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Switching from Finance to Physics

  1. Mar 24, 2015 #1
    Hello guys, new poster here.

    Brief background: I am currently 25, with a B.S. in Business (Finance, Int'l Business, minor Econ), planning to re-enroll in a second bachelor’s degree in Physics & Math at my alma mater (big state school, top 40 physics) this fall. Originally went to school for Finance for reasons unrelated to my interests (family was recent immigrants, needed to help out & get a job after graduation to stay in the country, finance/business seemed to be the optimal track).

    Now I’ve been out 4 years, working full time as an investment analyst and portfolio manager. I have a greencard, and feel like I finally have the resources and oppty to go back to school and do something that I have had a keen interest in since childhood. I have taken math up to and including diff eq and entry level physics classes in college/part-time, and have done a lot more online in edx, coursera and MIT opencourseware, and self-study with books like K&K mechanics, Griffith E&M, Feynman, etc. The B.S. should take me no more than 3 years to complete, and my end goal is to go to grad school afterwards and do full-time research.

    I was hoping to get your guys’ input on several items:

    1. How disadvantaged will I be vs traditional applicants when applying to competitive graduate programs? Is getting into a top 20 or top 10 a realistic goal (assuming competitive scores, research experience, letters, etc etc)? I have looked through most of the “Applicant profiles and admission results” threads so I am aware of the caliber of applicants that are able to get into such programs.
    2. I am quite successful at what I am doing currently, but I still wish to leave it aside to focus on my long-term dreams and goals. How can I spin my experience and unique background in the context of applying to graduate schools, fellowships or trying to finagle profs for research projects? I will also have my CFA by the time of completion, which is a very rigorous series of 3 exams that each require about 250-350 hours of study time, and is the highest professional credential in my current field. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chartered_ ... al_Analyst). Will this be of any use to me in undergrad or when applying for PhD, as it speaks to my high level of work ethic and general aptitude?
    3. Any other suggestions or help is greatly appreciated. I can elaborate on any part of the above if necessary.

    Thanks for reading, and I hope to get some feedback :D
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 24, 2015 #2

    Quantum Defect

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    This is an interesting question. A lot depends upon what you want to do with your degree once you are done.

    I believe that in the old days (when I went to grad school) we did not have many non-traditional graduate students (there was one person who was non-traditional, but most were straight out of undergrad.) I was at a top grad school for an allied area (physical chemistry). I can think of some small number of senior people who have taken an indirect route to graduate school.

    Times are changing, though, and I suspect that there are more people like you in the pool. However, there are still some very conservative people on the faculty who will look at you and make funny noises.

    Assuming that you have good things going for you, once you are finished with the BS, I think that you should be able to get into some competitive programs. Realistically, you only need to be admitted to one, and if someplace discriminates against you based upon your age (illega, anyway), I don't think that you would enjoy working with these kind of people!

    You have an advantage over some other candidates, in that you are more mature. Many, many people go to graduate school (even very good graduate schools) because they do not know what they want to do. You are not in that camp. I would make this quite clear in your application materials when you do apply. You have had a career with responsibilities, and you know that you want to do physics.

    I do not think that the CFA exams will be something to trumpet. Remember you are trying to enter a new world. The inhabitants of the new world do not know about this exam, nor do they likely care. I would concentrate on what you have been doing in your job in selling your maturity -- i.e. people have entrusted you with great gobs of their hard-earned money because they know that they can trust you and that you are smart. These are traits that are marektable everywhere.
  4. Mar 25, 2015 #3
    Hey Quantum Defect, thanks for your response and words of encouragement. My end game in all this is to do original research and contribute scientific knowledge to push humanity forward. I understand that academia is a difficult game in today's world, and I am still not sold on whether I want to go that route vs working in a national lab for instance. But I am leaning towards theory at the moment because I have always been interested in fundamental truths and I enjoy looking at things in the abstract and trying to drill down to their essence (which is crudely speaking how I approach company/investment research). Plasma physics, gravity and non-linear dynamics are areas I am currently leaning towards, but part of going back for a rigorous B.S. is to explore the landscape and get a better idea of what I want to focus on.
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