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Looking into Physics / Astrophysics is it to late?

  1. Jan 6, 2012 #1
    re-posted this, I accidentally put this in the wrong location first time. So just posting it where it should have been the first time.

    I know the common saying is "its never to late to ..."etc. But I'm 21 almost 22 about to medically retire from the military. Ive been struggling since I was a kid till now as most people do deciding what they wanna be when they grow up . I've wanted to be an actor (every kids dream) programmer. Game designer, fbi agent. All of those because they sounded cool. But over the last few years my interest in science has peeked. As a kid I always loved space and all that goes a long with it. The idea of helping advance the human race or push us in a direction that leads us to other planets or galaxies has been a huge dream of mine lately. I've been looking into colleges to go too and 2 of them stuck out

    And caltech

    The issue I'm having is I'm afraid I've been out of school to long and might have issues jumping into a topic / area of study like this. I took a few online college classes so far but online was not for me. I only passed 3 of them and dropped 3 of them .. I passed math with a low A. I've always been good at math. Not amazing but good. I was in AP math in high school.

    Anyway the questions I'm having. Is. What can I do to prepare myself ... I read books and watch tv shows about space but I still feel like I know absolutely nothing. What do I need to know before persueing this field. And is this field right for me. I love the idea of a job doing astrophysics but I'm afraid I might not handle the work load or it might be to hard. Even though math was easy and science too. In high school I didn't try hard so my grades were always average is that going to affect my career forever now?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 6, 2012 #2
    If you are really interested, its never too late in science. Since you are interested in astrophysics, I would suggest you to read some books which cover the subject broadly. Start with Frank Shu (for conceptual understanding) or Carroll and Ostlie (for basic mathematical training). After this you will have a pretty good idea which area you would like to work on.
  4. Jan 7, 2012 #3


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    It's not too late to get started, but with average high school grades and poor online college grades (yes, you do need to report those) you have no shot at getting into a top school. MIT and CalTech only take about 8% of applicants, and everyone applying is at the top of their classes. Try your local state colleges and universities, and prepare by reviewing math. While Carroll & Ostlie's book is excellent, it's probably far above your math and physics understanding at the moment (it's an advanced undergrad or beginning grad school level textbook). Plan on a physics major.
  5. Jan 7, 2012 #4
    Like eri said, MIT and Caltech will likely be out of your reach. Not even the very best of the best get in sometimes. Don't be worried though, some state schools offer great programs in physics (and at a third of the price). But the fact that you haven't been in school for a while troubles me. I would also consider community college first.

    What kinds of books do you read and TV shows do you watch? Popular science books and TV shows will not help prepare you for college. In fact they romanticize the subject quite a bit which isn't very good if you want to actually study it mathematically.

    And what was the last math class you took?

    I don't think you are too old to try this out though. You just might have some reviewing and catching up to do.
  6. Jan 7, 2012 #5
    I know the schools I listed, seem a little "out of place" considering how top end they are; and considering my grades. My intent on that is to follow through using the Yellow Ribbon program, which I know MIT (not sure on Caltech yet) is apart off. This program once they become apart of it, requires them to let so many Retired/medically discharged/ ETSed (end time of service) soldiers the ability to go to the college, paid for by the VA. MIT as an example, does there acceptance in a First come first server. They take a maximum of 30 former-soldiers per year. So if I apply at the start of the acceptance for this Yellow Ribbon program, then chances of getting in are a bit bolstered.

    As far as costs, I am not worried, Ive got a few different places with college money coming my way but mostly through the army GI bill / post 911 GI bill.

    As far as Books and TV, (im not refering to just random SCI-FI stuff), but I watch a lot of documentaries about space(black holes, supernova's *just a few random examples*), physics (example: Quantum physics, M-theory (string theory) As far as books, examples would be: A brief History of time, The universe in a nutschell, about 7 of Dr. Michio Kaku's books, Brian Greene's The Hidden Reality.

    As far as my last match class goes, it was MATH110 - College Algebra (I scored high enough on the pre-test to take MATH111 - College Trig, but decided I was going to do that next if I enjoyed online college) I'm fairly sure I had an A in that class by the end, it was a low A though. I got nearly 100% of every assignment, I just had a poor work ethic being active military. I was constantly busy, and sometimes in the field for 1-2 weeks which would set me back, I ended up losing like 5 points to every asignment for being late, which stacked up and brought my average grade to a basic A (I think it was 91.7% at the end)
  7. Jan 7, 2012 #6
    I go to a community college, and a lot of the other students here are retired military guys, many of them in their 30's and 40's. Rest assured that your situation is not all that unique or terrible, and I've heard plenty of success stories from people in much worse situations.

