Switching Careers for the Long Haul

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In summary, the conversation revolves around a computer science major who is currently working in tech to pay the bills. They have plans to immigrate to Germany in the future and have a dream to become a physicist. They are considering going back to university to study physics or pursuing a master's/PhD after computer science. They also discuss their concerns about their average grades and extracurriculars in relation to scholarships for physics. The conversation also touches on the idea of pursuing physics as a hobby or incorporating it into a broader career. Examples of successful individuals who pursued physics later in life, such as Albert Einstein and Steve Wozniak, are also mentioned.
  • #1
Hey folks, computer science major here stuck in tech in the meantime. It's meh. I'm here to be able to pay the bills, and I work hard because I believe in working hard on principle, not because I love it. I'll get a job after I graduate and work in software for years, unless life swings me elsewhere. I have plans to immigrate to Germany from my third world country for personal reasons, and I'll probably only be relatively stable in my late twenties or early thirties.

I want to become a physicist. I set this dream aside in the face of practicality (I was originally a physics major), horrors of academia and all that, but I can't put it down. It seems I have these options:
  • Go back to university and take a bachelor's in physics
  • Go do a master's/PhD after computer science
Worst-case scenario, I go back to my job as a programmer, having learned physics at a university that accepted me for the money. And you know what, while that's not ideal, that's not so bad either.

Do you know anyone who broke into physics later in life, as opposed to the typical physics in college => grad school route? And do you recommend getting a solid foundation via a bachelor's first instead of going straight to grad school?

Scholarships would probably be preferable, but my grades are average. I fluctuate from top of the class to rock bottom because of my mental health, so they average in the middle. I've been getting more stable lately, but even so, I did the math, and my chances of a 3.5+ GPA look grim. I go to a top university... locally... and they wouldn't know the name of this place abroad. My extracurriculars have mostly been unrelated to physics, and I'm not sure what they would look for there. Any tips?

Don't try to change my mind, because you don't need to. ~10 years is a long time. If I decide that I'd rather be a hands-on father who takes his kids to football practice every day instead of sobbing over statistical mechanics, then that's that. Although obviously, right now, I believe that I won't.
 
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  • #2
Any reason that physics needs to be your entire career focus instead of a hobby or a small piece of a broader career? Personally, I have an engineering background, and now I teach physics (among many other things) as a part of my career. I work in industry, so I don’t have to worry about the “horrors of academia” at all.
 
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  • #3
Mathematics was a pastime for me. I fed my family through working applied physics -- Electronics and Aerodynamics -- before completing degrees in CS. I always wanted advanced science education but lacked funds. Computer science paid the bills, and I worked alongside many different STEM professionals, so enjoyed a rich career.

Many role models made similar decisions. Young Albert Einstein, deprived of academic appointments due to antisemitism, worked as a patent clerk in a neighboring country while composing great physics papers. Eventually recognized as a physicist, Einstein fled his home country for mine in order to work in relative peace.

Although financially successful due partially to savvy business partners, Steve Wozniak did not complete an academic degree until middle-age, attending UC Berkeley under an alias. Academia, like business, perpetuates certain ideals but we are all outliers to some extent, charting our course through a sea of troubles.
 
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  • #4
Dale said:
Any reason that physics needs to be your entire career focus instead of a hobby or a small piece of a broader career? Personally, I have an engineering background, and now I teach physics (among many other things) as a part of my career. I work in industry, so I don’t have to worry about the “horrors of academia” at all.
I'm not sure if people are going to take this as a valid reason, but I've found myself far more obsessed than I expected to be with physics and... I can't really elaborate on that without oversharing HAHAHAHA. But basically, at this point, I think it's a fixation I'm better off letting loose rather than attempting to tamp down.
 
  • #5
Klystron said:
Mathematics was a pastime for me. I fed my family through working applied physics -- Electronics and Aerodynamics -- before completing degrees in CS. I always wanted advanced science education but lacked funds. Computer science paid the bills, and I worked alongside many different STEM professionals, so enjoyed a rich career.

Many role models made similar decisions. Young Albert Einstein, deprived of academic appointments due to antisemitism, worked as a patent clerk in a neighboring country while composing great physics papers. Eventually recognized as a physicist, Einstein fled his home country for mine in order to work in relative peace.

Although financially successful due partially to savvy business partners, Steve Wozniak did not complete an academic degree until middle-age, attending UC Berkeley under an alias. Academia, like business, perpetuates certain ideals but we are all outliers to some extent, charting our course through a sea of troubles.
Thank you for this. I guess we'll see. I'll do what I can to learn and do physics, but I guess I shouldn't be too fixated on the prescribed route.
 
  • #6
Ok, but not all fixations need to be turned into a career.

Honestly, it will be difficult for you to make it in a traditional academic physics career. You are starting later, you have a modest GPA, and you are improving but not very stable. A traditional academic physics career is highly competitive, and you will be competing with some disadvantages.

That isn’t to say that it is impossible, but you would be wise to spend some serious time contemplating if there is some way to “scratch that itch” for physics besides a traditional academic physics career.

spacewrinkle said:
I think it's a fixation I'm better off letting loose rather than attempting to tamp down.
Maybe there is a middle ground. Don’t “tamp down”, but use the fixation as a fuel to drive a more thoughtful goal instead of just “letting loose”.
 
