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Teach Myself Advanced Math/Physics/Astronomy

  1. Dec 8, 2014 #1
    Hello all,

    I've recently decided to switch from double majoring in Math/Physics and Astronomy to engineering (either mechanical or aerospace, haven't decided yet.) I'm quite disappointed to be dropping these majors, but alas, Engineering has the jobs.

    Anyways, I'm wondering how feasible it will be to teach myself more advanced Math Physics and Astronomy. Essentially I'd like to teach myself the equivalent of what I would have learned had I continued with these majors. Clearly, I won't have time to be doing full course loads in these subjects on top of Engineering, but perhaps I could do one course worth independently every semester/summer, and after college.

    How feasible will this be without the guidance of a professor? Will I be able to do this simply through reading textbooks? Do you recommend any particular texts for any of these subjects? What about online courses? If I do teach myself all this stuff, will employers (such as NASA) find me more attractive? Any other advice on continuing with this? What about breaking into research later or going back to school to get a Phd in one of these fields?

    Thank you for any advice you have!

    Just in case it matters, here's my current level in these subjects:
    Finishing 2nd semester introductory physics
    Finishing 1st Semester intro Astronomy (mostly conceptual/facts, very little physics or math)
    Finishing Calc 3
    Finishing Intro to Higher Math
    I do plan on taking Diff Eq and Linear Algebra next semester as well
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 9, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    You should consider Complex Analysis and Boundary Value Problems too. For EM theory, Vector Analysis. For GR then perhaps Differential Geometry as well.

    Also read the featured thread on becoming a physicist by ZapperZ for more insight.
  4. Dec 9, 2014 #3
    Thanks for the response! Do you recommend any texts/study tips for self-teaching those subjects?
  5. Dec 10, 2014 #4


    User Avatar

    Self-teaching isn't something you'd mention on a job application. You don't have any proof you actually learned anything. It would be hard to get a PhD program to consider you unless you did extremely well on the physics GRE and got some research experience somehow.
  6. Dec 10, 2014 #5
    What if 10-15 years down the road I decide I want to try my hand in some physics or astronomy research? Would I have to go all the way back through school, or are there other paths into getting a Phd or finding a research job without one? What if I managed (somehow) to conduct my own research on top of my career as an engineer. Would this sway employers/grad schools at all? Or is choosing an engineering major taking me out of the realm of physics/astronomy/math forever?
  7. Dec 10, 2014 #6


    Staff: Mentor

    The primary path is grad school, qualifying tests...

    In rare circumstances, people have gotten a PhD from an original work project that was considered dissertation worthy and presented to a dissertation committee for review. The members decide on it, ask you to take additional courses and continue with the work under an adviser. When complete, you write it up and defend it before the committee for your PhD.
  8. Dec 10, 2014 #7
    If you are trying to learn 3 subjects in depth on top of engineering, you're probably going to be disappointed at how far you can get. This is coming from a guy who basically does four things: math, computer science/programming, physics, and electrical engineering (not to mention being pretty deep into art and music). It's not a path I recommend to other people, and not even a path I recommend to myself, except that things that I study have so much momentum that I can't let them go, so I'm afraid I'm doomed to be overstretched for my whole life.

    I don't see why you can't teach yourself, but if you spread yourself so thin, don't expect to be getting to the research level. Research level is sort of insane, and it's hard to appreciate that at your stage.
  9. Dec 10, 2014 #8
    So say perhaps my biggest desire amongst the three is astronomy. Then clearly I would need to study a ton of astronomy (duh), and perhaps a full degrees worth of physics. But which math should I teach myself. I'm not sure exactly what branch of Astronomy I'd like to do (could be anything from planetary atmospheres to exoplanets to cosmology), so how much of an array of math do I need to study Astronomy.

    And I'd rather be have a life stretched too thin then no life at all. At least it's not boring!
  10. Dec 10, 2014 #9
    There are other things in life besides studying. I agree that at least it keeps you from ever getting bored. I probably haven't really been bored since high school. I'd rather be bored than overwhelmed, sometimes, though.
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