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Too late to study physics?

  1. Apr 11, 2015 #1
    Hello,
    I am senior in electrical engineering course. However, my dream has always been to study physics.
    I am worried because I am 27 years and have no contact with the main physical disciplines such as classical mechanics, thermodynamics, optics, among others.
    Which means I will need to study from the start to be able to reach the level of undergraduate students in physics. And considerating that my field interest is cosmology, I will need a solid basis or knowlodge.
    For me it is not a problem, but I have no idea how long it would take to complete this process.
    Because in physics it is need to do the things step by step, and I am worried about my age.
    I bought some physics books, such as Arfken (Mathematical Physics), Symon (Classical Mechanics), Taylor (Classical Mechanics) and Griffiths (Electrodynamics), to study by myself.
    How should I proceed to continue pursuing this dream?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 11, 2015
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  3. Apr 11, 2015 #2

    robphy

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    It's probably only in the third or fourth semester when you start ramping up coursework in a physics major.
    So, I would guess it might take you two years... or less, if you are a good student... or at least a more mature student
    ...assuming you can put the time into it.

    So, I wouldn't worry too much about age.
     
  4. Apr 11, 2015 #3
    The most important thing for a Physics major to know are Classical Mechanics, Electromagnetism, and Quantum Mechanics. Unless you're a true genius, you NEED to take courses in these subjects in order to succeed with them. Considering you're an engineer right now, you will definitely know Calculus, and maybe Differential Equations, so I would self study that and Real and Complex Analysis (take courses in these as well, prioritize Partial Differential Equations and Complex Analysis).

    Your age is an obstacle, but certainly not one that can't be overcome. If you don't want to do another Bachelor's in Physics, then you could probably make a middle/lower tier grad school with the subjects I listed above. If you do plan on getting another degree, then you could probably do it in only 2-2 1/2 years, since you already presumably have the calc sequence and some introductory Physics + whatever your college has for required classes. I'd recommend looking at this thread if you need recommendations on specific classes to take:

    https://www.physicsforums.com/threa...ad-school-after-mech-eng.807015/#post-5065735

    Good Luck!
     
  5. Apr 12, 2015 #4

    ZapperZ

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    Whenever I read something like this (and let's face it, we see this question frequently on here), I usually tend to say to myself "Oh great! This person can easily go into Accelerator Physics or Detector Physics with his background. There shouldn't be a lot of problem."

    But then I read this:

    .. and I go "Oh no! Does the pendulum have to swing all the way to the other side?"

    So my question to you is, do you want to do physics, ANY area of physics, just so that you can do physics, or do you really, really, REALLY just want to do Cosmology or bust? Is this drive to want to do physics is because you only want to do Cosmology, or do you really have an interest in physics in general and can adapt to the field that is best suited with your background? And are you aware that your choice may have a lower "employability" than the current track that you are undertaking?

    Zz.
     
  6. Apr 12, 2015 #5
    Hello,
    Thanks for the reply, it means a lot to me :smile:.
    I want to be a theoretical physicist (maybe for this reason, my carrer as an engineer has been so short). I am aware that employment opportunities are not the same than a career as an engineer, especially in my country (Brazil). However, I can not see myself working in another area.
    Since the beginning when I found out that my true vocation was physics, I have always had a huge interest and admiration for genereal relativity.
    It was a theory so beautiful (physical and mathematically) than I thought "I really want to understand this theory". This interest soon led me to this desire to study cosmology.
    As general relativity has been involved in the "theory of everything" cenario, I also developed a desire to study the string theory (M-theory).
    It seems quite a lot to study, but it is also a source of motivation.
    What should I do? Go directly to a graduate course in physics or stop for while to study classical mechanics, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics by myself?
    What subjects should I study right now? What are my chances of getting into a graduate course in physics right now?
    I am aware that I woke up too late, but I will do my best to follow this dream.
    Thanks to all and forgive me for taking your time! :smile:
     
  7. May 30, 2015 #6
    Hello,
    I would like to raise one final point to complete my last question (about the best strategy for studying for my goals mentioned above) :smile:.
    The best strategy would be to study only classical mechanics initially (starting at level of Marion and Thornton, and passing to the level of Goldstein and Landau subsequently) or study, at the same time, classical mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics and special relativity?
    I understand that there are a number of questions posed on the forum every day, but if someone can answer my last 2 questions would be of extreme importance to me :smile:.
    Thanks to all and forgive me for taking your time!
     
  8. May 30, 2015 #7

    one

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    You'll definitely want to learn mechanics first.
     
