite a bit to potential employers.
    Or chasing down a bug in the code that a previous grad student wrote to calculate the Fermi surface of Glopolium...
  11. Jan 5, 2017 #10
    Or maybe math-heavy and physics-heavy engineering degree like EE? Tbh Crek is right. If your primary goal is to do physics for a living then doing BSc in physics with PhD in let's say string theory is huge waste of time because odds are close to zero. Odds are greater if you choose engineering or applied physics field.
  12. Jan 8, 2017 #11
    As long as it's interesting. I don't think I have the capacity to work on anything like grand unification theories.
  13. Jan 8, 2017 #12

    I'm not sure exactly. I've been studying physics for only a few months. I know that condensed matter physics seems to be popular these days. I've taken up an interest in exotic stuff like super conductors and BECs but I only understand them at a superficial level so far.
  14. Jan 8, 2017 #13


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    Hi FallenApple,

    I recalled you made some posts back in October regarding physics:


    Since your background is in applied math (with background in differential equations and probability), have you not considered pursuing a PhD in applied math, with research in an area that intersects with physics? Many graduate students in applied math are advised by faculty members in physics in areas of common interest (e.g. nonlinear dynamical systems, statistical physics, scientific computing, quantum computing/quantum information theory, condensed matter theory, etc.) I don't see why you would need to earn a new bachelor's degree in physics to be able to pursue graduate studies in an area that uses physics intensively.

    I should also add that within the focus of applied math also includes areas of common research interests to various areas of engineering fields (e.g. signal processing and control theory, fluid mechanics). Not to mention that I would think that an applied math research background will open many career opportunities that would at least be tangentially related to physics.
  15. Jan 8, 2017 #14
    Most of the physics people pay for is either teaching or applied physics, either of which could often be accomplished by a suitably trained and skilled engineer. It's probably been 20 years since I spent more than 5 hours in a week working toward progress on something fundamental rather than applied.

    There are opportunities. The attached graph shows the drag coefficient vs Mach number measured for a lead-free projectile with two different barrel twists (1 turn in 7" and 1 turn in 9"). (More environmentally friendly than earlier bullets.) These curves must be experimentally measured for every projectile design and every twist rate, because every purported first principles theory to predict these kinds of drag curves turns out to be woefully inaccurate when tested against new projectiles. I don't even know that there are ongoing efforts to solve the fundamental theory problem. It is one of the more challenging things in fluid dynamics. If you solve it, you will likely be known for hundreds of years as the guy who solved it. But I doubt anyone is going to fund a six-figure grant for you to try.

    But I do know that there is an ongoing keen interest in accurately measuring these drag curves accurately for every new projectile that seems like a viable candidate for an array of applications. It is much harder to earn a steady income addressing more "fundamental" problems in physics than addressing the applied ones, including teaching physics to the next generation of scientists, doctors, and engineers.

    Cd vs Mach Ruag.png
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