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The career path becomes foggy on which direction to go

  1. May 16, 2014 #1
    Hey everyone,

    Last summer I had realized that my interest in science had spiked dramatically, and more specifically, the cosmos and physics, so I decided to research the available colleges around me and decided to start off at a community college to take the entry level courses to see if my interest will wane, or if I even have the ability to pass the courses and actually be able to apply the knowledge.

    I know one of the more difficult hurdles for me will be the chemistry courses, if high school was any indication, but the physics and mathematical aspects shouldn't be difficult at all (and I don't mean they will be easy, but require a lot of attention and focus).

    So, I'm back in school working on my second degree, and I think I really need to determine the ultimate path I want to take to best utilize my knowledge and skill that I currently have, and ones that I will learn throughout the process.

    I've always been interested and fascinated with the study and observation of the stars and planets, and I've always loved math, so it almost seems like a no brainer, but like with everything in life, it's not always just that simple :P

    My background is an interesting one. In high school, more specifically, my senior year, I was a straight C student. I had no intentions of going to college until I attempted other aspirations, and eventually went back to college 6 years later, in 2006 (I'm 31, for what it's worth). I had only achieved an associates degree in Computer Science Technologies because I already had a job in the field, and I had started programming when I was 13 years old (as well as learn how computers work and operate, so I was able to build and repair computers since I was 15 or so).

    I'm currently bored at my job, but another reason why I never went past getting an associates degree is because I wasn't sure I wanted to work with computers for much longer, but I wasn't sure what else I could do that would hold my interests. Well, I rediscovered my passions for mathematics, astronomy, and physics last summer, which all leads up to now.

    The first semester I had taken an introductory course on optics and lasers, and while I did well in the class, it didn't interest me all that much. The reason could be due to the fact that it was an online course, so there had been no live interactions with the professor (aside from forum posts and emails), so I'm definitely not opposed to taking more courses in that area. This semester I had taken the introductory course for astronomy, and that was the first class that I had showed up to throughout its entirety. I haven't received my final grade just yet, but from what my professor had said, I'm getting an A+. Another interesting (at least to me :P) thing about that class is we had to do a research paper on something to do with the stars, planets, sun, etc., and had to log data and present our findings in writing. I was lacking confident in my research paper, and thought I had missed something, so I asked my professor if he could review it before I submitted it to him, and he told me it was exactly what he was looking for. The week after I had handed it in, he pulled me aside and asked if he could use my research paper for his future astronomy classes and Earth science classes, as an example of how a research paper should look (I'm assuming at an entry level course), and how well the data was presented. I know it might not seem like much, but it's something I'm proud of, but also relevant to the topic :P

    (For those wondering, the research topic I had chosen was measuring the angle of the sun and the analemma of the sun for a period of 30 days or longer, nothing complex at all, and something that anyone with a basic understanding of geometry can do)

    I enjoyed the research paper, quite a lot. It felt great seeing the results, and other observations and hypothesis's form from the initial building blocks. The research I was doing could have easily become more complex, especially once enough data has been collected), and I plan on continuing the research just for my own knowledge, and to get a little more hands on with researching actual objects in the sky.

    Anyway, I felt a very deep passion for this course, and next semester I'm beginning the physics courses (Mechanics and Newtonian Physics I), as well a retaking calculus 1 again. You might be thinking "retaking calculus? and you want to get into physics? You failed calculus!", but I assure you that I didn't fail, but had to withdraw from the class due to issues with the professor and her methods of teaching. Over 80% of the class had withdrew from the class prior to my doing so, and I had never scored lower than a B+ in any math class in my life (I retook pre-calculus last semester as it had been 6 years since I first took it, and it would be foolish of myself to jump head first into a subject that I hadn't used in quite some time).

    Another thing I've been doing in the last few years is I've been developing software for antiquated hardware. It's going to sound childish, and it is, but the antiquated hardware is video games, more specifically, video games from the 16-bit era. With this, however, I've also worked with another forum member to develop new, custom hardware to put the software onto instead of repurposing perfectly fine games, and continue to make some interesting hardware (such as a pseudo memory card to work with proprietary hardware, but can be accessed via normal methods and be universal amongst other applications).

