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Where to start, for knowledge?

  1. Jun 13, 2012 #1
    Hello everybody.

    I am brand new to the forum, and to physics, so please forgive me if I am a total noob, or if I do not adhere to a guideline.

    Quick background about who I am so you know where I am coming from:

    I am a 22 year old licensed personal banker living in queens working in manhattan. I graduated with a BBA in economics from Temple University. I will soon be a loan officer assistant making somewhere between $100k-$130k. My mom is in finance, and to me it is common sense. Some people are more naturally inclined to some subjects (duh) and for me it is finance/economics. I know a lot, it is common sense to me, and I know a lot of people in the industry, and I am #1 at my bank.

    I am not interested in Physics for any sort of money at all, as I do not think Physics is the road to riches. I am just extremely, extremely curious. WHen I was young my mom would call me the question man. I always ask why, why, why, for anything and everything. Usually, the answers ot my questions are physics related. I want to know how everything works. Everything. I also have a way over active frontal lobe. It is hard for me to concentrate on one subject, because I want to learn 100, and then I try to learn all 100 at once and wind up learning nothing.

    So one way or another I will learn about this at some point in my life (I may wind up postponing it for a few years to earn my MBA and CFA, but I will get to it soon). And if I somehow took it all the way to the PhD level later in life I could use that for a hedge fund.

    So, with this quick summary, here are my options:

    1) Accept I can't learn everything, realize that specializing in one thing will get me the furthest, and just casually read physics in my free time

    2) Learn as much as I can with a lot of my free time. This makes the most sense to me because it is cheap and I have my own schedule. Unfortunately, I won't have a lab setting and if I am making my own schedule, without structure, I may not know where to start and end up trying to learn too many things at once like I previously said, and learn nothing.

    3) Take part time classes. Could be a lot to handle, esp with a full time job, and costs a lot of money which might be a "waste" since I won't actually be using it for a career, just for knowledge...paying for the education, not the degree. Also, would it be possible to get a BS or BA in physics without having to retake english, and all those other core classes I already took to get my econ degree?

    4) Completely stop what I am doing, drop my job and go full-fledged into physics. Probably not the best idea since I will be way behind my peers at this point

    I know there are other options but I have to run, just posting a quick thought. Anybody with advice, I greatly appreciate it.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 13, 2012 #2
    It seems I am in a similar boat to you, coming from a totally different field going into physics.

    I am however planning on going to University (again again again...). The first 3 times around have been in a totally different field and it wasn't untill a few months ago I realised that I could go into Physics. Of course I need to finish some classes in high level Physics, Math and Chemistry, which I never took back in high school. I'm quite happy about this though, since I will get a taste of it before I jump feet first into Physics.

    So I reckon the best thing for you would be to have a taste of it somehow. If you feel that you would be wasting money taking classes, how about renting some very basic books, get your pen and paper out and go through it more or less page per page to begin with. Perhaps 1 hour a day or every second day. Whatever fits your schedule.

    I'm pretty much doing the same, albeit this is for classes I already took, but since that is quite some years back and the fact that I have to start out with high level math (goes C, B and A here in Denmark) in August, I decided to go freshen up everything. I bet you could ask for help in these forums if you hit a wall (at least I hope I can).

    Of course this demands a good amount of self discipline.
  4. Jun 13, 2012 #3
    Wow, it must be rough never taking a vacation or going to see a movie because it would be a waste and wouldn't help your career! :smile:

    Seriously, I don't think education is *ever* a waste. Go take a few courses and see if you *really* enjoy it. (You'll probably need a lot of extra math as well as physics courses, unless you had taken calculus, linear algebra, and differential equations as part of your economics degree.)

    As for getting an actual degree, you'd have to talk to the particular university to see which if any credits could be used for a second bachelor's. Alternatively, after you had taken most of the undergrad physics courses, you could go straight for an MS. (I did something similar to this long after doing a CS degree. I took a year to do most of the upper division physics courses through an Open University program (read: show up and write a check and they'll let you take anything), and then applied to the university's MS program. Having an engineering background, I already had most of the math I needed.)

    Good luck!
  5. Jun 13, 2012 #4
    Yes, I do not consider it a waste either, I am just saying that is what it could be perceived as.
    Only problem is I will probably work close to 60 hours a week, school might be another 35 part time, maybe I wont ever see my family.

    Alternatively I could just make a boatload of money for liek 5-7 years, then quit my job and just learn and use my savings to fund a small business or trade stocks on the side (I am good at that) and live off the earnings. Knowledge > money, and this is coming from a finance guy, which is rare I guess, haha.

    Yes I would like to go straight to MS after ungrad. I am not so concerned with the degree thoughh as much as I am just understanding the material.
  6. Jun 13, 2012 #5
    An option you may not have considered is to find a local university and look at their physics program. For each course that interests you, find out which book they typically use (easiest just to use their online bookstore if it's running that term) and start reading. Instead of taking classes, hire a grad (or undergrad) student to tutor you through the material and answer your questions. The obvious pros are cost, flexibility, and more importantly one on one interaction.
  7. Jun 13, 2012 #6
    Wow, I can't believe I didn't think about that, that is a great idea!

    I guess since I do have an undergrad degree, if I did that, and I learned the material well, I could still get an MS without having an undergrad degree in physics right?
  8. Jun 13, 2012 #7


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    try reading thinking physics by lewis carroll epstein. then maybe the universe and dr einstein, and the feynman lectures.
  9. Jun 14, 2012 #8
    The problem is still convincing a school to admit you. That's where taking actual courses helps... anyone can claim they read the textbook cover to cover, but if you can point to a transcript, it helps. (In my case, I was in the process of taking the senior year physics electives when I applied. They admitted me on the condition that I completed them with at least a 'B'.)
  10. Jun 14, 2012 #9


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    There are two issues here:

    1. You have no ability to formally show that you have the knowledge. How is a school going to evaluate your ability?

    2. "Reading" a book in physics is different than being able to handle problems when given. A lot of things look "easy" on the surface. However, it is when one digs deeper and look at many subtle issues is when it requires a deeper understanding. You cannot learn physics simply by reading. You can only learn it by DOING.

  11. Jun 14, 2012 #10
    I agree largely with your post, however I don't like the very last sentence. A substantial number of undergrads in all fields will only take classes without finding relevant experience elsewhere (e.g. working in a lab, researching, etc). They never "do" anything besides read their books or listen to lecture; college courses are nearly always passive. It's probably a true sentiment, though it's certainly not true that you don't learn from reading.

    If the OP decides on grad school, it will be quite a challenge to convince the committee of your ability and comprehension, but master programs are much more likely to take a risk than undergraduate or phd committees I think. A strong subject GRE should be some testament at least.
  12. Jun 14, 2012 #11


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    When I say "DOING", I don't mean as in working in a lab, although that is part of it. I mean as in working through a problem and examples, rather than just reading passively.

    And depending on how good a physics program is, at some point, a student is expected to be in a lab to do more advanced experiments, etc.

  13. Jun 14, 2012 #12


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    As others have said, you have to "prove" you have the knowledge.

    I know somebody who got a PhD in Engineering from the University of Sarajevo. Unfortunately he didn't have any proof of that, since all the copies of his thesis finished up under the rubble on a bomb site in the war zone. He eventually got to the UK as an asylum seeker (his official status back home was "Bosnian army deserter" which was somewhat career-limiting, not to mention life-limiting) and wanted to work as a postdoc. He was accepted by Imperial College London, but only on condition that he spent the first year taking some graduate level courses and passing the exams. He did without any trouble, but the point of the story is that nobody was going to just take his word for it about how much he knew.
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