Advice on going back to grad school AND changing my major

codemonkey
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Joined: Sun Aug 02, 2009 8:42 pm

Advice on going back to grad school AND changing my major

Postby codemonkey » Sun Aug 02, 2009 9:08 pm

I recently graduated in May of 2006 with a degree in Software Engineering, and I've been working in the industry since September of that same year. I've always planned on getting my Master's degree, but I've recently started to think that maybe I don't want to get my Master's in a programming discipline. I program accounting software for a career, and I've realized that the only part of the job that I truly love is the math/logic based problem solving. I don't really love programming like some other people do, because for me the language is just another tool to solve a problem; I could be just as satisfied modelling something in an Excel spreadsheet as I could in C++. Furthermore, since my school had a very small Software Engineering department a large portion of the classes I took were actually "Masters" level courses. If I put time and energy into getting a Masters degree, I want to actually learn something new and not just get a piece of paper.

So, long story short, I'm wondering if anyone has any insight or advice as to what might be involved switching my focus from Software to Physics in order to eventually apply to a Masters program. I'm assuming I'm going to have to take some additional classes in order to meet prerequisite requirements and prepare for the Physics GRE, but I have no idea what classes I might need to take. On the upside, my Engineering degree involved a lot of math (off the top of my head the only Math I think I'm lacking is Differential Equations), but unfortunately I only took Physics 1 and 2 and nothing more advanced.

Any information would be appreciated; I'm having a hard time finding the right information through Google and I'm at a loss as to where to start this whole process.

excel
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Re: Advice on going back to grad school AND changing my major

Postby excel » Sun Aug 02, 2009 10:32 pm

My first reaction is that you should consider a higher degree in applied math rather than in physics, based on every consideration- ease of admission for you, your interest, chances of doing well in the program, and utility of a masters degree.

I suggest that you look into applied math programs-- their admission requirements, background requirements, focus and utility. If after that, what I said does not make sense to you, I will be happy to expand on why I suggested applied math rather than physics.

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noojens
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Re: Advice on going back to grad school AND changing my major

Postby noojens » Mon Aug 03, 2009 10:15 am

Not to be rude, but why physics?

All you really said is that you want a master's degree in something other than CS. Do have any actual interest in physics? Because grad physics courses are hard, a lot harder than any CS I've ever taken (which is a fair amount), and you'll need some seriously good reasons to keep yourself studying.

Also, a MS in physics is kind of useless unless you go on to a PhD.. a MS is mostly regarded as the consolation prize for people who can't or choose not to complete a physics PhD.

If all you want is a higher degree, I can think of a dozen that are easier and more useful than physics. Physics is something you do because you're passionate about it, not to build your resume.

codemonkey
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Joined: Sun Aug 02, 2009 8:42 pm

Re: Advice on going back to grad school AND changing my major

Postby codemonkey » Tue Aug 04, 2009 7:42 pm

Excel, I'll look a bit deeper into Applied Math, but at first glance it doesn't appear to be for me. It appears to be based around using established mathematical techniques to solve real world problems, when what I truly want is to chart new territory and develop new techniques to solve problems. If you could expound upon why you suggested Applied Math, I'd be interested to see why you suggested it. Math in general may be the course for me; I'm not at all concerned about my interest in physics nor my chances of doing well in a physics program because I'm quite confident confident in my academic abilities. However, ease of admission is an issue because I'm almost 29 and spending a few years working on prerequisites just to get in to a good school may make the whole process too time consuming.

Noojens, the reason I'm considering physics is because throughout school it was always the class that excited me the most and that I've gained the most satisfaction from. And in reading up on topics beyond what was covered in class outside of school, I've been fascinated by things like Quantum theory. I don't think I've spent enough time engrossed in physics to say that I'm truly passionate about it, but thats more from a lack of exposure than anything else. However, it does interest me more than any other mathematical or scientific discipline which is why I'd like to explore it.

