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Trying to understand why I am studying physics

  1. Sep 20, 2015 #1

    I need to ask for help in understanding my own behaviour towards physics so that I can either set some proper long term goals in the area, or alternatively move on to something else. I hope that by sharing my experience I might be able to get some feedback that would help me make sense of my own motivations...

    The (odd) situation is that I a stubbornly unable to let go of studying physics. I graduated ~25 years ago with a multi-sciences degree from a top university; without really knowing what to do I went into business and now I run my own professional firm and have a happy family life. It's been successful. But I've never felt 100% satisfied intellectually since I finished full time education.

    As I look back at the last decade I'm amazed at how much of my free time I have been devoting to physics, without ever really realizing what I was doing. I've build a radio telescope, written sophisticated software for astro-imaging and taught myself quite a lot of electronics. For three years I hired and worked with a physics tutor on a weekly basis to cover the best areas of 2nd/3rd year undergraduate physics, doing a significant number of problems in the process. Now I either find fresh topics to study under my own direction or revise what I studied before. Amazon grows rich as my library of hardback physics books builds!

    I have at the back of my mind the idea of applying for a masters and then perhaps an experimentally based PhD at some point. It would be a few years until I have time, but there seem to be many encouraging success stories along the same lines.

    What I can't quite understand is why I am doing all this? I entertain no illusions about becoming an academic in some magical second career, the research I read about in Nature strikes me as specialized into very narrow fields of interest, and frankly I'd much rather carry on earning a living doing what I am doing than start again at the bottom of another highly competitive career ladder. Despite all this, physics keeps sucking me back in week after week and month after month and I spend hours and hours studying and working...

    As I mentioned at the start of the post I'd really prefer to set some long term goals and focus myself towards them to get up to the next level, or just give up and get over it and open a new door somewhere else. To do that I somehow need to understand my own motivations more exactly.

    Help very much appreciated with any ideas as to what the diagnosis of my condition might be... :-)
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 20, 2015 #2
    It seems like your goal is to just know a lot about physics. If you're not interested in certification, then getting more textbooks and learning on your own is an option. If you are, and you're in a position in life in which you can handle going back to school for a few years part time or full time, then first, look into what it would take to finish a bachelor's degree--you say you had a multi-sciences degree. See how much of that would transfer to a physics degree. See if (if they're required where you live) all your extra electives will transfer. Being out of school for a while, you may want to look into getting a bachelor's in physics first.

    After that (or even as your first step), if I were you, I'd get a master's degree--if you're financially able, and if you don't plan on using your degree in your career. A Ph.D, it seems to me, would be overkill unless you actually want to go work at a lab, as an industrial physicist, or in academia. The Ph.D is just the master's degree, except you have to do your own independent research and write a dissertation on it. In terms of coursework, the master's gets almost as much exposure to graduate level coursework.
  4. Sep 20, 2015 #3


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    If you graduated from college ~25 years ago, you'll probably be staring 50 in the face shortly. What sort of "long-term" goals do you want to set at that age? Most people start winding things up professionally by that point. It's kinda late to be thinking about second careers and stuff, especially when there are a lot of younger people out there who have had trouble starting first careers.
  5. Sep 20, 2015 #4
    I am a (relativly to you) young Physics major and first I wanted to tell you it's amazing that you are so intrasted in Physics and made so much prograss, you sound like you enjoy learning for its own sake. I think axmls wrote a good respose, if you just want to study on your own and do your own projects that's great, if you find the time to work and do anything else you want, what's the problem?

    Anyways, I think you should go for what you want, even if it's going back to school at your age. You can't turn back time, but why should that stop you? See what can you do in your capacity to get you closer to your goal.

    I am sorry I don't have much advice, I am not exerianced, but I also had a dream I thought I was too old to persue but I went for it. It didn't turn out the best but I have no regrets which meant I could move on to the next chapter of my life which is learning Physics.
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