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Too Old to Study Astronomy?

  1. Nov 10, 2008 #1
    Hi all. I am a 49 year-old attorney who is embarking on a second academic career. I am starting an undergraduate degree in Physics at Arizona State in January. I'm good at math and love science. I am a bit apprehensive about returning to school though. I understand its a long haul, but I am doing it primarily for the love of the process and learning, but would not mind pursuing some form of a career in the future. Money is not an issue, my wife supports me and my kids are in college. I just need someone in the biz to tell me I'm not crazy!!! Thanks.
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  3. Nov 10, 2008 #2


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    In my experience mature students do very well in science classes.
    They are more motivated, better prepared and serious about the work.

    Of course the job prospects pretty much suck whatever age you are!
  4. Nov 10, 2008 #3
    Thank you for that. I'm fortunate enough not to have to worry about employment issues at this point in my life, but I wouldn't mind teaching kids and giving something back to our younger people. Maybe I won't figure out the theory of everything, but some young person I teach or inspire someday may. How cool would that be?
  5. Nov 10, 2008 #4


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    There are definately worse jobs than science teacher - good luck.
  6. Nov 11, 2008 #5
    Sorry, dude, but you are as mad as a hatter... :smile:

    But you aren't alone in your insanity... I'm just *slightly* younger and finishing up an MS in physics, after working as a computer programmer for many years. You just have to want to make the change and put in the work.

    For what it's worth, I find myself much slower when calculating than I was 30 years ago, but much quicker to see the point that the professor is trying to make.
  7. Nov 11, 2008 #6
    Older Guy, if you like to learn, then just learn. Buy and read the books that interest you. Be your own guide. But if it's credentials for your resume you're after, you got a huge mountain to climb and I don't see it as worth your while. You'll just be out of a bunch of money with less of your remaining years to enjoy. Thumbs down on the idea.
  8. Nov 11, 2008 #7
    i agree with helios. why bother returning to college if all you'll get are useless credentials. why not learn the material on your own through books. chances are you won't teach college students anyway... not because of your age, but most phds (if you are willing to even go that far) don't even get that privledge. if it is highschoolers you seek to teach, i think you can do that without any kind of science degree.

    be reminded that college is a business and it trains future scientists more than it teaches them. more appropriately, it sort of weeds out everyone but those they deem bright. this is why going to college primarily to learn is not a good idea. however, if you like the atmosphere and need a professor to push you to get reading done then why not. just be reminded the knowledge is likely to be the only benefit.
  9. Nov 11, 2008 #8


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    Is Tucson too far from where you live? If I wanted to go back to school to study astronomy, U of A would be my choice. They don't just have classroom stuff - if you're so inclined, you might be able to branch out into the engineering side of astronomy. They have facilities for casting and figuring mirrors, making instruments, etc.
  10. Nov 11, 2008 #9
    I don't think you're crazy at all. Back when I was in undergrad one of my TAs was a lady who was about your age. And some of the students in my department are also non-traditional students.

    I'll respectfully disagree with others who have stated here that credentials are meaningless. Reading physics books written to general audiences is always fun. But to really learn physics, I've found that I need to do so in a classroom setting. It's something about having the pressure of homework and exams that forces me to understand the material. If you're interested in learning physics at a fairly deep level, getting an undergraduate degree is the best way to go.

    And if you decide to go to grad school four years down the road, just remember that it's free (actually they pay you a small salary).
  11. Nov 11, 2008 #10
    I'll speak for myself that by the end of my undergrad term, I really abhored physics. This eventually wore off after a year or two. It was precisely because I was forced to learn things I didn't care about that turned me off ( electronics--blah! ). Please don't say it was for my own good. I don't want to hear it.
    The irony is a got a job with the phone company ( more electronics--blah! ). I never liked that job anyways.
    Save your money. All you're getting is the "pressure" and regimentation. Remember too, that "midnight oil" eventually burns away with age.
  12. Nov 11, 2008 #11
    I say just try it. Since you don't really mind not getting a degree, then you could easily take a year of classes and see what it's like again. I'd say though, if you decide to start, definately give it a year of full time study to see if you 'really' do want to continue. I noticed with myself that after a years time of pressure and expectation (mostly of myself) that I enjoyed it. Some people don't get that enjoyment, others do. If you do then you will love getting the degree in physics. You'll start to develop the attitude of: 'what is around the next corner that will at first be confusing and then I will fully understand after hours of hard thinking?'. If that starts to happen then you will be well on your way to a long relationship with physics.

