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Too late to get the degree?

  1. Mar 29, 2009 #1
    So. Woke up today, and realized I'm 28 and wasted my last six years being a journalist.

    To make a long story short: I've decided to go back to uni, and start fresh on the bachelor/master/phd ladder.

    If all goes according to plan, I'll be 33 when I'm done with the master and 36 when Ive got the phd.

    The good old question is: Is it at all realistic to hope for an ok job in physics (or any science) at that age? Does old age or previous work experience (urelated, like journalism) at all offer any advantages - or does the 28 year old fresh out of school kiddo glide past?

    I've seen a couple of threads about this, but it is hard to find any good answers. People seem quite devided in the two groups: "its never too late, you can study when your 64" and "you better have that phd before you are 23". Neither of these are helpful.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 29, 2009 #2
    I'm pretty much in the same boat. I've got a healthy career as an electrician, but I feel completely unfulfilled and disinterested in my work.
    At 29, I've started part-time classes at night and will hopefully be financially stable enough to quit my job and go full-time in about 2 years.
    It's a huge hit financially for me, but I've been miserable enough the past few years that I know I'll never be completely happy until I change careers and do something that I truly love.
    I also have questions about whether or not I'll be passed up for the better job opportunities by younger people, but I'm really not all that concerned. As long as I can get a job in the field I think I'll be much happier than I am now. Also, the enthusiasm and work ethic I've built up will hopefully help me advance my physics career.
    Either way, I'm unhappy with how things are currently, so If I sit around questioning "Sould I?" and "Can I?" then I'll never get where I want to be. Just my .02.
  4. Mar 29, 2009 #3
    Yep, that sounds familiar @Latecomer.

    Luckily my job is quite flexible, so I'll be able to get time off, freelance, and write on my own time. So I think I'll be able to have an ok income at least the first 3 years of my bachelor.

    Should never had been such a young idiot while I was 20, a bit too happy for the partying part of university life. Combined with a job in the student media it made a pretty bad almost-done-bachelor in psychology :)

    However now, compared with then, I'm extremely motivated and prepared to sacrifice in order to get to do what I really want.
  5. Mar 29, 2009 #4
    Count me in too. haha. I'm 27 and going to start classes when I'm 28. I graduated with a Bachelor's in Communications and did some odd-end jobs for a while. Took a year to find out what I really like and realized it's Science. Started ripping through some Math books and love every second of it.

    I don't have any solid input just saying there's more of us out there. It's good to know there's others like me as well. Good luck guys.
  6. Mar 29, 2009 #5


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    The case for getting through as early as possible, has merit in that life as a graduate student is tough and not all that financially stable. If you have family responsibilities, or a mortgage - as many people do when they get into their 30s - living off of a graduate student stipend can be next to impossible.

    The case for finishing early does not hold merit in so far as loss of post-graduate employment opportunities. I have yet to witness a single case where CVs are sorted by the age of the applicant. In fact, a few years of maturity can often be an advantage in an interview.
  7. Mar 29, 2009 #6

    Thanks for your answer. In my case, the practical part is not a huge problem. I am not very attractive, so family is not a concern. Plus, I am renting a quite nice and cheap apartment. ;)
  8. Mar 29, 2009 #7
    Not trying to discourage you, but the median time to get a PhD in physics is about 6.5 years (in the U.S., at least). Also, most students in the U.S. skip the MS and go straight for the PhD. A reasonable estimate for finishing the Bachelor's + PhD is about 10 years.

    You are never to old to do what you want, but keep this in mind when you're trying to figure out if it's really the best decision.
  9. Mar 29, 2009 #8
    I agree with Proggle's decade estimate of ten years for a PhD from scratch.

    Kuli, I don't see where you've mentioned your math/science background. There's some serious business involved here, and if you're having to brush up on algebra and trig, it could take even longer. Also, Proggle's estimate doesn't include postdoc time, which isn't really a steady job, and you may well spend four or more years as one. Depending on your area of study - and that could make this a little better or significantly worse - you could be over 40 by the time you start a steady job.

