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Starting from square one.

  1. Jun 16, 2012 #1
    Sorry, this is longer than I had intended.

    Okay so I'm 23, I live in the south of England and, although married, we have no other commitments other than to go wherever a potential future can take us. I work full time but we're looking to move away from where we are anyway. I have never before been a 'science' person. That's not to say I wasn't any good at it, I just wasn't interested in it. At school my GCSEs were fairly plain for maths and science, C (although I almost got a B for maths). I know if I had applied myself I would have got much better grades. Anyway, things didn't get better and I ended up leaving sixth form with nothing, so I don't even have A Levels. I ventured into art & design for some weird reason. Looking back, I think it was more of a passing fancy because whenever I think about what I've been like, I've always been a person who sought a real answer and if you know art and design, there is more or less never a yes or no answer unlike in maths and science, where something works or it doesn't, there's no convincing a formula that your design is suitable. I then went to university and spent two years at a joke of an establishment on an architectural course, which I left. I realised I was totally uninspired by the whole field.

    For some reason, about a week ago or so, something clicked and I picked up a couple of books on mathematical and physics principles. I really wanted to get to grips with what I had missed out on. Despite my unhelpful lack of attention span I've been glued to them. Should physics be what I should have been involved in all along remains to be seen. Since I got them, I have not been able to turn over a page until I was certain I understood the concept, I didn't always understand straight away but I wouldn't move on until I did. To test myself, I took on a bit of a challenge from a New Scientist article involving a pile of elephants representing pressure. I don't know for sure whether my calculations were correct, I haven't had a response from the article writer, but I do know that I thoroughly enjoyed bringing together the various algebraic equations to devise a final equation that'd help give me an answer to their conundrum. So, I honestly think I'd enjoy physics, the way it works everywhere, the fact we still find ourselves unable to fully grasp (ie uniting the forces) why things happen and most importantly, I can handle algebraic maths (my dad is an accountant so maybe being good with formulas runs in the blood?)

    My problem is, what do I do now? As someone who needs to remain in full time employment until I enroll on a degree course, what can I do to be sure of my interests? If you're interested in animals, you can work at a pet shop, if you're interested in design, you can take a small job at a design firm where you can see people working in a studio environment and if you're interested in catering, you can work in a restaurant... but if you're interested in physics (and I'm not even sure what field, astrophysics, nuclear physics?) what am I meant to do when holding down a full time job? Furthermore, I know I've got to retake A Levels, presumably as evening classes, but aside from maths and physics, what else am I going to need, what books give a true representation of the working physicist (populist books are fanciful but unhelpful)? Like my thread title suggests, I'm starting from square one and I'm not at a crossroads, I'm lost in the woods! Can anyone help?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 16, 2012 #2
    focus on learning and mastering the A-level material since most Physics books that are not general will be beyond you till you get the A-levels completed. That said either joining the IOP or APS would be worth it for the fact that you get a subscription to Physics World (IOP) or Physics Today(APS). These are written to be approachable by a fairly general cross section of physicists, so usually the topics are great intro reviews for non-specialists. I found it when i was at university a great way to find out what are the trends in physics and the job concerns. I would maybe say the APS membership might be slightly worth the price over IOP, simply cause you will get access to the American Journal of Physics (I think). This journal is aimed to be accessible to an undergraduate audience, so again you can read lots of the material with out have to have fully mastered specialist topics.
  4. Jun 16, 2012 #3
    I'm in the US, so I don't really know what "A Levels" and such are, so I can't help you there. But, I can encourage you. I'm kind of like you. I started my college career at a small community college (actually, it was a big community college). I've been working full time the entire time and when I transferred to a university, I was newly married. Now, I am starting grad school for math in the fall. So, this is definatley something that you will be able to do. It won't be easy, and it might take a little longer (5.5 years for me, but there was a change of major from History to Math) but you can do it.

    I think the best way to tell if you like math / physics is to keep on doing what you have been doing. If you still like it, go on. Of course, you will want to crack open a calculus book.
  5. Jun 16, 2012 #4
    Thanks guys.

    Should I try and just get copies of an A Level Physics and Maths textbook then, and work my way through them? That way, I'm picking up on the material for my stage in learning?

    Regarding APS/IOP, would it matter that I'm British? I guess it doesn't really, physics is physics no matter where you go, I just thought that maybe things are done differently across the pond so the IOP, being British, would be more relevant to me. I'll certainly look into both of them.

    A Levels are the general prerequisite (though other certifications of education are available and accepted) before taking a bachelors course, they are basically what you do before university (in your case, college).

    That's encouraging to hear, and I'm sure you worked hard to achieve that. No doubt that commitment to work and study will show a great deal to future employers. I wish you the best of luck and thanks, to hear a similar case of what will likely be my path, working out as it is definitely gives me hope that it can work for me! When I want to do something, I can be feverishly committed to it. I've been through a lot of hard times moving to a crap place at a university I don't like, doing a degree I didn't enjoy whilst my wife does a job she loathes. So now that she has an idea of what she wants to do (a post grad in art psychotherapy, she has a degree in 'art in practice' whatever that really means) and I know what I want to do (something to do with physics, I'm leaning towards nuclear power research or something related to cosmology/geology (involving asteroids or extraterrestial bodies I guess?), personally, but I'm open to persuasion) then at least our hard work will be rewarding!

