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Physicist with a felony?

  • Thread starter Swampdog
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When I was 17 I did something incredibly stupid that may have affected my entire life in terms of what I want to do with it. I broke into a high school while drunk and stole some computers for fun. I'm just hoping that by some miracle there's still a chance, however slim, that I could get accepted into a school and obtain a BS, go back for a masters, and if I try really hard, a PhD. I'm 21 now and currently working at an HVAC-R small business and realized how much I enjoy science, physics in particular. I've always been interested but I feel a growing obsession starting. I'm currently buying as many books I can get my hands on to get familiarized with the different theories and the great minds that accomplished them, as well as brushing up on my mathematical skills. I dropped out of high school in my sophomore year and got my GED within the next year after.

I'm going to try and give it my best shot. Absolutely 110% of my effort. I can't simply allow my entire life to be dictated by a few adolescent mistakes. Nevertheless, I get discouraged sometimes while I'm reading or trying to study, and wonder if it's all going to be for nothing. I would just like to ask for any advice on my dilemma; if there's anyone out there with my same dream, problem or if someone has experienced anyone with a story or background relative to mine currently undergoing school or perhaps even succeeded? Feedback is greatly appreciated. Even if it's telling me that my ship has sailed.
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
turbo
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It is not impossible for you to improve your lot, professionally. I would suggest that you get some legal advice and try to work things out. You may be able to get a pardon, and you might even be able to manage an expungement (I'm thinking of US legal system, here), and end up with a clean record so you can start over. Good luck.
 
  • #3
bcrowell
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Are you in the US? In the US, AFAIK, juvenile convictions become legally irrelevant once you turn 18.

Do you live in a state with a community college system? If so, then the obvious next step would be to start taking classes at a community college to prepare to transfer to a four-year school.
 
  • #4
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Part time physicist...Full time gangsta! Seriously though why not just go to the application committee and see how they feel.
 
  • #5
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The only time they ask about your criminal history is if you apply for federal grants or loans. And then they only care if you smoked pot or did drugs, theft or other crimes dont matter. The colleges and universities themselves never asked such a thing, not in my case.

(pre-18 convictions do not become 'irrelevent' BTW. In some states you can expunge them, in others you cannot and you just live with them.)
 
  • #6
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Well, where I live they trial you as an adult at 17. I do live in the US. My expungement will cost about $1,200. That's money I don't have and nor do I think I'd be able to get it anytime soon.


It is not impossible for you to improve your lot, professionally. I would suggest that you get some legal advice and try to work things out. You may be able to get a pardon, and you might even be able to manage an expungement (I'm thinking of US legal system, here), and end up with a clean record so you can start over. Good luck.
You said something about asking for a pardon? How should I do that?
 
  • #7
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Part time physicist...Full time gangsta! Seriously though why not just go to the application committee and see how they feel.
Ha, yeah. Who is the application committee and what exactly would I talk to them about?
 
  • #8
bcrowell
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Ha, yeah. Who is the application committee and what exactly would I talk to them about?
Nonononono -- do *not* pour your heart out to an admissions committee. If they don't ask you on the application form, you don't need to tell them anything.

In any case, if your next step is community college, then there is no admissions committee. Community colleges have open admissions. You sign up online and register for classes. They don't care if you're a former felon or a baby with two heads.
 
  • #9
turbo
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You said something about asking for a pardon? How should I do that?
In the US, you can request a pardon through your legal representatives. If that is granted, you may request an expungement (harder to get). It might not be easy to clean up your record, but it could be a good move.
 
  • #10
bcrowell
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My expungement will cost about $1,200. That's money I don't have and nor do I think I'd be able to get it anytime soon.
It basically sounds like you need to learn the following:

-how community colleges work
-how freshman admissions work for schools with selective admissions
-how it works if you instead choose to transfer from a community college to a four-year school
-how financial aid and student loans work.

Since you graduated with a GED, it's almost certain that you are not even close to being academically prepared to apply directly to four-year schools. So the next step is that you enroll in a single math course at a community college. Once you're enrolled at a community college, make an appointment with a counselor and start asking all the questions about how this works.