    P.S. Grad school being free is a huge plus too.
  13. Nov 11, 2008 #12
    Older Guy, there's someone (~50?) here at Purdue University who is part-way through doing what you've contemplating. He had a career in international business for many years, and now is coming back to school because he always loved physics, but in his home country growing up it didn't make for a viable career. Now he's on his way to an astrophysics PhD.

    I'll have to disagree with Helios, because in a Physics program you get access to physics professors and equipment, something you don't get in your living room.

    If you'd like to get in contact with the guy from Purdue here, send me a private message and I'll ask him if he'd be okay with me giving you his contact info.

    Best of luck.
  14. Nov 11, 2008 #13
    who says you need to read general audience books? go to any university bookstore, or even amazon, and pick your course books. the way i see it, you being an attorney and all, is you've already been there for 8 years and i'm sure they drilled you enough that you know how to learn. the only thing you'd get out of being in college is access to labs, but i dont think one studies physics for labs.

    college rushes through whatever courses you are taking, so you get a very shallow understanding of it all. i find i need the summer after to really get things, even though i get high grades...

    and what does it mean you get access to professors? even if they find time to help you, you'll get a whopping 10 minutes a week if even that. the only downside is that you won't have access to lectures where they show you all the connections between the material. but its just peripheral stuff anyway.
  15. Nov 11, 2008 #14


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    Congrats! Go for it! With a masters degree, you could teach community college, or work as an adjunct or part-time prof at some universities. And a degree is a great way to find out more about the subject you love. Yes, U of A is the best school for astronomy in AZ, but ASU has a good department as well - Jeff Hester is there, he's a great teacher, Lawrence Krauss, who's written quite a few books on popular physics, James Rhodes, who's a big name in gamma ray burst research, and quite a few others.
  16. Nov 11, 2008 #15
    Thank you all for your well thought out responses. I truly appreciate it. With some trepidation, but with great determination, I am going to give it a shot. I'm basically retiring from law after having my own practice for many years. I have the time and the resources to pour myself into the subject, and frankly I can only handle so much golf and cruises. To me this is a journey that involves not only learning, but meeting new like-minded friends in a university environment where I have always excelled. As my wife said - "it will get you out of the house." I did think about the U of Arizona as they have a great program there, but my daughter just started there as a freshman this year and would never speak to me again if I went to her school, and, god forbid, finish my degree before her. I have many transfer credits already and can probably complete the degree in less than 3 years. In any event, its not so much the end game as it is the journey for me. What better way to spend the second half of my life than seeking answers to the greatest questions that occupy the minds of man. I'll keep you posted, and thanks again!
  17. Nov 11, 2008 #16


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    Go to U of A!!!!! ASU cheerleaders/dancers have been suspended for posing in their underwear. Hopefully U of A cheerleader are still free to frolic in bra and panties.
  18. Nov 11, 2008 #17
    I'd tell your daughter to grow up and then I would go to the UA. The weather is great here (mid 70s today) and the city is surrounded by some of the largest telescopes in the World. Also just a few minutes drive out of Tucson the sky is so dark that one can see stars nearly on the horizon. This is the place for astronomy nuts. No question.
  19. Nov 12, 2008 #18
    If you can afford it, and you enjoy it, why not carry on with school? If you hit a bad course (like my MSc astrophysics course) then you can just drop out and do another course, or just read the books that take our fancy. You're in a much better position than most youngsters trying to be scientists! Having enough money to do just what you want, and tell bad lecturers to "go hang", is a great position to be in. If you do hit (not literally!!) an atrocious lecturer who fails his students then use your legal skills to sue the bum! No smiley, I mean it. There is nothing better you could do for the young kids trying to learn...
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