31 yo with a fam - Physics is my passion

Post Reply
Posts: 1
Joined: Mon Apr 29, 2013 1:38 pm

31 yo with a fam - Physics is my passion

Post by planethunter » Mon Apr 29, 2013 1:48 pm

Hello everyone, I am brand new to this site. I used to post occasionally on physicsforums but feel that this site is more appropriate for my question.

I am 31 years old and received my bs in math in 2005. I am currently working through an mba which i will finish next fall. For the last 5 years I have been working in systems and programming for a public sector agency. It pays pretty good and I have enjoyed the programming most of all, but deep down inside I miss physics.

I started an ms in physics a couple of years ago (took graduate E&M, QM, classical mechanics) and got some good grades. I left the ms program since I felt that I could promote at my job now with an mba rather than with anything related to physics.

This is still true but I miss pursuing physics. I ultimately can see myself becoming an astrophysicist or researcher. I have some UG courses in physics as well, and I study and read as much about it as I can.

I was told by a reputable university a couple of years back that with a good physics GRE score I could probably get into a phd program without much UG work in physics. Is this true? Say if I was to self-study using something like Halladay and Resnick, Griffiths, etc and got a good enough score- would my chances be good to get into a program?

I have a family and relatively stable job but am missing the thrill of physics. Would a year of self study, getting a good score on the PGRE be worth it (in terms of the possibility of getting into a good grad program and subsequent job outlook)?

Thanks to all for reading this post

Posts: 66
Joined: Tue Mar 27, 2012 6:19 pm

Re: 31 yo with a fam - Physics is my passion

Post by Lavabug » Mon Apr 29, 2013 2:16 pm

planethunter wrote:(in terms of the possibility of getting into a good grad program and subsequent job outlook)?
Yes and no, respectively.

It is well documented that in order to have any chance to compete for a permanent job in research you will have to do roughly 6 years of post-doc'ing, wherever that takes you. This translates to moving countries every 1-3 years during that time, assuming you procure post-docs one after the other.

If you're a programmer in the states, you will earn much less than one half of what you currently earn both during your time in the phd and your time spent post-doc'ing(some make accommodations for a spouse+kids), so that's at least 10 years. If you can deal with those conditions, can get a good score on the GRE's, and are willing to put up with very open age discrimination (see my recent thread), then go for it. Your performance on grad courses should drive home the point in your application that you are prepared, more so than a 990 on the PGRE most likely.

User avatar
Posts: 1031
Joined: Tue Jan 09, 2007 6:13 am

Re: 31 yo with a fam - Physics is my passion

Post by quizivex » Wed May 01, 2013 1:22 pm

The forum is usually dead this time of year. So your best bet to get useful information is to look through the Transitioning to Physics from a non-physics field subforum. There are a lot of threads by people who contemplated starting physics grad school after many years away from the field. I usually advise against it. Most people who have similar dreams of becoming a scientist and go to physics grad school even at age 22 never become a scientist. Some drop out early, and some finish but eventually get forced out of the field when they don't get a permanent research/professorship position. You can certainly get into a graduate program at your age... but most likely it will just disrupt your lifestyle (and your family) and won't lead anywhere.

I close with an epic quote by Twistor on a similar thread.
twistor on Tue Jul 22, 2008 10:33 am wrote:I think that you should not give up your stable life and income for fanciful dreams of science. Changing careers now would be an incredibly difficult transition and you be forced to make significant lifestyle changes as you re-enter school.

Posts: 1203
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: 31 yo with a fam - Physics is my passion

Post by bfollinprm » Wed May 01, 2013 2:30 pm

If you really want to switch fields, it's certainly possible. As a programmer with a math background, you probably have a set of skills that are marketable to a research group, so you could consider volunteering some time to them in exchange for some experience and a rec letter. As long as you're not dead set on MIT (you shouldn't be, you should pick a school that's in a cheaper neighborhood than Cambridge), you should have a good chance of getting into somewhere interesting...everyone is right, though; this will cause a major lifestyle change for you, your wife, and your kids. You'll live at or near the poverty line for the next 6-10 years, so be prepared for that.

After graduation, the job outlook is tough for everyone. Most physics PhDs become programmers (oh, the irony!), teachers, or analysts. You're probably not risking being unemployed afterwards, but you are risking investing ~10 years of your life into getting the PhD and ending up essentially back where you started. A Doctor of Philosophy is definitely not career-oriented.

Post Reply