infrared slavery wrote:I'm looking for feedback from people who might know. 9 years ago I got my BS in physics from UW with a 3.7/3.8 GPA. Since then I did some other stuff, got an unrelated degree. I'm coming back into the field now and am doing so via an applied master's program. Last quarter was the first and took a quantum mechanics class on par with the one I had taken previously as a junior and I did very well. I'm studying for the physics GRE now potentially thinking about applying to a PhD program. Does anybody have ideas on what my prospects are? Any suggestions? Thanks.
Outside of the very top schools, I feel confident in saying the extended stay away from the discipline will do no harm to your chances, especially since you'll have a master's degree showing your continued aptitude. Of the very top schools I've heard some heresy that there's some age discrimination, though I don't know that personally. The reasoning given is that top programs are looking for the potential future stars of the field, and if you're older you don't have the time to establish yourself as an aforementioned star (if you were a traditional applicant as an undergrad, my guess is you'd be closer to 50 than 40 once you obtained a tenure track position). The upside is that as a more mature applicant, you're less likely to buy into the overblown hype the top schools generate, and so will probably be less concerned with trying to prove yourself to yourself by getting into CalTech.
If you're worried about reacclimatizing, don't. Physics is like an instrument, spend enough time with it again and your fingers will remember what you're supposed to do.