The part about financial aid and student loans is going to be extremely important if you can't scrape together an amount of money such as $1200 for something that's vitally important to you. Simply buying a year's worth of textbooks could cost you something like $800. If you're this broke, you absolutely need to get loans and aid. Again, the easiest way to get this info is to see a counselor once you're enrolled at a CC.

The other financial issue you're going to need to deal with is that it is not possible to work full time while going to school full time. A lot of community college students try to do this, and it's one of the reasons CCs have such abysmal success rates. This means that you need to prepare to make a transition from working full time to working a minimal number of hours and being a full-time student (which is necessary if you want to get aid and loans).
 
  • #11
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Your first step is college. Colleges most certainly ask the question "have you ever been convicted of a felony" on their applications, and they most certainly do care about the answer. I knew a girl who checked that box by mistake, and was immediately removed from consideration: the school didn't want to deal with the liability issues, even if this was a mistake.

Your next step is graduate school. Same issue here.

Your next step is a postdoc. I personally would be strongly disinclined to hire a felon. He would have to be not just a little better but a *lot* better than the competition. It's not an issue of second chances. It's that there is a huge pool out there where I don't have to worry about second chances.

Finally, there's life as a professor. I don't know if ModusPwnd is right or not about federal grants - there are so many things I have to certify ("is this research conducted in a historically significant building?") that it's all a blur. But if you cannot get a research grant, you have no career.

With this many hurdles, I think you should be talking to an attorney.
 
  • #12
bcrowell
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Your first step is college. Colleges most certainly ask the question "have you ever been convicted of a felony" on their applications, and they most certainly do care about the answer.
I don't think this is accurate for community colleges. I think it depends on the state. In the state where I live, which is California, it's not uncommon for judges to *require* people to go to a community college as a condition of probation.

This may be relevant: http://www.ehow.com/how_5723957_college-felony-record.html
 
  • #13
Vanadium 50
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And it may be a good idea for the OP to start at a community college. But this only postpones this issue.
 
  • #14
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Why not go to community college for 2 years while saving up to expunge the felony? I got into Georgia Tech with a misdemeanor (DUI and aggressive driving). Although I had only had a beer it showed up on my breath. Had to go to court, take classes, blah blah blah. Georgia Tech didn't seem to mind.

People make mistakes where there is no intent of harming others, it just seems like harmless "fun" at the time. I think you'd be surprised to know that most professors/admissions realize this. It would still be nice to have that off your record though. It'll impact a career in the market more than it would in academia as a physicist.
 
  • #15
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I broke into a high school while drunk and stole some computers for fun.
At 17 too?

This is a felony? lol, sounds more like an adventurous adolescence!

The details are kinda important imo. What happened to the computers? IF you did while & "because of" being drunk I imagine you returned the computers...unlikely right?

Unless you have little to no concern regarding money (doesn't seem like it if $1,200 is allot of money) pursue the physics education regardless.

If money is a concern, stay in HVAC, get licensed/professional ect. It's a fantastic trade with great opportunities...and can be lucrative.

Why not stick to that career path and pursuit a designation in that field. There is quite a bit of math & physics involved. And pursuit your interest in other physics fields "part-time".

All that said, consider you are in your prime with respect to learning...you'll never be so good at it as now and the coming decade...no pressure :smile:

While trying really hard is part of getting a PHD, I would think that is the main "ingredient". No matter how hard I try I wouldn't be able to get a PHD.
 
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  • #16
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People make mistakes where there is no intent of harming others, it just seems like harmless "fun" at the time. I think you'd be surprised to know that most professors/admissions realize this.
Agreed, and am unsure of Vanadium 50 strict stance against it as being the "norm".
 
  • #17
AlephZero
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At 17 too?

This is a felony? lol, sounds more like an adventurous adolescence!

The details are kinda important imo.
I'm with V50. The "details" are quite straightforward. If you are admitted to a college (or higher), you are being let loose in an environment that full of stuff to nick. You don't even have to break in.

Why would any college want to take the risk? The college has a reputation to lose - but you don't, you already lost yours.
 
  • #18
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I know several students with/getting PhDs who began in community college. Community college is cheaper, and will allow the OP to explore academics in a low-risk environment with a great deal of schedule flexibility. This will also allow the OP to begin "learning the system", and s/he may evolve his goals-plans as he progresses. I agree with what bcrowell has said here.
 