    I'm aware that the more I have behind me the better, so if I get on with this all soon, I can have done some A Levels and a degree before I'm 30. I've gotta say, the idea of studying physics, something I can grasp that's real, even if 90% of it is calculus, is frankly awesome.

    I've been reading a little about calculus, the very concept of it and what it can do kind of excites me a little. Not because it's fresh and exotic to me or something, but because of what it can achieve. What can I say, knowledge is a turn on eh?
  6. Jun 16, 2012 #5
    Gilbert Strang has a free e-book on Calculus. You may want to check it out.

    Why should you bother taking the A-Levels? I may be *very wrong* here but as far as I know, one can take an Access to Higher Education course (or something along the lines of that) and enroll in a university in England. Further, there's also the Open University! The cool thing about them is that you can probably start right now and take courses part time. If I were you though, I'd brush up on GCSE maths first. I, however, am not a big fan on GCSE or A-Level math books. Micromass has recommended the book "Basic Mathematics" by Serge Lang and Mathwonk "Elements of Algebra" by Euler (available for free on Google books). I haven't used either extensively - only previewed them - and as such cannot comment any further.

    In case you're put off by tuition fees (I don't know if you're still eligible for those *awesome* UK student loans - never come across any student loan as favourable as those!) and are willing to go on an "adventure", universities in Europe don't cost as much. In fact, the usual tuition fee ranges from 0 to 1000 euros per semester! One would need to be proficient in the language spoken in the country interested, though. University in France is about 200 euros/year if I'm not mistaken. UPMC (Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris) offer distance courses as well, although I don't know if foreigners can take those!

    Having said that, Universitat Leipzig has a B.Sc in Physics that's fully taught in English. It's meant to be quite rigorous, according to the people I've talked to! There is also an Engineering degree (first year is interdisciplinary; specialisation fields include mechanical, electrical, etc...) at TU-Harburg which is also in English.

    Good luck!
  7. Jun 16, 2012 #6


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    First things first here. Before you can do physics, you need to be proficient in mathematics. And mathematics means calculus and the things before calculus (at the very least).

    You can buy A-level books, I don't know them and I'm sure you won't go wrong with them.
    On the other hand, you can get Lang's "basic mathematics" and "a first course in calculus". These are books on high-school mathematics but written for a mature audience (= no cartoons or other silly things, and challenging exercises). Work through them.

    Another good resource is of course Khan Academy and Pauls notes. These are also completely free.

    Once you nailed down your math, you can start worrying about physics. Any book of the type "physics for scientists and engineers" will be good, but make sure it's calc based. For example, Halliday and Resnick are very good.
  8. Jun 19, 2012 #7
    Thanks guys :)

    I had a random neuroscientist suggest "http://ocw.mit.edu/resources/res-18-001-calculus-online-textbook-spring-2005/textbook/MITRES_18_001_strang_1.pdf" [Broken] to me. Do you recognise it and would you recommend it?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  9. Oct 16, 2012 #8
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2012
  10. Oct 17, 2012 #9
    hey bleakside,

    Oddly, enough, I'm also 23 and just starting my phys undergrad! (well, next year). Right now I am spending time working through all of highschool math, actually all of Int. Baccalaureate high school math, which includes some more things like vectors, matrices, and sets than my normal Canadian high school would have.

    I have been looking to buy Physics Lectures by Feynmann. I've heard this is top notch explanation of concepts, though I'm unsure how helpful it is for practice problem solving. I've heard Kleppner and Kolontrow is good for mechanics problems.

    You can PM me if you like, I might have some .pdf's for material that can help you out!
  11. Oct 18, 2012 #10
    (In case you don't see the message above, I am bleakside. I can't remember the email address attached to my old username, and I've got accustomed to using this on other places now)

    Unfortunately, I am working full time, I can't take an Access to Higher Education as this would involve being available full time. also, Access would only give me a qualification in Maths OR Science, not both and the best unis, many of them, do not take access.

    I'll get hold of these!

    Unfortunately I know no foreign languages! :(

    These seem more likely, thankfully I will get funding for years 2 and 3 but not year 1 (which is the easier year of the three so I don't have to worry when workload is harder, one of the few graces of SFE!)

    Thanks :)
  12. Oct 18, 2012 #11
    Why not try the Open University? Their courses start at "around" A level standard and build up to BSc hons, so you will, at least, get a feel as to whether university physics is for you. You might even find you are able to "go the whole way" with the OU. Or, if you really want to try a full time university you can probably transfer OU credits to your degree. As you are in the south, Birkbeck College might be another option - can you get into Euston in time for evening classes?
  13. Oct 18, 2012 #12
    I guess what I could do is "attend" OU for the first year, which is the expensive one, then try and apply for a transfer from the second year onward (which I would get funding for) at a more physical university, but I really would like to be able to have the working environment of fellow physics enthusiasts around, rather than just online, but I guess I could still achieve that from second year onward?
  14. Oct 19, 2012 #13
    They don't do A levels or Physics at degree level, so I'm not sure what it is you're referring to.
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