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Yikes! one more (thought) experiment in wannabe physicist syndrome

  1. Aug 18, 2011 #1
    one more (thought) experiment in wannabe physicist syndrome


    Here is my situation:

    graduation: 10 + 2 + 3
    graduation year: 1994
    Subjects: Chemistry (major), Botany, Zoology - 55%
    graduation till now: working in software (11 years)
    Age: 37

    I have read "How to be a theoretical physicist" and "So you want to be a physicist". Based on that and other reading, best way I can think of learning physics is by entering into graduate program in US university through GRE and TOEFL (not sure if TOEFL is necessary).

    Questions I have:

    - It would take me couple of years at least to get ready for GRE by studying maths\physics (self-study from bottom up and bottom is pretty deep). If I manage to get good score based on score and score alone (no recommendation letters), is there a chance\how I can get scholarship?
    - Is it better to go for undergraduate course instead?
    - If I cannot get scholarship, can I work in US part time using my software industry experience?
    - If I manage to get PhD, would there be employment, given I will be somewhere around 45?

    looking forward to brutal honesty,
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2011
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 19, 2011 #2
    If you don't have any background in Physics then the last thing you want to do is jump straight into a graduate program. I realize you have a Chemistry major but that isn't going to help you... especially with graduate level physics.

    Someone might have a different opinion to mine so don't take mine as the only route you can take. But I would recommend enrolling in a Physics Major program. Self-studying from the bottom up would be a monolithic task, especially if you wish to prepare for graduate studies; not to mention it would likely take you the length of a formal physics major anyway, if not longer since you have been out of school for so long.

    I don't have a reasonable response to your other questions.
  4. Aug 19, 2011 #3
    Re: one more (thought) experiment in wannabe physicist syndrome

    I think the first thing you need to do is ask yourself exactly why you want to be a physicist? Why do you want to dedicate next minimum 7-8 years towards earning a Phd in physics? What experience with physics do you have that has convinced you that this is what you want to do with the rest of your life? What area in physics do you think you are cut out for? And what do you want to add to the field?
  5. Aug 19, 2011 #4
    Thanks for the replies.

    @Saladsamurai - The only reason why I know I want to be a physicist is because I always wanted to be. I could not go for it because circumstances made me busy in earning the living as soon as possible. I have been thinking about Astronomy mainly. All sounds cheesy, I know but that's how I feel.
    @Clever-name: Thanks. That would mean 3 years of undergraduate and around 5 years of graduate course right?

    Of course all this may mean I am way too late but I would still appreciate replies\suggestions.

  6. Aug 19, 2011 #5


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    Lets suppose for a moment that you had the discipline to do self study and absolutely nail that end of the work.

    What about lab work?

    One reason university uses the classroom, lab, and lecture environment is that many humans just can't have the motivation to do everything on their own. It's not that humans are lazy, it's just that its really hard. I do see learning evolving to models that minimize the classroom and lecture environment, but that is just substituted with things like forums, and broadcast lectures like in the MIT case. People will always have misunderstandings, questions, and inconsistencies which mean that some sort of social interaction to clear this up is necessary (PF does a good job in this regard).

    Don't be hard on yourself if you find it hard to go it alone, especially for something like physics, because its normal. Physics is hard. Math is hard. It's just how things are and working through this in a university environment is a smart route to learning and a good investment if you want to pursue things as a career.

    It doesn't stop you from learning things on your own and I strongly encourage you to do this, because developing a critical mind and being open to ideas is a very important attribute of being a scientist. But I think you'll find being able to talk to like minded people about physics or even problems on your problem set will help you immensely.