  • #19
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Well I've come up with this plan: I'll stay with the HVAC while I save up for an expungement. I figure this would give me a good amount of time to study during my free-time, as well as give me a solid understand of the HVAC business, enough to fall back on should things not go so well. Then I'll take your advice and start off with community college, talking with advisors and try to plan on transferring to a four-year college. How's that sound? Another question I have is if I do get my record expunged, how would that look to a college? Is it possible for them to see it on my record and hinder my chances regardless?

Also, all of the computers were returned.
 
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  • #20
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Also, all of the computers were returned.
Interesting detail!

What a glaring difference between that end result and one where the computers were subsequently sold with a sober mind and the proceeds spent on yourself.
 
  • #21
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Also, all of the computers were returned.
Were they returned when you sobered up, or were they returned when you got caught?
 
  • #22
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Were they returned when you sobered up, or were they returned when you got caught?
When I was caught, unfortunately. I confessed to the crime and handed them over. I co-operated fully, if it's any consideration.
 
  • #23
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A Community College won't care about your criminal history. Get enrolled if you have the time and start working on what you can (basic math, general courses etc). Skip your personal life and save up for the expungement if it's even possible. I know in some states Juvenile records are sealed automatically when you turn 23 or something, I forget the exact age, but you might try to look up how it works in your state.

It's possible to get into a 4 year school with a felony, but you can expect to jump through hoops over it, and show them all the paperwork, do an interview etc. But it certainly won't happen unless you get to work and show them that you are serious about it. This might include getting a 2yr degree et al.

I'm not sure if the nature of your crime will come into play. A friend of mine got accepted after his 2yr degree at a CC with a felony DUI. I think that felony theft, from a school of all places, might warrant a bit more consideration on the schools part.
 
  • #24
BobG
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The reason the answers vary so much is because university policies vary so much.

Around half don't ask about criminal records*. They don't have to ask, and some feel that if they do ask and know about your criminal history, then they could be considered partially liable if you do something horribly wrong while attending. Some feel that once you've paid your debt to society, then they have no legitimate reason to reject you on those grounds. In fact, they worry they could be opening themselves up to a lawsuit from the rejected student for violation of civil rights.

Around half do ask. Some of those reject all students with a criminal record (but not many). Some want more information about the felony conviction and decide them on a case by case basis. Many of the universities that do ask have no written or standard procedure for how to handle a "yes" answer about felony convictions and their admissions staff have no specific training on how to handle it.

Of those that do ask and actually use the answer as part of their admissions process, over 50% of sex offenders are rejected (kind of vague), over 50% of drug offenders are rejected. Around a third of people convicted of misdemeanors are rejected. Sometimes a person with a misdemeanor could be rejected while a person with a felony could be admitted (as mentioned, many universities have no standard procedures even though they ask about criminal records).

Some universities require your permission to do a criminal background check on you whether you answer yes or no.

In other words, there is no way of getting a reliable answer other than at least looking at the admissions application and asking the school about it if the application does ask about it (and even then, you could be getting just the opinion of the person you're talking to because the school has no official policy).

You are going to have a problem getting into "prestige" universities that depend on the reputation of their graduates to maintain their own reputation as a "prestige" university. Dropping out of high school and getting your GED would pretty much torpedo your chances at those universities anyway.

* - Definitely not very accurate. I could reference a few surveys, but none of these seem to be done with much rigor, and none of them seem like a very reliable source if you want actual percentages. They're better than anecdotal evidence, but not much better. You can look for these yourself - maybe you could find one that actually does seem to have been conducted in way that seems more thorough and reliable than the others. But they are good enough to illustrate that all universities don't handle criminal records the same way.
 
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  • #25
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When I was caught, unfortunately. I confessed to the crime and handed them over. I co-operated fully, if it's any consideration.
I don't think it's much of a consideration. Maybe it's just me, but it seems to me that if you had turned them over as soon as you sobered up, it would be easier to dismiss this as just a prank. After you are caught, cooperating is just in your best interest.

As others have said, your best bet is probably to try to avoid being asked about it. Not every school or employer asks. And if you can get your record expunged, it will be worth every penny.
 

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