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Returning to study

  1. Feb 27, 2014 #1
    Hi All,

    I graduated nearly two years ago now with a first class honours physics BSc from Warwick uni (UK). Since then, I've been working in computer security for about 9 months (took me a little while to get the job haha). Anyway, I've realised now that physics is really where my heart belongs - shouldn't have left!

    My old supervisor has suggested I do a PhD, and I've been thinking seriously about it for about 2 months now and I think I want to go for it.

    My problem: I've forgotten everything! What do I do to get back into the field? Are there any remedial physics/maths courses I can do before entering onto a PhD? I've looked at doctoral training centres, which include a MSc as part of the first of a four year programme, which look good because it's all fully funded (I have very little money). But even these look daunting.

    Is it even possible to relearn the maths I'd need? I work full time now, so the time I have to study is limited. Any advice? This situation has really got me down in the dumps, I feel like I'm stuck in a job I don't like, with no way out. What if I'm just not smart enough to go back to study?

    Tl;dr I want to return to physics but am scared I've forgotten everything and that I'm not smart enough any more.
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 27, 2014 #2
    It's always worth a shot, IMO. It is fully funded, and in the US I am aware that there are remedial classes for PhD candidates who need to "refresh" the material. Not sure if the case is the same in the UK, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was.
  4. Feb 27, 2014 #3
    You think so? I wonder if I should call around and ask if various PhD programmes offer remedial classes alongside regular study?
  5. Feb 27, 2014 #4


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    If you're serious about getting your PhD after a two year gap, I don't think it is necessary for you to retake or take remedial courses. I had about the same amount gap between my Masters and start on working towards my PhD. You do lose a lot, but I found that immersing yourself into the topics again revitalize a lot of that lost information. Before I made the jump, I spent about a year reworking old textbooks, and reading questions people posted on here! I would often read a homework problem and think "man two years ago I could've answered this!" So I would open up a textbook and try to solve the problem. By the time I did that, someone here usually would've answered the question and confirmed or denied if my method and or answer worked out. Doing this, allowed me to find gaps in my knowledge and shift my focus.

    My field is Statistics, and I did work as a Statistician in those years, so I probably was a bit better off than you are right now. However, I feel working as a Statistician is quite different than being an academic one, at least for me. I only required remedial tools for most of my work, and much of it was spent on design.
  6. Feb 28, 2014 #5
    Ugh see I'm still worried I'll do really badly when I go back. Do you think 9 hours of study a week would be enough to refresh my knowledge? Problem is, I have a 12 week internship coming up on 24th May in America, I don't know how much time I'll have for extracurricular study :( This is honestly stressing me out a fair bit.
  7. Feb 28, 2014 #6
    Also, thanks for the replies guys, it's appreciated
  8. Feb 28, 2014 #7


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    You won't find much pity from me. I did this while working a full time job, married, and a little crumble muncher eating my time. Not excluding taking care of the 40 acres of land I own. In life you make your priorities. If you truly desire to return to study, then you need to take action and prepare yourself.

    I don't know if 9 hours a week will be enough. I don't know how much work you need to do. Instead of setting a time goal, I would simply look at my schedule and find where I'm wasting time, eliminate those moments, and replace it with studying.
  9. Feb 28, 2014 #8
    One thing to check- find out what happens to phds who graduate in your (planned) specialization. Jobs in physics are really scarce, and in a number of subfields, you'll probably find yourself back in computer security (or something similar) after doing your phd. If your end goal is a different career path, a physics phd might not be the best avenue to get there.
  10. Mar 1, 2014 #9
    So, did you make yourself an actual schedule or just study whenever you found yourself with free time? As in, did you do things like block out some hours for rest and block out some hours for study, or was it more ad-hoc than that?
  11. Mar 1, 2014 #10
    The sad thing is, where I currently work, we do have departments that do things like RF detection work, laser optics, space atmospheric work... All sorts! I was just unlucky enough to land in the cyber department. Although, I probably shouldn't complain too much, my department are the ones paying for me to do the internship.

    I've tried getting transferred to a more physics based department, but it's proving a little tricky - my group leader is 100% opposed to me moving (fair enough really, wants to keep his resources).
  12. Mar 1, 2014 #11


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    By nature, i'm a regimented person, so I plan out my day task every morning. If you were able to look at my phone you'll see a list of daily task that need to be accomplished. What I did was organize my task list like "Gym, Work, feed animals, feed kid, Read chapter 2 of book x read chapter 10 of book y, watch football, etc" Depending on what I had going on for the day, I would move studying up or down on the list. That's just how I operate. Do what makes sense for you. The idea is that your commitment to studying should be as serious as your intention to go to grad school.
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