    It seems as though I'd really like to find a way to merge astronomy, physics, and hardware/software (not video games :P) together to see if I can help create some useful tools in the future that could aid in various tasks and researches.

    At first, my intentions were to get a degree in astrophysics, but I'm starting to question if that's entirely the right career path. I'm hoping for some general guidance on other potential pathways I can explore and see if there's anything that comes close to what my goals and intentions are. My ultimate goal is to obtain a PhD, but not for the status or potential earnings, but just to prove to myself that I can do it.

    I see the continuing education as a passion, not for a career shift (though I wouldn't reject an opportunity that I feel would be great to take). I make enough currently to finance my education out of pocket, while being able to own a home and live comfortably. I hope that doesn't come off in a gloating manner, but more to reinforce that this is a passion, and I don't mind if I'm doing it in my spare time. I don't have the urge or need to be someone who discovers the next major discovery, or become the next Carl Sagan or Einstein, but more along the lines of someone that can contribute, even in the littlest ways :)

    Anyway, feel free to ask for more information if I hadn't given enough already, though I feel like I just wrote an essay for asking "Hey, I enjoy electronics, programming, physics, and space stuffs, what should I do?" :P
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 16, 2014 #2
    I am going to be blunt and honest and say that none of what you wrote matters much in determining if you can do physics or even if you should. If you want to do physics or astronomy, all that matters is you do very well in your math and physics courses (calculus and beyond), and if you want a PhD, you will need solid letters of recommendation and the ability to conduct original research. We cant tell you what to do but I can tell you its a long, difficult road so as long as you put in the time, effort and energy (and its a lot) it can certainly be done.
     
  4. May 16, 2014 #3
    I'm going to respectfully disagree as I was asking for other possible areas of physics that also share similarities in what I'm skillful at and where my passion lies. I'm not asking anyone to recommend which area to go in, but to show me other options that I'm not aware of, or know much about. How can one suggest what areas to look at without knowing an interest and passion? :P

    Currently my goal is astrophysics, but are there any other areas of physics that might be a good pathway due to the implied interest and skillset.

    I'm aware of the difficult road, which is another reason why I decided to go with physics. I thrive on being able to accomplish difficult tasks :)
     
  5. May 16, 2014 #4
    I suppose I dont understand your question. You want to use physics, mathematics, hardware and software, correct?
     
  6. May 16, 2014 #5
    When you break it down like that, it does make what I'm asking sound silly, or maybe not presented clearly by me.

    Yes, that is my intended goal, but I would like to try to stay on path of the universe/cosmos. Are there other fields that relate to, either closely or abstractly, with astrophysics? I know there's cosmology, but I'm trying to find other areas that may prove to be a better path for myself.
     
  7. May 16, 2014 #6
    As a physics undergrad myself, one thing I will say is some of the physics I thought I liked isnt the same as I thought it would be, and things I didnt think would be interesting have turned out to be very interesting once I start doing the actual physics of the subject (or you realize the maths used in a certain field doesnt make much sense to you but the math in another field of physics does), so keep in mind that its hard to know what you will actually enjoy and also what areas of physics you will be good at.

    If you want to study the Universe/space I would pursue Astrophysics and astronomy as it certainly provides you with the opportunity to incorporate computational software/simulations, custom hardware, interesting mathematics and some mind boggling physics. There are plenty of other areas of physics that uses the skillset you want to incorporate and some of them touch on aspects of Space but astrophysics/astronomy seems closest to what you want to do.

    Again, you might take a course in your third or fourth year that totally changes your mind so dont lock in yet.

    EDIT: Sorry for typos, touchscreens suck.
     
  8. May 16, 2014 #7
    Thanks :)

    I wasn't sure if there were any other fields related to both astronomy and astrophysics, so I will plan to stick with that for the time being. I never thought about a course changing my mind (either due to higher interest, or like you said, not being able to understand the math in one area while being able to understand it elsewhere).

    I'll definitely keep my mind open for changes, otherwise, a physics major wouldn't be the right choice for me :P

    (and yes, touch screens are awful for lengthy posts hehe)
     
  9. May 16, 2014 #8
    General relativity relates to astrophysics
     
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