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New and Needing Guidance sorry, kinda long

  1. Jul 1, 2009 #1
    Hello All...I'm new to the forums here. I'm really needing some advice/input on where to go with my education.

    I'm 32 and just started back to school last fall. (I was in aviation from 19-29, then misc jobs 29-30). I've always wanted a bachelors and have been fascinated with science, but this last year was my first year of really taking much in the way of science and math classes (my high school education was mediocre, at best...I earned good grades, just not much in the way of class options - VERY small private school).

    Of all the classes I took in this past year I enjoyed my physics class and math classes most. I'm wondering if it's too late to get into this field? I realize that it'd be 4 years for a bachelors. I'm unsure exactly how long a graduate program would be? Possibly 3-4 years? Longer? There is a math degree and physics minor available at my current college. I would have to go elsewhere for a graduate program (which is not a problem).

    What kind of jobs would be available with a M.S. in Physics? Would I be even relatively competitive entering the field at that age? How long does it take to earn a doctorate in the field?

    I'd appreciate any help on this matter... Thanks so much! :smile:
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  3. Jul 1, 2009 #2


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    I have a friend who graduated with a BS in physics and the company she works for, bought her a house and paid for her moving expenses. :bugeye:
  4. Jul 1, 2009 #3
    It's never too late! I know several people ~30 years old who have simply been working ordinary jobs for the past ten years and are starting in physics. My brother-in-law's father is over 60 and spends most of his spare time studying quantum mechanics (though not in a formal setting).
    One thing: before you invest in a degree and start coursework in math or physics, make sure you're really up to speed in those subjects, i.e. review up to the end of high school level, and (it can't hurt) beyond. It seems that people who haven't dealt with basic algebraic manipulation and functions in several years tend to forget the techniques. This isn't a real impediment, it just makes it hard to study for courses which assume this knowledge to be completely automatic. Of course this is assuming your background in aviation didn't require these skills.
    Good luck.
  5. Jul 1, 2009 #4
    Definately not too late....when I have been involved in interviewing engineers/scientists for positions there were many times when I actually preferred those who were a bit older...

    What can you do with a Masters in Physics?

    There are many options...

    Private industry, government, and government contractors all hire folks with Masters degrees in physics....

    What are you interested in? Are you more interested in the mechanical side of things or the electrical side? Are you interested in computers?

    Your options with a Masters degree in physics are many and depend partially on what area you see yourself working in in the future......
  6. Jul 1, 2009 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    As has been said before, in 4 years you'll be 36 no matter what. Would you rather be 36 with a degree or without one?
  7. Jul 1, 2009 #6
    An M.S. usually takes a year or two past the bachelor's degree. A Ph.D. usually takes 4-7 years, although it varies widely. (See http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/highlite/emp/figure14.htm.)

    If you are sure you want a Ph.D., you do not have to do the M.S. first.

    I'd also like to say "amen" to Vanadium 50's post and encourage you to go for it. Good luck!
  8. Jul 1, 2009 #7
    Thank you for the encouragement! :smile: Let's see if I can answer a few of the questions/points here...

    Just did Algebra I, II, and III...like I said, my high school education was lacking *and* quite a while ago. I decided to start at the beginning. I did very good in the classes and enjoyed them thoroughly. So, I think that's solid. I'm hoping/planning to spend summers (and possibly during school years, too) tutoring in the math lab to keep those skills sharp.

    As far as the actual B.S. -- would I be able to get into a M.S. or PhD physics program with a B.S. in Mathematics and a minor in physics? Or does the B.S. need to be *in* physics? (I'm asking because there isn't a B.S. in physics at my current college).

    What about graduate program requirements? Someone I know mentioned needing a year of a language to get into a math graduate program...is there anything like that for the physics programs?

