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Quit undergrad physics -- Wishes and options? Advice please

  1. Oct 9, 2015 #1
    Hello everyone,

    I am brand new here in the PhysicsForum and this is my very first message. So it's apleasure to meet likeminded people sharing the same interest and probably also profession. The latter is also the reason why I finally registered in this forum and I sincerely hopethat I am given some honest edifying, encouraging advice and recommendations concerning my present difficult situation. Excuse my lengthy message. Rest assured that it will stay the only one in my membership here in the forum.

    • CV:
    Like probably many of us, I have been interested in science, astronomy, and physics for a significant part of my life. Although only having had sufficient marks in physics and math during high school, I thought myself so much astronomy stuff that I was asked to become junior research assistant for a PhD student during my first studies at university in Switzerland - remarkably, I was studying physics and astronomy only as a minor...but still I was asked for the position. Although my duties were not difficult, it was very cool being involved in research somehow. Due to my major subject not being as expected from high-school, I gave up these studies and made a year break during which I could finish military service and other stuff. After a guided self-study refreshing of the high-school mathematics and increasing interest in physics and astronomy, I started again with physics as a major. I was determined to give everything for my dream of ending up in a dedicated astronomy/planetary science institution. That was back in 2010. I studied so hard that I already showed signs of a burnout after almost three months. Additionally, I was not as prepared for the rigour of math. In the end, I had to repeat the whole year. After this first year, I was more prepared but still got mostly sufficient marks with some bad and good marks here and there - which of course led to repeating these courses and turning the whole intended order of courses upside down.
    Still I refused to give up the studies. The stretched studies over years had, of course, an increased demoralising effect. Some bad marks in combination with faculty regulations made me bending and twisting to still get an undergraduate degree in the end. But after a pair of some more unsufficient marks I regocnised that I would not be able to get a degree even in the maximum study time. Before being forced out of studies (life-long and country-wide), I took my hat myself and left the university this Summer.
    Now I find myself in some strange place of not knowing in which direction I should go, at an age when most are already independent with a job and qualifications, while being strongly insecure of my own cabilities. I am also struggling with society that effort and will to learn is not rewarded with anything else than ECTS and those that worked hard but still failed end up with nothing but more or less lost years. Besides some other options, I would like to discuss the following ones and also my wishes.

    • (mechanical?) engineering --> rocket science :
    Well, besides forefront research about planetary systems, exoplanets and such things, I am also fascinated by rockets. Spaceflight in general stands for human desire and drive to go beyond frontiers and constantly do pioneering work. Being part of any such adventure for the greater good and playing a small role in a bigger picture of exploration was always very fascinating for me. Maybe some of you have seen the movie "October Sky" - it's quite inspiring in this sense. So, I have been thinking of studying engineering. In Switzerland we only have aerospace engineering at the federal institutes of technology - one of which is currently among the top 10 universities worldwide...so beyond my capabilities. Besides that we have mechanical and electrical engineering as major subjects, which can also be studied at several universities of applied sciences. You'll most likely not find them in the popular university rankings but I am told from many reliable sources that those educations are high quality (internationally), exactly for the reason that students there are constantly bombarded with applying the theoretical knowledge they learned and working with companies during their undergraduate studies. The typical student has already earned qualifications in the industry and worked for several years before going to the applied university if they wish. I was thinking of doing mechanical engineering there after some obligatory internships at companies. Somewhere I've read that one can easily switch from mechanical engineering to aerospace engineering by studying one or two more semesters at a respective university, maybe in the US.
    How do you evaluate this possibility and to end up building aerospace stuff from space probes to rockets?

    • (mechanical?) engineering --> astronomical technology / optical engineering --> telescope building :
    Moreover, I am very interested in the current developments in astronomical technology; such as CCD technology, and the construction of the future giant telescopes. Together with another student, I simulated the optics and diffraction pattern of the future 24m Giant Magellan Telescope - very cool project, despite being the smallest of the future giant telescopes. I learned that the University of Arizona is very much involved in building this telescope - or at least the mirrors. In our project we also simulated the atmospheric twinkling of stars and a correction algorithm for it. So, in context with these telescopes I am very interested in optical engineering and would like to ask what possibilities there are when doing a BSc in mechanical engineering. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any course in optical engineering in Switzerland. What spectrum of qualifications is required to be involved in the University of Arizona Steward observatory mirror lab?

    • Too old for a physics comeback? :
    In these discussions
    I learned that there are individuals out there who are interested in getting a higher degree and study again at unusualy high ages, not with the hope of improving their salary but for the sake of curiosity in nature. So, while getting a physics undergraduate degree at the moment seems out of reach, it is still my dream of doing so in the future - maybe with 40...I don't know. The guys in these discussions are all talking about having done their undergraduate many years ago and doing a graduate degree or PhD at their current age. What are my chances of doing so while not having achieved an undergraduate degree? By the way, in the whole discussion and all career paths, I would be willing to go abroad to pursue my happyness...so to say.
    By the way, I have been very motivated in conducting experiments and taking into account as many error influences as possible - so I was a bit an experimental perfectionist. I have also done the undergraduate thesis in the field of my interest in asteroid observation. Maybe this opens some doors? My main problems have been the very theoretical lectures like statistical thermodynamics, quantum physics, classical field theory...you get the picture. But I studied hard for each lecture (maybe just wrong?); maybe this shows that I am willing to work and learn once I am into a topic. I would also be interested to learn about differential geometry, radiative transfers, general relativity (during my studies, I got in contact with these big branches of physics: classical mechanics, Newtonian Gravity, special relativity, electro-magnetism, and quantum mechanics. At least I want to understand the very basics of general relativity as well, but QFT and the like can avoid with good conscience).
    But at the moment, I am just tired of having studied 5 years with increasing difficulties and getting no degree as reward. I will take some time to recover. But I just refuse to accept that anything is over for me for all time, because I was at this point with 2 other dreams already. One could say it's just the system, but I am convinced that at some point, a red line is crossed and one should refuse to be jostled around. So, at some point, I want to be able to give a comeback in professional physics.

    What are your recommendations? I hope for some constructive advice.
    Thank you so much for any help!


  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 12, 2015 #2
    If you can keep the bulls paid, you are not too old for a comeback in physics, engineering, or a related field.

    It helps if you like the subject and are willing to push through the difficulties.
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