  9. May 30, 2015 #8
    Hello,
    Thanks for the reply, it means a lot to me :smile:.
    In this case what relevant items should be studied with more emphasis?
    How long, on average, would be required to adequately complete this step?
    And about the mathematical background, to understand more advanced texts of classical mechanics?
    I understand that there are a number of questions posed on the forum every day, but if someone can answer my last questions would be of extreme importance to me :smile:!
    Thanks to all and forgive me for taking your time !
     
  10. Jun 2, 2015 #9
    As a 29-year-old programmer returning to study physics in the fall, I have to say that age doesn't have to be a barrier, unless you let it be a barrier. And if you look at the credentials of the folks who claim it is a barrier, you often find it's coming from someone who isn't a position to give advice on such things. My personal feeling is that we should not let others tell us it's too late or impossible because we may spend the next 30 years doing something that is unsatisfying, or wishing we made more of an effort!

    I completely understand the feeling though. Since I have a social science degree, I will have to take almost all the regular prerequisite courses from Calc. II on up (luckily this means only two years of coursework). So, it sounds like you're in a great position. From one non-traditional student to another, I say, good luck, kind sir!
     
  11. Aug 7, 2015 #10
    Thank you for this! I am a 28 year-old programmer, who always wanted to get into physics, but decided I want to see the world first. Now I have seen a fair share of it, and I think it is time. I will be 29 when I start. ;-)

    I'm pondering going for Engineering Physics. It offers both the option for a PhD or a super solid career path (especially combined with programming skills.) We'll see how pragmatic my choice will be when the time comes. :-)
     
  12. Aug 7, 2015 #11

    ZapperZ

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    But see, unlike the OP, your choice is actually quite realistic. You are leveraging what you already have a knowledge in into this new area of study that you intend to pursue. The OP, as I stated in my reply, is thinking of going all the way to the opposite end, where his/her skill that he/she had already acquired could be rendered useless. There's no leveraging.

    This is why I often puzzled over such choices, and the reason I questioned on why the pendulum had to swing all the way to the other side. There is a continuous spectrum in between "engineering" and "theoretical physics", and yet, some people seem to want to do one extreme or the other, as if there's nothing in between! To me, one has to have SOME interest in the "practical" aspect to want to do engineering in the first place, and there has to be a keen interest in doing and building stuff with one's hands. So why abandon all that, and render them almost totally irrelevant by wanting to do "theoretical physics", and not just any theoretical physics, but also an "esoteric" topic in physics to boot!

    This is what I continue to see on here, and something that I continue to find rather puzzling. Some Psych or Behavorial studies major could have a thesis topic studying this phenomenon.

    Zz.
     
  13. Aug 7, 2015 #12

    ShayanJ

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    I think this is because of the media. Theoretical physicists, especially those working on multiverse, string theory, etc. are so much emphasized and also their work is so much glorified, that some people think of them as heroes leading humanity through darkness. And often this is accompanied by thinking that what other physicists do, is not dramatic enough. So they think they could as well do their engineering thing rather than being a physicist working on a not-dramatic-enough subject. This is really unfortunate that even highly educated people may have such a misconception about physicists.
     
  14. Aug 8, 2015 #13
    Hello,
    I am glad to know that other people are in the same walk. I am starting my studies to develop my skills in physics and mathematics. Have the opportunity to study the same subjects that Newton, Euler, Lagrange, Laplace, Gauss, Einstein, Schrödinger, Godel and many others has been a wonderful experience. I am studying classical mechanics, electromagnetism and special and general relativity (although it is not the best time to start, considering the prerequisites needed for a solid understanding, I can not control the urge to learn this beautiful theory :smile:). As I am studying on my own, sometimes I can not understand some threads on the first attempt. But I consider as an inherent part of learning. Giving up is not an option!
     
  15. Aug 8, 2015 #14

    vela

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    That's not true at all. There are a lot of reasons people choose to major in engineering, and actually having a genuine desire to be an engineer is, in my experience, pretty low down on the list. People commonly go into engineering because they were good at math in high school, and they figured majoring in engineering would get them a job easily. They don't have a good idea of what's engineering actually is until late in their junior or senior year, and as they come to realize engineering is not for them in the long run.
     
  16. Aug 8, 2015 #15

    ZapperZ

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    But then, you can say that for ANY subject area that these people are going into, i.e. they are going in with a lot of ignorance. This then makes it even WORSE, because there's a strong possibility that they also have zero clue on what is involved in doing "theoretical physics". In fact, I would venture that they have a more accurate idea of "engineering" than "theoretical physics".

    Zz.
     
  17. Aug 10, 2015 #16

    gillouche

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    Well, I hope it is not too late to start. I am a 27 years old software developer and I will go back to school next months to start a degree in Physics (BSc).

    Good luck ! :)
     
  18. Aug 11, 2015 #17
    I think this is insane but I'm also a software developer age 25 considering going back to school, but it's sooo expensive!
     
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