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Tell it to me straight, please!

  1. Sep 5, 2009 #1
    Hi everyone!

    I'll just dive right into by saying I was an absolutely terrible student in high school. Despite being fairly intelligent, my high school life consisted almost entirely of sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll. I also dropped out at seventeen and joined the army.

    To make a long story short, I served my term, fathered a daughter, and started a business with my brother and father. I'm now a different man with a sense of responsibility and everything. At the age of twenty seven, I found myself financially secure but very bored, so I decided to put my G.I. Bill to use and enrolled in the local community college. I'm now just starting my second year and have decided I'd like to study physics.

    My problems are that my whole first year of C.C. was pretty much all general studies—when I enrolled my only goal was to get a four year degree and have an education, not to pursue any particular career. I learn quickly and I'm pretty confident that I can learn the material I need, but I sort of feel I'm starting from scratch here. For instance, I'm just now taking my first serious Math course (College Math I, basically algebra with some trig). I'm also taking an introductory computer science course, university chemistry I, a creative writing course, and a keyboarding course.

    So I know I've got a long way to go. After some looking around these forums, I gather that I'm going to need a lot of calculus along with the physics courses I take, and I've also read that it's very useful for anyone doing research in physics to know some programming as well, so I figured I'd throw some of those courses in as well.

    Ideally, I'd like to transfer after this year to my local university (SUNY at Buffalo), and graduate three years from now with a B.S. in physics. Do you think I'm being realistic?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 5, 2009 #2


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    You're taking College Algebra now. You probably can't start calculus until next year, and calculus is a pre-requisite for introductory physics. So you can't start the intro courses for your major until you're 1.5 years into college, whereas most freshmen start as soon as they get there. You might have to take 5 years total to finish a physics major.
  4. Sep 5, 2009 #3


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    The Calculus sequence and the introductory Physics sequence will take up an entire year, so you can cross that off the 3 years you allotted in your projected time span (b/c you can't study more advanced physics until you've completed those introductory stuff).

    That leaves you 2 years to take up the actual physics requirements for a major. I think that's just enough to finish the course requirements for the physics major. I don't expect that you'll be continuing on the grad school, so the extra year for research and all that stuff isn't really necessary, I guess (unless it is required by the Physics dept. at your 4 year institution).
  5. Sep 5, 2009 #4
    Other than the time spent, is that an issue? Or is there a way to use it to my advantage, perhaps by pursuing a dual degree or major?

    I'm actually a bit ignorant in how universities work. For instance, I've heard that you have to apply to a department to pursue a major. Would it be more difficult for me to be accepted?
  6. Sep 5, 2009 #5
    I actually would like to possibly go on to grad school. I realize that I'm pretty behind the curve, but I also have the advantage of being able to devote all of my time, sweat, and treasure towards my education while still meeting all of my financial obligations. My work commitments are really no more then 8-10 hours a week, and I'm now a very quiet, curious and driven person. I would much rather spend the next few decades doing scientific research as opposed to watching the science channel. Would grad school be unrealistic for me?

    Edit: I do appreciate both of your responses, as it's just the sort of information I'm looking for.
  7. Sep 6, 2009 #6

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    If you want to go to grad school, you want to take a very full curriculum as a physics major, not to try and finish as fast as possible with the bare minimum. Since you are essentially making up for lost time in high school now, I would count on 5 years, not 4.

    You should also keep in mind a PhD is another 6 or 7 years on average, followed by typically two 3-year postdoctoral appointments. I'm not trying to discourage you, but I am trying to make sure you know what you are getting into.
  8. Sep 6, 2009 #7
    So slow and steady goes the race, then. I think you are most likely right that I am better off taking the time necessary to cover all of my bases if I'm going to go to grad school. The idea of spending well over ten years educating myself doesn't really bother me—I just wonder if I'm going to hit some sort of ceiling where my age is going to impede me—barring death, of course, as we all share that ceiling.

    Will I encounter any problems going for a fifth year at the undergraduate level?
  9. Sep 6, 2009 #8


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    Look up the requirements for a physics major on the SUNY Buffalo web site. Note the prerequisites (both physics and math) for each course. Keep in mind that physics courses above the introductory level are probably offered no more than once per year.

    I agree with other posters in this thread that based on the courses you're taking now, you'll probably need four years after this year to finish a bachelor's degree in physics (i.e. spring 2014). If you're planning to go on to grad school, you should consider the required courses for a physics major as a bare minimum.
  10. Sep 6, 2009 #9
    I don't think there are any problems having to go for a fifth year at all. It seems quite common these days. In fact one of my teachers used to joke that there's no such thing as a 4 year bachelors anymore. Of course it is possible but you don't want to overload yourself or lose courses.
    One thing you might do to speed things up a little without sacrificing courses would be to take some courses in the summer if possible. Doing this you may knock a semester off, or perhaps even a year IDK.
  11. Sep 6, 2009 #10


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    Age is definitely not an issue, there are tons of succesful stories of persons even older you going on to do their BA and then Masters in their field. I know a few persons easily above 40 doing their BS in Aerospace Engineering at my uni right now.
  12. Sep 6, 2009 #11
    Thanks for the replies, everyone! I'll keep all of your words in mind.
  13. Sep 6, 2009 #12
    I'm a freshman at university planning to be an engineer, so I pretty much have to take the same math sequences as you (but I started at calc 1). You can do it in 4 years, but you might have to go a bit during the summer.

    For math, you're going to have to take another semester of pre-calculus (pretty much trig) before you can actually dive into a calculus class, so you'd probably want to get as much of your general courses out of the way. Looking at what my university goes by (PSU), in order to get the degree in 4 years you'd have to take either a math or physics class in summer, twice.

    One thing I will suggest, while you are taking like prerequisite courses in math to start physics, take a wide variety of classes, because (I think the sciences especially) many of the students have their heart set on this particular major, and they end up hating it the whole semester. You'd be surprised how much complaining I've heard in the first 2 weeks of Physics: Mechanics from people who wanted to be a physics major.
  14. Sep 6, 2009 #13


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    Zhalfirin88 wrote this:
    This occurs for three reasons:
    (1) Inadequate experience with analytical thinking
    (2) Inadequate mathematical knowledger, skill, or conditioning
    (3) More courses in the term than they can handle

    Those conditions can be managed if the student knows to adjust for them before starting the engineering&science Physics sequence of courses.
  15. Sep 7, 2009 #14
    Thanks for all the help, everyone.

    I've got another question. Do you think it is plausible for me to start taking Calculus next semester concurrently with my second semester of College Math (Trigonometry), continue with Calculus through the summer semesters, and then begin my physics courses next fall?

    p.s.: My main question is whether starting Calculus before I'm done with both semesters of College Math.
  16. Sep 7, 2009 #15


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    No, because (I'm pretty sure) that the second semester of your "College Math" is a
    prerequisite for Calculus. You actually need a good, working knowledge of trig for Calculus.

    You can always refer to your course catalog if you're unsure about course prerequisites and such.
  17. Sep 8, 2009 #16
    How does one determine where the appropriate division between taking every physics course his school offers (which is probably not feasible from a time- or cost-oriented perspective) and taking only the "bare minimum" is?

    Internet Disclaimer: I'm being absolutely sincere; this is a genuine question arising from my own curiosity, without the slightest intention of being snide or sarcastic.

    If I had the--I was going to say "time and financial means," but it really just boils down to the money--funds to take every undergrad physics course my school offered, I would. But that's not the case, unfortunately, and a line must be drawn somewhere.
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