In general, my immediate goal is to get the qualifications necessary to get involved in things that are more research oriented. My internship was working with a team of Physics and Math PhD's on a DARPA project, and I got a lot of satisfaction exploring new technologies and contributing to the teams research in a substantial manner. My long term goal is to pursue a PhD and eventually teach. My goal is not to improve my resume, which is why I said that I'm not at all interested in getting a piece of paper that will make me more employable or able to command a higher salary. In my short time at my current job I've made quite an impact and I'm not concerned about my employment prospects if I were to look for another job. Rather, I'm concerned with not using my intellect to it's full ability. I want to learn new things in a field that I find fascinating, and I want to pursue work that maximizes the things I've discovered I like about my job (mathematics, problem solving, creating logical structures which are internally consistent) while minimizing the things I dislike (dealing with antiquated technology and poor solutions by predecessors, responding to an overwhelming set of demands from the market, etc.)

Thanks for the input thus far.

marten
Posts: 134
Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2007 10:21 am

Re: Advice on going back to grad school AND changing my major

Postby marten » Tue Aug 04, 2009 9:51 pm

codemonkey wrote:
So, long story short, I'm wondering if anyone has any insight or advice as to what might be involved switching my focus from Software to Physics in order to eventually apply to a Masters program. I'm assuming I'm going to have to take some additional classes in order to meet prerequisite requirements and prepare for the Physics GRE, but I have no idea what classes I might need to take. On the upside, my Engineering degree involved a lot of math (off the top of my head the only Math I think I'm lacking is Differential Equations), but unfortunately I only took Physics 1 and 2 and nothing more advanced.


It may not be easy, but it may be doable. Most programs want to see a good, solid undergraduate preparation in math and physics to be prepared for upper level physics classes. However, I do know several people have switched from engineering (usually electrical) to graduate physics including myself. I'm also 29 but just finished my first year of graduate school in physics. I worked in industry as an electrical engineer for a few years but realized that industry and engineering were not very satisfying. I wanted a challenge, and found it, graduate physics has turned out to be an excellent choice for me.

But without more physics classes, getting in may be difficult. Schools may view your work experience as a plus, but you'll probably have to score well on the Physics GRE to show your capabilities and knowledge in basic physics. Fortunately, it is a test that is easy to study for. If you take the time and discipline to study hard, and do well with standardized test taking strategy, you can do well. It will probably do you a lot of good to try and get some more physics and math classes in over this next year. Could you take evening courses somewhere? I'd definitely recommend differential equations, and as many physics classes as you can get. Different schools may list specific background expectations on their program websites.

I basically had a physics minor along with my physics major, and the courses that I had have been a big help on the Physics GRE and so far in graduate school. The only classes I was really missing were a quantum mechanics course (although we got a little of that in a modern physics course) and a class in mechanics. Although I considered taking an undergraduate level mechanics course, I decided to jump right into the graduate class and it worked out fine. I had some catching up to do, but I really enjoyed the course.

So if you decide to go for it, good luck, shop around for programs, get some more classes if you can, and study hard for the Physics GRE.

Marten

marten
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Joined: Thu Aug 30, 2007 10:21 am

Re: Advice on going back to grad school AND changing my major

Postby marten » Tue Aug 04, 2009 10:01 pm

noojens wrote:Also, a MS in physics is kind of useless unless you go on to a PhD.. a MS is mostly regarded as the consolation prize for people who can't or choose not to complete a physics PhD.

If all you want is a higher degree, I can think of a dozen that are easier and more useful than physics. Physics is something you do because you're passionate about it, not to build your resume.


True, noojens has a good point. If you really want to do physics, think about dedicating 5+ years for the PhD. Even then, you'll likely be able to find as many, if not more employment options with a PhD in another flavor of engineering. It sounds like you may be more interested in a research position (regardless of the specific field), which you can find with a PhD in engineering.

Or, if you're looking at a shorter route, a masters in engineering is infinitely more useful (employable) then a masters in physics. Also, you may have better success getting into those programs with your background. Unfortunately, these aren't answers that you can find on Google (I know, I tried... :) ). Maybe try applying to several types of programs and let the acceptances/rejections/funding offers weed some options out.

Marten




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