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  • #7
spacewrinkle said:
I want to become a physicist. I set this dream aside in the face of practicality (I was originally a physics major), horrors of academia and all that, but I can't put it down. It seems I have these options:
  • Go back to university and take a bachelor's in physics
  • Go do a master's/PhD after computer science
This may not be entirely up to you. Generally, in order to qualify for admission to graduate school in physics, you need that degree in physics. You'll have to look at departmental admissions policies and likely talk to advisors at the specific schools you're interested into see if your computer science degree has enough physics courses to qualify you, but in most cases it won't. Self-study won't make up for this either. So just be aware that if you want to pursue physics, you're going to need more than an undergraduate computer science degree for admission to graduate school.

spacewrinkle said:
Do you know anyone who broke into physics later in life, as opposed to the typical physics in college => grad school route? And do you recommend getting a solid foundation via a bachelor's first instead of going straight to grad school?
Sure. There are a lot of cases where students didn't follow a linear path. Often more mature students have more focus, they're more sure about the path they've chosen, and they have some life experience to draw on. Really the major challenges, tend to be life-related for older students (and can depend on how old you actually are). By that I mean that by the time most people reach their 30's, they're looking for more stability in life than typical student lifestyles offer. Long term relationships, starting families, taking out mortgages, RRSPs, etc... those are challenging when you're living on a student stipend and may not be in the same city after a couple years. Some people are fine with all of this, if it means they get to pursue what they love, you just need to make sure you're going in with your eyes open.

As to the latter question, in addition to the statement above, you don't want to meet just the bare minimum. Grad school is quite challenging for most people (and this is the pool of candidates who make it).. If you're playing catch-up from day one, it's going to be that much harder.
spacewrinkle said:
My extracurriculars have mostly been unrelated to physics, and I'm not sure what they would look for there. Any tips?
Here's the thing. When reviewing applications, the committee will need to see that you're committed and likely to be successful if you study physics. The other applicants in the pool will have done undergraduate degrees in physics, probably done some kind of extra-curricular research, and have involvement in things like high-school outreach programs, or an undergraduate physics society, engineering competitions, teaching first year labs, etc. There are lots of things to get involved with and you only have so much time. Probably the most important is to get involved in some kind of research. If nothing else, this will show you weather physics research is something you actually want to do.
 
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  • #8
spacewrinkle said:
I want to become a physicist. I set this dream aside in the face of practicality (I was originally a physics major), horrors of academia and all that, but I can't put it down. I
The title of your thread is "Switching Careers for the Long Haul". You should clarify what your target career is. Is it indeed limited to being a physics professor in academia? What about physics R&D in industry? What if your career path led to engineering, business, finance, law ... or back to software? Would you feel that your time spent earning a physics PhD would still have been worthwhile in itself, or would you consider it a waste of time?

Also, what constitutes the "long haul" for you? 10 yrs? 20 yrs? 30 yrs? Even if you complete a physics PhD, there's no assurance that you will maintain a "physics career" until you retire. There are way too many uncontrolled factors at play.
 
  • #9
What area of physics are you interested in? You could look into quantum computing, for example, where having a CS degree isn't necessarily a disadvantage. There are masters in quantum technology (upon which quantum computing or better yet quantum information is a subfield) such as in Munich*. Also, areas such as quantum software/algorithms tend to be happy to take on CS students, so it's another area you can look into. There is a Quantum Technology PhD school in Bristol university where having a physics degree isn't a requirement (google Quantum CDT Bristol).

*https://www.mcqst.de/support/master-in-qst/
 
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1. What are the potential benefits of switching careers for the long haul?

Switching careers for the long haul can bring a variety of benefits, including increased job satisfaction, new challenges and learning opportunities, and potentially higher earning potential. It can also lead to personal growth and development, as well as a chance to pursue a passion or interest that may have been neglected in a previous career.

2. What are some common challenges that come with switching careers for the long haul?

Some common challenges include starting at a lower level or salary, adjusting to a new work environment and culture, and potentially needing to acquire new skills or knowledge. There may also be a period of uncertainty and adjustment as one transitions to a new career path.

3. How can I determine if switching careers for the long haul is the right decision for me?

It's important to carefully consider your motivations for wanting to switch careers and do thorough research on the new career path. Talking to people in the field, volunteering or shadowing in the new career, and taking courses or workshops can also help you gain a better understanding of the field and determine if it aligns with your interests and goals.

4. What steps can I take to make a successful transition to a new career for the long haul?

Some steps to consider include setting clear goals and creating a plan for achieving them, networking with professionals in the new field, updating your resume and cover letter to highlight relevant skills and experiences, and being open to learning and adapting to the new role. It can also be helpful to seek guidance from a career coach or mentor.

5. Are there any resources or support available for individuals looking to switch careers for the long haul?

Yes, there are many resources available, including career counseling services, online job boards and networking sites, and professional development programs. Additionally, there may be government-funded programs or grants available for individuals looking to make a career change. It can also be beneficial to join professional organizations in the new field to connect with others and access resources and support.

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