    In my opinion, the kind of person you would have to be to go it alone is someone like Nikola Tesla, or Thomas Edison. It's a very extreme kind of personality, and not many people have that makeup to put that kind of absolute focus needed to really succeed in something like physics (I'm talking about personality type, and not about intellect, IQ, or anything relevant to that).
  7. Aug 19, 2011 #6
    I would enroll in the undergraduate program actually. The only reason I say this is because since you already have a degree, I think a university may let you skip the "general ed" courses. If thats the case, with a lot of work you could probably finish a physics degree in 3 years. I was going to first suggest just taking the upper level undergraduate courses and then going right to grad school(which would probably take 1.5-2 years), but I think this may be forcing things too quickly. The best thing you can do is get a solid understanding of the basics.
  8. Aug 19, 2011 #7
    depending on how much time you have and the time you devote to physics and math, it may not be worth it, unless you REALLY REALLY want to do it. If you do I'd maybe suggest going to a community college for a year to brush up on some math (depends on how rusty you are with algebra, calculus, and trig). You could probably get scholarships your undergrad years (maybe I'm not really sure, you should contact the college) for going back to school at a later age (continuing education).
  9. Aug 20, 2011 #8
    Thanks for the replies. I was thinking that could start with grad school instead of undergrad somehow because:
    a) My higher secondary score is way too less (45%). So there should be some university which would allow me to enter based on TOEFL and SAT and related exams and without recommendation letters.
    b) I would rather complete undergrad in home country (India) but with 44% there aren't many colleges that will allow me to take Physics Chemistry Mathematics as subjects and those that may would not have great rankings in education.
    c) Although I have been working for last 11 years, I cannot afford to pay for 4 years of undergrad (+1 if I go as aspiring_one suggested) without financial aid or working part time off campus. Financial aid for undergrads are very scarce to come by and working off campus (in case in campus isn't available) requires DSO authorization it seems. And DSO authorization is difficult to come by so I have read. I would rather go for part time H1B and study full time but then there are complications in that scenario as well.

    Again, would appreciate any responses, don't intend to give up.

  10. Aug 20, 2011 #9


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    I think you're confused on how entrance to graduate school works. It's based on your undergraduate performance, consisting largely of your undergraduate GPA, with some weight added to the GRE, reference letters and possibly any research experience. Undergraduate enterance exam scores such as the SAT have no bearing on graduate admissions.

    If you have not completed an undergraduate degree in the subject you intend to study in graduate school (or a closely related field) you simply won't qualify for admission to graduate school.

    The other issue is that if you struggled with whatever level of studies you had in the past - why are things going to be any different now? They can be different, of course, but it's best you understand how and why before you invest substantial time and money into something you haven't been successful in in the past.
  11. Aug 20, 2011 #10
    Yes, I am aware of SAT having no bearing on graduate admissions.

    I am confused now. I always thought that if I can get through qualifying exams, GRE for masters and university's qualifying exams for PhD, I should be able to get in. Did you mean something different?

    Well put. But how am I to find out without trying? Given the fact that my score\percentage is 10 + 2 is low, I was considering doing bachelors here in India using distance education. The lab work is still done but I don't have attend classes. If I could get good score would it matter that it is a distance program when taking admission in masters abroad? The distance program, from my point of view, seeming to be only second chance I can see right now.

  12. Aug 20, 2011 #11
    While it doesn't explicitly state 'degree in X' required to enter a graduate program in the same subject there is a general consensus that without formal undergrad education in the subject then you will fail miserably in graduate school.

    The MIT admissions information states this: "Applicants are required to complete the Record of Courses Taken in Preparation for Graduate Study form."

    Maybe this is something completely different, but to me that means you need formal undergrad education and you need to state the courses you have taken that qualify you for grad studies.
  13. Aug 20, 2011 #12
    Assuming that it means exactly what you think it means, would http://www.universalteacher4u.com/univ/ignou/bsc-bachelor-science.htm" [Broken] undergrad course be okay? Again it's a distance learning course. And if you cannot tell me, is there a way to find out for example by contacting individual departments in each universities?

    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  14. Aug 20, 2011 #13
    No offense meant, but that is not a reason. And you should seriously get aware of that and re-ask yourself the question Saladsamurai asked (especially if "because I always wanted" really is the only motivation). I think your plan switching to physics is pointless and silly, but that's just my impression from this thread. Much more important is what you think (I don't know you after all, not to mention that I am just some anonymous stranger on the Internet). I think the decision to seriously go into physics at the age of 37 with pretty much no background should be based on more intellectual effort than "I always felt I want to become a physicist". In case there is any doubt about it: you are not going to get into a permanent position in university research.

    Again: no offense meant, and you are completely free to disregard my concern. I just don't feel being overly polite and vague is appropriate when people are asking serious questions about their future.
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2011
  15. Aug 20, 2011 #14
    None taken.

    Thank you! That helps a lot (no pun intended). The only question now is whether I stay in the field where I don't really want to be even though money is good or try to do something in field where I always thought I should be with no money.

    BTW, I would still appreciate much if anyone would care to comment on http://www.universalteacher4u.com/univ/ignou/bsc-bachelor-science.htm" [Broken] as a way of getting admission into masters.

    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
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