    You should be warned though, MIT is famous for having nightmarishly difficult classes. Of course you'd be getting a top notch education, but that involves extremely difficult classes.
    You might do better once you get there due to the fact that you don't have to worry about your military job anymore, or you might do worse because of the fact that you've been out of school for so long.
    If I were in your situation, I think I'd rather ease into it, by taking classes at a community or state college before trying to go to MIT, at least until you reach college level math classes like Calculus.

    Also, another thing you should remember is that both CalTech and MIT are private universities.
    I googled the program you were talking about, and I found this
    MIT tuition is ~40k/yr.
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2012
  8. Jan 7, 2012 #7
    Thanks for the additional feed back JustAnotherGu, as far as you link on the GI-bill, that is true, but what you need to look into is the Yellow Ribbon program. Its an agreement amongst colleges to alter their tuition to that of a reasonable level for the VA to pay for. MIT has a section on the Yellow Ribbon program here http://web.mit.edu/sfs/scholarships/yellow_ribbon.html

    I am not saying I need to be in MIT or Caltech to succeed or anything of the sort as a heads up, just in some ways those are personal dreams / goals. I say /goals and not just dreams because they are in some ways still obtainable and not out of reach. Even if in my own better interest they may not be the best choice, and I understand that. I have no intent of making them the only options. I have actually looked into numerous other colleges as well.

    I noticed above the recommendations for "Start with Frank Shu (for conceptual understanding) or Carroll and Ostlie (for basic mathematical training). After this you will have a pretty good idea which area you would like to work on."

    but then a reply below that, saying they may be a bit advanced for me.

    Can anyway elaborate on this for me, and if these would indeed be to advanced for a fresh start, where would you suggest.

    Also if you can provide links or suggestions on where to find these text books at the cheapest cost / best quality as well as any other methods I can utilize to give myself a ground base of knowledge before I jump into a university level of mathematics and physics / Astrophysics.

    Again I greatly appreciate all the help and suggestions that you have put into these replies, it means a lot.
  9. Jan 7, 2012 #8
    I will tell you my story in short...

    I had about 10 years when i read first book about solar system, and i was fascinated with it, in that time there was no Internet or nice TV shows, even so i was trying to pick up every book i can find on science from my friends about the subject...

    Later on when i had 15, I read about Quantum Physics, that was like a total mind Reconstruction, and I just knew that I must study physics.

    Then i fascinated by math (cardon's way of solving 3'd degree polynomial) and spent much time on math till i finished school.

    Due to lot of reasons, I had to study Economics, so I had 24 when finished with it, but never liked it, and to forget that, i was spending all my time in programing different kinds of software instead of studying Economics.

    Then work... even so i always felt that it just not my pales in world, i did well, but after a while, i couldn't complete becuase it's too simple, too dirty, too unsatisfactory, and too un-fundamentally..

    Then I made my final decision at my 27th to fulfill my old dream and study theoretical physics, believe me i had to take a great risk and lose a lot to be able doing that, and a lot of my friends thought that I'm really crazy to do all these sacrifices, but i did it, and now I almost at my 30 in the 3d grade and doing very well (at least as teachers says)

    But i should admit, that my first two semesters, was a night mare, I forgot a lot, I lost my "physical intuition", fortunetly my logic and math that I was feeding through years by doing programing was not bad, but even so it was very-very hard to rewire (literally) my brain to the new level of thinking and imagination, and i had to work hard to reestablish my school's level.

    And till now I'm really glad that I'm on the way of my dream , even so i think my age lowering my chances, I will go on, becuase there is no pleasure such as when you understand how something that was too familiar for you (sun for example), how it's really works, and you understands that everything else is simply doesn't worth our time...

    hope you will find your own way :)
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2012
  10. Jan 7, 2012 #9
    Thanks for sharing your story TMSxPhyFor, seeing stuff like this really helps me realize that its still possible, and to some extent I know its still possible for me to pick up a lifestyle working with physics. At this point, its a matter of getting myself to a point where I am ready or at least prepared to enter that kind of commitment. I would like to make sure I can bring some sort of background with me before I go into the University level of Physics / Mathematics. I've spent enough time away from school aside from the 3 classes I took online, that I really do need time to build up a refresher for me before I try and jump into topics as stressful as advanced mathematics and physics.
  11. Jan 9, 2012 #10
    bump .. never got a reply to my post aobe TMS' post about what books to get to start refreshing myself for Math / physics (astrophysics)
  12. Jan 9, 2012 #11
    I would recommend Fundamentals of Physics by Halliday/Resnick/Walker to start. It does have some calculus though so you may need to learn that first or at the same time. I'm not sure what to recommend for math though, probably a trig/precalculus book. I'm not familiar with any good ones though.
  13. Jan 9, 2012 #12
    Alright, I will look into those books, but Id like to have a math book to either read at the same time or before, thats the next biggest suggestion I need.

