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Please Critique: My x Year Plan

  1. Feb 24, 2010 #1
    That's x years, because I'm not sure how long it will take me. I'm a young husband and father, and currently cannot handle more than the 6-9 credit range. I want, no.. yearn to have a career in physics. I excelled at it and mathematics while in high school (at least enough to have several colleges and the Navy ringing my parents' phone), but was a "troubled youth," for lack of a better phrase, and didn't even go to college for 5 years. I know that I can complete the course work (I love it actually), I'm just worried about the amount of time it could take me in school. I'm thinking the 10-15 year range. I have my wife and family's blessing, but will I be putting them through too much? Could it possibly be too late? And could I possibly find a job with a B.S. in Physics (because this comes first, but I will still continue toward PhD) to support a small family? I have oh-so-many questions and concerns. But first, let me explain a little about my situation.

    My name is Paul. I currently attend a community college in Virginia and am enrolled in their Business Administration AS (transfer) program. This is deceiving because the degree I'm really seeking is a PhD in Physics. Many of you have earned the degree I'm working toward, and some of you may be willing to correspond with me and possibly even answer some questions. This would be wonderful, as I still have a long journey to reach my aspirations and I could use all of the advice and guidance that is offered! I would appreciate anything you would be willing to pass down to me.

    Here is a breakdown of the steps I am taking now or believe I should be taking soon:
    I am working on my AS degree at a community college so that I can get the general education classes out of the way, and for a smaller price tag and shorter drive than the universities around (I live in a rural area). With an AS I should be able to transfer to VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) as a junior, as outlined by their contract with VCCS (Virginia Community College System). I plan to complete my undergraduate work at VCU, and hopefully be at the top of all my classes. They offer a B.S. in Physics. From VCU, I will apply to graduate schools as I near graduation and hopefully be able to have choices of schools. At graduate school, I hope to land a spot as an RA, or at least as a TA. Eventually, I will be able to choose a specific area of study, get an advisor, and begin my research work. I know that I will need to have papers published in journals and also give oral presentations at conferences and workshops. Then, after what will already have felt like endless work, get everything together and write my thesis/dissertation and then prepare my defense. Defend my thesis, satisfy the committee, and earn my PhD. However, somewhere in the midst of all of this, I need to apply for a post-doc appointment(s) so that when I graduate I will have somewhere to go! After several years at a post-doc position(s), hopefully I will be able to make the jump to a full-on career as a physicist.

    Although that sounds like a lot of work when I read it back, I know there's so much more work than it actually even seems. I'm ready for that; excited, even! You would have great difficulty finding some one with as much determination and drive to meet their goals as me. I am dedicated to the work that is required to land me a job that I know I will enjoy and flourish at. If you have any advice or words of wisdom, I am more than willing to listen. Thank you for your time, have a great day!


    (Special thanks to ZapperZ, who has really helped give my dream some structure. Thank you.)
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 24, 2010 #2
    Never get your Ph.D. for career reasons. It's not worth it. You need to ask yourself whether or not you want the Ph.D. even if it doesn't help you with your career at all. If the answer is that is negative, then you are better off getting a masters, because you probably won't survive the Ph.D. program.

    Also don't expect to get a job at a research university, there are just too many Ph.D.'s and too few positions.
  4. Feb 24, 2010 #3
    Paul, I am not even close to a Ph.D in physics, but I am in a similiar situation. I have a B.A. In Political Science and would like to start over in a sense and get a Minimum of a B.S. In Math. Like you I was above average in Math and Science as a youth but liked to party more than study so I got my degree in the Social Sciences instead. Now I am older (31) and more Mature I have chose to go backwards to get a second Bachelors in Math instead of going into a Master's program at Rutgers university in Public Adminstration that i have been accepted into.

    I can't speak on the details of a physics degree, but in regards to chasing your dream late in life I believe we should go after it because untill someone tells us different we only have one chance at this life.

    My only advice from a practicle standpoint is maybe a Ph.D is a lot to shoit for from the begining. Not to say you shouldn't go for it, but just break it up in pieces. Concentrate on your B.S. First. See were your are at and then decide if you want to go for the full journey.

    Whatever you decide
    Good Luck!!!
  5. Feb 24, 2010 #4
    The first thing you should worry about would be getting you undergraduate degree finished. Depending on how much of your past coursework transfers in, you're probably looking at 14 semesters to get done with that (based on my school's 124 credit policy, although this could differ slightly depending on where you end up). If you can take summer courses that will make it go by a little faster, but not by much.

    I'm not saying that you shouldn't try, but I've seen a lot of people burn out even within just a year or two. Take it one semester at a time, and really think about why it is that you want to go through all this work. Look at some of the types of jobs that people with physics degrees typically do (in and out of academia), and see if it would make more sense for you to just go for a Master's Degree. You will eventually have to make that decision for yourself, but any number of things could change between then and now.
  6. Feb 24, 2010 #5


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    Like others have advised, I too think you should focus on just the next few years. No use in worrying about postdoc positions and such at this point.

    I worked and went to college part-time, taking one or two classes each quarter. Took me 9.5 years to get my BS (physics). It can be done, but it's a long slog.

    You're right to be concerned about spending time with your family; that's going to be a hardship for them and for you. You said you're aiming to take 6 to 9 credits...I would hold it to 6 credits, because your kid needs time with you.

    Most universities offer upper division quantum and E&M in the junior year. These are critically important classes to the rest of your schooling, and they take *a lot* of time. If you can swing it, don't take them at the same time. I found that those two classes together took about 40 hours a week - a bit much if you have other important commitments in your life.

    Best of luck to you :smile:.
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