    Well my advice always ends up being something more like this: Physics can be a rewarding career. But in the end, it's a job like everything else. Will it be worth throwing away all your current experience and the next decade of your life to change careers? If you don't have or plan to have a family (and you say you don't, but for how long?), and have no use for anything above poverty level income for the next twelve plus years of your life, it may well be an exciting adventure you don't regret. Otherwise. . .
  10. Mar 30, 2009 #9
    Just dropped in - it's good that you're making the change! And no, it's not too late. You're very young.
  11. Mar 30, 2009 #10
    Simon Singh went all the way to getting a PhD and then ended up ... wait for it ... as a science journalist. Why not stay a journalist and move into writing about areas you are most interested in? Many science journalists have no science degree.
  12. Mar 30, 2009 #11


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    hehe that's not usually a good thing :)
  13. Apr 2, 2009 #12
    Bill Bryson didn't have a science degree but won the Aventis science prize. As long as journalists talk to scientists and *really* listen then it can work
  14. Apr 2, 2009 #13
    I come from the "it's never too late" camp. I'm mid-30s, and I'm graduating with my second MS this semester in Quantitative Finance. My other two degrees are in Mathematics. I have a professor now that is actively trying to recruit me into the IE PhD program to do some work with probability and stochastic processes. That's a far cry from the pure math work I did in my BS and MS. My finance degree has been mostly applied statistics and probability with a tiny shred of pure math. Nevertheless, I'm seriously considering doing a PhD, although I'd have to do it part time. I'd likely be mid-40s by the time I finished!
  15. Apr 2, 2009 #14
    There are many journalists and electricians who enjoy their work. Might it be *you* that's the problem rather than your job?
  16. Apr 2, 2009 #15
    There are many physicists who enjoy their work too. One man's heaven is another man's hell.
  17. Apr 2, 2009 #16
    This is exactly why science journalists are so awful. They listen, but they don't really question, and of course that's because most of the time they aren't educated enough to do so. They just repeat whatever they're told in a way that's accessible to the public. It's like listening to parrots, but dumber.
  18. Apr 2, 2009 #17
    I just turned 27 and I'm halfway to my degree in Electrical Engineering. Decided to spread the last two years over three so I can take a bunch of advanced coursework.

    Make sure you start with a proper foundation - when I went back 2.5 years ago I had credits for Calculus but decided to start in Pre-Calculus for review. It has made the progression through four semesters of Calculus and Linear Algebra a relatively smooth process. Don't underestimate solid algebra and pre-calculus skills.

    Even if you're 38 when you graduate with a PhD, you will still have 30 years or so of work - which can certainly be considered a defining career.
  19. Apr 2, 2009 #18
    Well you can think: What do I want to do with the rest of my life...


    How much longer is the rest of my life.

    The only pain you get from going to school is the loans! But it is a lot of work.

    You can question whether it's worth it or you can do it and then decide if it was worth it!
  20. Apr 3, 2009 #19
    I am in the same boat. About to turn 27 and going back to school. I contimplated and over analyzed about whether I was too old. Everyone I talked to said, 27, too old, are you crazy? There were other factors of course. But I realized that age shouldn't matter. I wouldn't want to live the rest of my life thinking, what if? Regret knows no age limit!
  21. Aug 21, 2010 #20
    I know if your heart's set on physics you should go physics... but have you looked at engineering at all? I'm just mentioning it because it requires a similar skill set as physics but you can turn it into a career with just a B.S. and I think even if you get a Ph.D in it I think you may be more able to jump into a career without doing a bunch of post doc work (someone please correct me if I'm wrong about that last part).
  22. Aug 21, 2010 #21
    I really don't understand how this even attempts to help the OP whatsoever. Are you suggesting that him experiencing a lack of fulfillment in his career is his fault, and that he should try to mold himself based on his career, rather than molding his career around himself?
  23. Aug 22, 2010 #22
    Personally, I wouldn't just expect to be accepted into a PHD program. It's going to require strong grades, solid references and lots of hard work. There is a possibility that you could give it your all and still come up short. Not trying to discourage you, but you should consider this.
  24. Aug 23, 2010 #23
    Just another story. I am 31 and decided to go back for my second Bachelors. My first one was in Political Science (completely useless) and just started back for a BS in Math. The College I am going to also has a Master Program in Computational Science that I would like to complete after my Bachelors. Also I am married and own a home so it wont be easy, but it something I have to do for myself and to fix my career situation. Your not alone in doing something that requires sacrafice. My only criticsm is make sure you have a plan B if you don't make it all the way to the PhD.
    Good Luck!!
  25. Aug 24, 2010 #24
    It's never too late to make your life better.
  26. Aug 24, 2010 #25
    I am a 43 year old disabled vet, who is going back to school on the taxpayers dime.
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