    Also wanted to make sure it was clear that I am going for Astrophysics mostly (may switch to just Physics but plan is Astrophysics)
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2012
  14. Jan 10, 2012 #13
    It's also depends on what you already know, besides you will need to read about the general course of physics anyway, I would recommend a series of Russian writer Sivukhen, I don't know if there is a translation for his books into English, but it he is far the most brilliant writer, you will find in his books of 5 volumes answers to almost every question that will pop up to your head related to his subjects, anyway as a second option is no doubt the famous feynman series.

    Anyway I always recommended to start from popular writings, like universe in a nutshell for example, they will give you a global deep view to blow up your mind, then a really "physics" books will teach you haw to think.

    Regarding math, it highly depends on what you know.
  15. Jan 10, 2012 #14
    You will likely not specialize in astrophysics until graduate school. A strong foundation in physics is needed before studying astrophysics.
  16. Jan 10, 2012 #15
    There are several thousand schools out there. MIT and Caltech are *terrible* schools if you aren't sure if you want to do science and engineering. Also the admission rates are low enough so that it's a bad idea to count on getting in.

    One thing that you have to think about is that there is this possibility that you'll do real science research and figure out that you absolute hate it. Most people do.

    Jump in. Get admitted to some decent university (there are several thousand to choose from). Take science/math courses. If it works out, great. If it doesn't, try something else. Repeat.

    One thing that you'll need to know is that the odds of your becoming a full time research professor are so small that if that's your goal, you need to think of something else. You might look at some posts from people with astrophysics Ph.D.'s (like me) that can't find a job in astrophysics.

    It's probably better if you don't think of astrophysics as a career. For me, astrophysics is cool enough so that I'm willing to give up a lot of stuff for it, but I'm crazy and most people aren't.
  17. Jan 10, 2012 #16
    Yes and no. One thing that is good about MIT is that it doesn't have weed out classes, and the professors are very supportive so in some ways it's *easier* than a lot of state schools.

    The thing that is "difficult" about MIT is that the philosophy is "sail you out to the middle of the ocean, dunk you in, and see if you can swim to shore." Also, if you seem to be doing too well, people will make the classes harder. You are always being pushed to your limits. Think academic boot camp.

    I loved it, but if you aren't sure that you want to do science, I'm not sure that it's a good environment.

    The other thing is that you can get all of the courses at MIT online, and people are working on MITx which has some mechanism to do something like course credit.
  18. Jan 10, 2012 #17
    Unfortunately, real world physics is also like that.

    I do suspect that you are going to find a lot of disappointment.
  19. Jan 10, 2012 #18
    I appreciate the extra feed back, and it was a good point to make, that setting myself in a school that only focuses on Science / engineering can be a bad idea. But in some ways, I feel if I'm given to many choices in a school, ill be likely to want to quit if things get a bit hard.

    I understand that getting a job will extremely difficult even after finishing a degree, especially with the way our economy is at the moment and the loss of funding to programs such as NASA.

    But, one thing I'm trying to do, to really get myself tested for this, too see if its not just an interest I have, but a real dream of working with Physics, is to get a few College level text books ( or even high school if needed) and start going through them completely. I just need suggestions for Mathematics books and Physics books to work with. I saw the fundamentals book listed, is there any others people would like to suggest?
  20. Jan 10, 2012 #19
    Things will get very hard, and you will have many choices in life. If you are going to quit, it's better to do it early before you've invested a lot of time and effort.

    It's not just that. The physics academic job market has been largely dead since *1970*. If it was just economic blip that would be one thing, but it's not. There are some decent jobs you can get with physics knowledge, but most of them you can get easier without physics.

    You can go into the Opencourseware project at MIT. They have videos for all of the major courses in the physics program. Also one reason that MIT is putting it all online for free is that people have figured out that you don't learn physics by reading books (although that's an important part of it). You learn physics by interacting with people.
  21. Jan 10, 2012 #20
    Actually I just got started on this earlier today, any suggestions for first classes? Mathematics wise? and physics wise where to start?
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