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My dream of being a physicist.

  1. Oct 4, 2009 #1
    Hello I am a 30 year old disabled veteran. I have wanted to be a physicist for most of my life but due to mental illness I have not been able to do anything about it. I am now completely stable and I think it is a good time to get started on my dream. I know it will be difficult but I like a challenge.

    One problem I see is I don't have the necessary math knowledge that is required to get into a physics course. I don't have a clue about what I need to do to start my education. I feel so far behind everyone else.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 4, 2009 #2
    The first thing I'd do is make sure you can do algebra. If you don't have the right mindset for independent study (not many people do, it seems), perhaps attend a community college and take some math classes. It never hurts to get some education anyway.

    Then try your hand at calculus. If you do well in community college precalc classes, then you can transfer to a university and start taking calculus and low level physics. But again, if you can do it independently, it might help to try that first.

    I don't know of any algebra textbooks, but this book is pretty brilliant for learning calculus independently:


    If all of this works out, then you can continue to work your way through the physics BS. Keep in mind that classes get much more difficult at the junior and senior levels, and still more difficult at the graduate level.

    Even if you go through all the work to learn this math and the physics dream doesn't work out, it helps to know the math and looks good no matter what kind of job you apply for.
  4. Oct 4, 2009 #3


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    Definitely going to need calculus.
  5. Oct 4, 2009 #4
    Do you remember anything from algebra or trigonometry? If not, I would suggest attending community college and taking some of the foundations classes: Algebra I and II, trigonometry, pre-calculus and then calculus.

    Make sure beforehand that the credits will transfer to a 4 year institution flawlessly. I know that this is the case in Oregon and California, but I sometimes hear some things about other schools not transferring credits from CCs because of various reasons.

    Don't let the fact that you're 30 bother you. There are older people than you in my electrodynamics class.
  6. Oct 5, 2009 #5
    I will try out learning math independently. I have taught myself stuff before so I can probably do it.
  7. Oct 5, 2009 #6
    If you can afford it, I'd really suggest a community college course though. There really is no substitute for submitting to other people's evaluation of your ability.

    Besides, if you get stuck, it's helpful to have someone who you can ask for help.
  8. Oct 5, 2009 #7

    Vanadium 50

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    You're starting down a path that will not take you to where you are going. You need ~a decade of formal schooling to get a PhD. You need to start getting reinvolved in that as soon as possible. Putting this off to do things independently just delays things.
  9. Oct 5, 2009 #8
    You need to decide what level your math ability is at, find the nearest school and take math classes most likely. I guess you could get most of the stuff leading up to calculus in a semester. Algebra, trig, geometry, precalc, then calc and physics. You said you don't know where to start. Just find the nearest school that offers these classes and start studying your face off.
  10. Oct 5, 2009 #9
    As Vanadium alluded, in order to be a physicist you need a PhD, which in turn requires a BS degree. The good news is that after the BS, they'll pay for your PhD, so it's not like you'll go hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. But learning independently isn't a good idea if you want to be a professional physicist. I'm sure there are a few super-geniuses who've pulled it off. But speaking personally, there's no way I could have learned physics on my own.

    Having said all that, are you sure you want to go this route? Job prospects for PhDs aren't that great. Getting faculty positions is very difficult (there are only about 300 of them available every year in the whole nation). And unless you go into condensed matter physics, there aren't all too many industry jobs in physics either; more than likely you'll spend your days programming a computer.

    Not trying to dissuade you. Just make sure you go into this knowing that most physics PhDs don't run around in lab coats building cool rocket engines every day.
  11. Oct 5, 2009 #10
    Check out this link: http://www.phys.uu.nl/~thooft/theorist.html

    About 18 months ago, I was in the same boat. I had absolutely no math background beyond a high school geometry class in the mid 90's. I used that site and the additional links you can find towards the bottom of the page to eventually self study up through differential calculus and most of "introductory physics."

    I'm in school now and my studies from that site have held up very well.
  12. Oct 5, 2009 #11
    I know I want to go this route. I'm not worried about getting a job. I want to learn physics simply to learn something that fascinates me.

    EDIT: How do I know I will be successful with this? I'm not your average bear.
    EDIT^2: I figured out that I am going to try learning math on my own but to increase my odds of success I am going to take classes at a local community college also. I know I could not learn Arabic on my own and math is a language so I will treat it the same. I could use some English classes also since I'm sure my grammar is not where it should be.
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2009
  13. Oct 6, 2009 #12
    I have another question. Does it matter what school you attend for a bachelors degree? Is it a big influence on where you can go for your masters and beyond or do they primarily just look at your GPA?
  14. Oct 6, 2009 #13
    It matters, but what you do at whatever school you attend matters much more. In addition to GPA, it's also very important to work with professors as an undergrad and obtain some experience doing research.
  15. Oct 22, 2009 #14
    Well I'm going to be taking an algebra class next semester. Should I just stick to one math class per semester? I'm worried about overwhelming myself but if it is doable to also take geometry that would be cool.

    I had a totally messed up idea about how I should go about school. I thought I had to get my education in a speedy manner and could not take classes before going to a four year school. It all seems silly now.
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