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Too late to start a career in physics?

  1. Oct 28, 2015 #1

    I am 26, single, and don't have any kids to worry about supporting yet. I got my undergrad in Biology (minor in Chemistry), instead of Physics, partially because it was a fairly expensive school (UCSB) and I wanted to make sure I graduated in 4 years, and partially because yeah, physics is hard. Anyways, I'm now realizing that this field isn't satisfying and am very interested in going into Astrophysics.

    Practically my whole family are physicists (brother, father, aunt, uncle, and both grandfathers), and I am ready to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to Physics, but am wondering if it is too late. Would I have to do a whole second undergraduate degree before grad school? Or could I take some select courses before getting into a graduate program? If anyone has any words of advice or warnings to give I'd really, really appreciate it.

    Thanks for your help,
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 28, 2015 #2
    Hey Jonathan,

    It's never too late to start learning anything, especially physics. You clearly have a background in science, and this will help you succeed in your study of physics. Considering that you also have family members who are, presumably, knowledgeable physicists, you will always have support in your efforts. It is up to you as to whether you want to go for an undergraduate degree or a graduate program, because it's likely they'll lead to different paths. Are you looking for a PhD or a Masters in Physics?
  4. Oct 28, 2015 #3

    Thank you for your reply economy. I'm definitely looking at a PhD. In terms of undergrad vs grad, I was more just wondering if one needs an undergrad before starting the grad program, or if I could just jump into the grad program and catch up there.
  5. Oct 28, 2015 #4
    Generally, graduate programs demand a certain level of experience that can only be earned through an undergraduate degree, or work experience. Sometimes exceptions are granted, and this may be what you're looking for. If you can prove that you have sufficient knowledge in the subject, you might be accepted. Typically though you will need to complete the undergraduate program first. I'd say your best bet is to talk with people from the university and see if you can go straight into the graduate program. Which, by the way, is the best option if you're headed for a PhD!
  6. Oct 28, 2015 #5


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    Most graduate programs in physics are going to expect an undergraduate degree in physics or something closely related where you have covered several core subjects up to the upper year undergraduate level (E&M, quantum, mathematics to the level of Boas, thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and if your looking at astro groups they'll likely expect some kind of computational methods/programming course and at least an introductory astrophysics course.) Departments will sometimes make exceptions on one or two of these (eg. you came from a small program and didn't have a chance to take any specific astro course). But none of these courses are typically covered in undergraduate biology, so you'll have to pick them up some other way - likely through a second undergraduate degree.

    Being 26 isn't too late at all. It's just really a question of whether you want to re-orient your life towards this goal at this point.

    It's probably also worth factoring into your decision that most people who pursue astrophysics end up doing something else career-wise. Even the very smart ones.
  7. Oct 30, 2015 #6


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    I have 3 questions for you:

    1. Have you read this thread?

    2. Does it have to be "Astrophysics"? Considering that you started out in biology, surely you have SOME interest in it! Why not use your biology degree as a leverage and major in biophysics? There are plenty of opportunity (and from my non-scientific observation, more than astrophysics major) for a biophysicist, especially those who also specializes in using synchrotron x-rays to study various biological specimens.

    3. You have family members who are physicists. Can't you ask these people who know you way better than we do?

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