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Graduate program, 8 years out, couple questions

Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2008 8:19 am
by justwondering
I have an undergrad business degree, so on my official transcript, it does not list anything remotely related to physics. However, I audited all the physics courses that were available at my school, had good showings on Putnam, and scored 900+ on the GRE, taken senior year.

However, I've been working at a hedge fund (DE Shaw) for the past eight years and have no formal academic experience (research, publication, etc). I'm 29 now, looking to apply in a couple years. Could you all offer some insight into what I might expect when that time comes? And also, if you could suggest how I might consider spending the next 1-1.5 years to immerse myself into the physics community?

Thanks!

Re: Graduate program, 8 years out, couple questions

Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2008 11:49 am
by dlenmn
I can't help with your question, but I am a little curious about DE Shaw -- an unsolicited email from them snuck through my spam filter this morning, and I figured it was a standard internet hoax. Apparently it was not. What is it like there? I figure that in 8 years, I may well be doing this transition in the other direction, so a little advanced research couldn't hurt...

Re: Graduate program, 8 years out, couple questions

Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2008 2:24 pm
by grae313
justwondering wrote:I have an undergrad business degree, so on my official transcript, it does not list anything remotely related to physics. However, I audited all the physics courses that were available at my school, had good showings on Putnam, and scored 900+ on the GRE, taken senior year.

However, I've been working at a hedge fund (DE Shaw) for the past eight years and have no formal academic experience (research, publication, etc). I'm 29 now, looking to apply in a couple years. Could you all offer some insight into what I might expect when that time comes? And also, if you could suggest how I might consider spending the next 1-1.5 years to immerse myself into the physics community?

Thanks!


Two issues.

1. How long do GRE scores last? I thought they were only valid for 5 years or something. You may need to retake the exam.

2. If you audit a class, it means you don't officially have a grade, right? This might cause problems during the application process.

Check on the GRE thing first. Then, I would call up a graduate program and explain your case, and ask them if you meet the *official* (bureaucratic) requirements for admission. If so, you'll want some physics research experience. If you call up a couple programs and they tell you that you are a candidate for admission, you'll want to secure a research position for the next year and a half. Also, if you impressed any physics professors during your audits, a letter of recommendation from them would help. That's a long time ago. Anyone that would remember you? You'll want letters from people that can speak about your potential as a physics researcher.

Remember, the entire goal of your application is to demonstrate that you will be a successful physics student and researcher during grad school, and then proceed to have a successful career afterwards. In my opinion, your background won't hurt you--it may even help by making you stand out. You still need to demonstrate that you are passionate about physics and capable of successfully completing a PhD program, and you need to meet official requirements.

Re: Graduate program, 8 years out, couple questions

Posted: Mon Jul 21, 2008 9:23 pm
by dlenmn
grae313 wrote:How long do GRE scores last? I thought they were only valid for 5 years or something. You may need to retake the exam.


A good point.

"Current GRE Board policy states that scores are reportable for five years."

If you held on to your score report, maybe a school would accept that if you explain your situation.

Re: Graduate program, 8 years out, couple questions

Posted: Tue Jul 22, 2008 10:33 am
by twistor
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.

Re: Graduate program, 8 years out, couple questions

Posted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 9:01 am
by bronco199
I second twistor's opinion.
I hate to be the pessimist, but to be clear, it would be quite difficult for you to get into any decent physics graduate program because
1. You have no research experience. Grad school in physics is not just school, its also somewhat of a job that you need skills for (research skills), so research experience is crucial.

2. You have no formal training in physics.

3. Any knowledge you gained in physics has become extremely rusty. The old adage in physics it that you do your best work in your twenties - and there is some truth to it. Even if you had an undergrad degree in physics from a top notch undergrad school, it wouldn't mean much after almost a decade of not doing anything physics related.

so, why give up a stable, well-paying job for an uncertain and dull looking future? If you really like physics so much, then pursue it on your own. The more more money you have, the more fun stuff you can do. So, if that means studying physics books or reading Feynmann lectures in a big comfy leather chair in you living room, do that.

Re: Graduate program, 8 years out, couple questions

Posted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 7:30 pm
by fermiboy
I'm going to disagree with some of the others here. I say go for it, you only live once, and if you really want to do physics then do it. Leather chairs and BMW's are nice, but you can't take them with you when you die. I think a life full of intellectual challenge is way more rewarding than a life filled with material things and no challenge.

Re: Graduate program, 8 years out, couple questions

Posted: Wed Jul 23, 2008 10:53 pm
by dlenmn
One of the guys in the group I worked in went photo journalism -> patent law -> physics grad student. He had no physics experience prior to the science training necessary to become a patent attorney (which was enough to pique his interest in physics). Even though it's the opposite direction that most people go, the fellow seems quite happy with his choice and is good at what he does. You can probably do it as well. If it turns out that you don't like it, you'll likely have little trouble finding a "real job" again.

Re: Graduate program, 8 years out, couple questions

Posted: Thu Jul 24, 2008 10:05 am
by noojens
Mmm, leather chairs.

Re: Graduate program, 8 years out, couple questions

Posted: Mon Jul 28, 2008 7:19 am
by justwondering
Thank you all for the feedback. FYI, I have contacted several admissions reps, and generally, they've said they usually prefer candidates at max 2-3 yrs removed from undergrad, but that my candidacy would be valid upon retaking coursework and the gre, updating recs, and getting some research experience. So no different from what's been said here. Re: DE Shaw -- fulfilling, challenging workplace w/ diverse and intelligent ppl.

Again, thanks for the feedback.