    I'll be honest...not a CLUE what area of physics yet. I sat through the entire class last semester glued to the board. I finally stopped reading my textbook around others because I'd blurt out "WOW!!" or "That's how that works!!" or other exclamations of fascination. (I know, totally geeky...but it was SO neat!!). :biggrin: I love those "light bulb" moments you get when learning...just makes my day. So, yeah...electromagnetism, string theory, etc... It's all fascinating! (Granted, I'm only aware of them on the most elementary level possible :shy:).

    It's nice to know it's not "too late"... :D I really appreciate the input!
  9. Jul 1, 2009 #8


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    If you're having fun then it is most certainly not too late. :biggrin:
  10. Jul 2, 2009 #9
    It really depends on the particular program. In the top schools, you probably need a bachelor's degree *in* physics, and in any school, you will be at a serious disadvantage without one.

    But I didn't have a B.S. in physics when I reentered school to get my M.S. in physics many, many years after originally graduating. It took me an extra year though, because I essentially had to take the senior year physics curriculum first. Depending on exactly what courses you take in your physics minor, you might not take so long to catch up.

    So I'd say it's possible to get away with not having a physics B.S., but I wouldn't recommend it.

    Requirements vary from school to school. You really have to check with the particular school you are interested in. (If you're still working on your B.S., you have plenty of time to look around...)
  11. Jul 2, 2009 #10
    It's never too late! I know several people ~30 years old who have simply been working ordinary jobs for the past ten years and are starting in physics.
  12. Jul 2, 2009 #11

    George Jones

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    If you take enough of the standard physics courses and do well, then there should be schools that will accept you into grad physics programs. You might have to spend a semester of two taking some undergrad courses that you lack. For some areas of theoretical physics, an undergrad math major with sufficient concentration in a physics minor is not a bad route into research.

    I see that a year from now, your school will offer senior quantum mechanics for the first time. This is encouraging, as this is a particularly important course. I know a woman with an engineering degree who has been accepted into a grad physics program for the Fall, and one of the undergrad courses that she will have to take is undergrad senior quantum mechanics.
  13. Jul 2, 2009 #12
    Cool! I didn't even realize they were going to be offering that class! Thanks for letting me know! :biggrin:

    As physics will be a minor I get fairly free choice as to which upper division classes to take to fulfill the credit requirements. I will *definitely* put that one on the list! Is there anything else you'd recommend?
  14. Jul 2, 2009 #13
    More questions...

    ~ One of my math professors very strongly recommended taking "Intro to Logic" (philosophy class) if planning to major in math or science. Is anyone familiar with this idea? I'm wondering if it would be worth the time/tuition/books? (I've already completed that portion of the general ed requirements, so it wouldn't count towards the degree).

    ~ Any reading recommendations for a beginner level of physics? I've got a couple of Feynman books...
  15. Jul 2, 2009 #14


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    If it doesn't count toward your credit, I don't think you should bother with it. Your own words, "wasting time, tuition, and books". I think the time would be better spent taking something toward your degree.
  16. Jul 3, 2009 #15

    George Jones

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    Three recent, popular-level books that talk about some areas that currently are at the frontiers of research:

    The Quantum Frontier: The Large Hadron Collider by Don Lincoln,

    Einstein's Telescope: The Hunt for Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the Universe by Evalyn Gates,

    Lightness of Being: Mass, Ether, and the Unification of Forces by Frank Wilczek,

    Reading any of the above books should give you plenty of Wow! moments, but, even though they are all meant for the general public, there will be confusing passages in all of them. You might be able to find these books on the shelves of any "big box" bookstores near you.

    A Wilczek video:

    For a beautiful, brief, eye-opening introduction to relativity, try A Traveler's Guide To Spacetime: An introduction to the Special Theory of Relativity by Thomas Moore,

    This book, which I highly recommend, is the real deal, but has only high school math as prerequisite for the majority of its topics. Unfortunately, it is quite expensive for its size, so you should see if your school library has it. If your library doesn't have it, and you're interested in looking at it, see if you can get it through interlibrary loan.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  17. Jul 3, 2009 #16

    Wow! Thank you so much! I'm making a library list right now! :biggrin:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
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