Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

  • This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
  • There are applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, visiting schools, anxiety of waiting for acceptances, deciding between schools, finding out where others are going, etc.

Boulder
Posts: 7
Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 11:41 pm

Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby Boulder » Tue Mar 04, 2008 1:26 am

I happened upon this forum while looking for some tutorial materials for the Physics GRE, but was pleased to find an active discussion about physics grad school in general.

From the browsing I've done through the threads, my situation is rare, perhaps even unique among the members here. I'm contemplating a return to graduate school after a hiatus of (*gulp*) 25 years.

I attended a prestigious private university (an "Ivy League wannabe") for undergraduate and graduate school (M.S.).
GPA: In the B's
GRE Verbal: 650 (90%)
GRE Quantitative 780 (98%)
GRE Analytical 800 (so long ago this is not even a separate catagory anymore)
GRE Writing (nope, didn't exist)
GRE Physics 660 (54%)

I spent 24 years in industry, including 20 years in aerospace performing research and developing optical instruments for space-based probes and observatories -- HiRISE for Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Exploration Rovers, NICMOS for HST, SIRTF, JWST, as well as a number of Earth-observing instruments. The experiences I've had in developing the instrumentation had prompted me to pursue research in some of the fundamental processes involved in planetary geology and planetary atmospheres. So, I've started looking into grad school. While my past academic record isn't stellar, it was sufficient to garner admission to graduate school, and I'm hoping that two decades of relevant industry experience will make up for it.

In addition, I live in Boulder, CO and have no inclination to move elsewhere, so my goal is only to get into the Astrophysics and Planetary Sciences program at CU Boulder.

However, I'll almost certainly have to retake the GREs and the Physics GRE. I'm looking forward to taking the GREs -- a couple practice tests came out well -- but the Physics GRE is busting my chops. I haven't used many of those brain cells in decades, so I'm going to have to do an extensive refresher and really dissect the example exams.

My current plan is to take a few courses first in Fall 2008 / Spring 2009 and to apply for admission for Fall 2009.

So, does anyone here have experience with or know of anyone trying to get into grad school this late in life?

400nm
Posts: 44
Joined: Fri Feb 08, 2008 2:10 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby 400nm » Tue Mar 04, 2008 9:51 am

.
Last edited by 400nm on Sat Jul 12, 2008 11:05 am, edited 1 time in total.

LucasWillis
Posts: 38
Joined: Tue Feb 19, 2008 1:38 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby LucasWillis » Tue Mar 04, 2008 12:13 pm

Living in Boulder, one of the best things that you could do would be to go visit with the professors in the department. Let them know your situation and your plans and ask about your chances. They should talk straight with you. Visiting the department will also arm you with the information necessary to write a very strong statement of purpose.

Good luck with this, but I wouldn't think of your situation as an obstacle. If anything, it will be a unique point that will make your application stand out.

Boulder
Posts: 7
Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 11:41 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby Boulder » Tue Mar 04, 2008 4:04 pm

LucasWillis wrote:Living in Boulder, one of the best things that you could do would be to go visit with the professors in the department. Let them know your situation and your plans and ask about your chances.


I have been attending a number of the weekly APS seminars, and met with the head of graduate admissions, but it's my intention to start targeting individual professors whose interests overlap with mine and sending them introductory emails in the next month. With the advantage of running into them frequently at the seminars, and my plans to take a few classes before applying for admission, I think I'll have the personal angle covered. My real concern is that having been out of academia for so long, I'd really like to have better-than-average Physics GRE scores in my arsenal.

Juggling a profession with the coursework is going to be a hurdle, though. I really *like* having an income ....

User avatar
zxcv
Posts: 402
Joined: Mon Dec 17, 2007 11:08 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby zxcv » Tue Mar 04, 2008 4:12 pm

I don't think it will be viable to get a PhD while having an external job, since from what I've heard, getting a PhD is generally a very full-time proposition.

Also, what is your long term plan? If it's academia, sticking around in Boulder may not be viable. If that's not your plan, what can you do with the degree?

I feel kind of silly giving advice to someone twice my age.

User avatar
grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby grae313 » Tue Mar 04, 2008 4:31 pm

Actually, most graduate schools forbid you to have an outside job. You are specifically not allowed to work more than the 20 hours a week you are already employed as either a TA or an RA. They want you to focus on your classes. Some might allow it under special circumstances, but you would have to get permission and if you were working 20 hours per week already they probably wouldn't let you work more than 10 on the side. Now, if you were funding yourself, that's nother matter. But realize that if you want to work a total of more than 20 hours a week while taking a full load of graduate classes, you are going to be busier than the average grad student, who already spend day and night working.

Boulder
Posts: 7
Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 11:41 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby Boulder » Wed Mar 05, 2008 12:08 am

grae313 wrote:Actually, most graduate schools forbid you to have an outside job. You are specifically not allowed to work more than the 20 hours a week you are already employed as either a TA or an RA. They want you to focus on your classes. Some might allow it under special circumstances, but you would have to get permission and if you were working 20 hours per week already they probably wouldn't let you work more than 10 on the side. Now, if you were funding yourself, that's nother matter. But realize that if you want to work a total of more than 20 hours a week while taking a full load of graduate classes, you are going to be busier than the average grad student, who already spend day and night working.


Just goes to show how different my mindset is. I never really thought about applying for financial aid. Resident tuition for CU is amazingly reasonable even before the tuition tax deduction, and I assume that any financial aid package will take into account my assets (which, including a house bought in Boulder 25 years ago that has quadrupled in value, are going to be far greater than most grad students). If I was going to spend time working, I'd rather come to an agreement with my employer to reduce hours ... the pay will be far better. In addition, I'm looking into spreading out the classes so as not to take a full load of classes and not go into intense mode until thesis research.

zxcv wrote:Also, what is your long term plan? If it's academia, sticking around in Boulder may not be viable. If that's not your plan, what can you do with the degree?

I feel kind of silly giving advice to someone twice my age.

There are a number of institutions in the area with varying degrees of association with the University that are essentially closed to someone without a Ph.D. Plus there's the obvious benefit of developing close relationships and working with faculty who are currently PIs for the type of space instrument programs that I'd eventually like to run.

But a big part of it is personal satisfaction. I want something new in life that's challenging. And who knows what doors it may eventually open that I don't even know about now.

doom
Posts: 171
Joined: Tue Oct 23, 2007 6:42 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby doom » Wed Mar 05, 2008 12:15 am

Just so you know, graduate school funding isn't based at all on need. At almost all schools, students are given both tuition remission and a stipend for either TA or RA duties. I guess you'd want to skip the TA part, which you may be able to do (some schools require that you have TA experience at some point). By the time you're involved in research, though, they're going to want a bigger time commitment, I'm sure, and having an outside job could hurt that.

Also, be aware that most schools have a timetable by which you have to pass the qualifying exams, so you may not be able to take it as slow as you like.

User avatar
dlenmn
Posts: 577
Joined: Mon Dec 03, 2007 10:19 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby dlenmn » Wed Mar 05, 2008 12:58 am

doom wrote:Just so you know, graduate school funding isn't based at all on need.


The fellowship Lehigh offered me was need based... However, If I'm not needly enough, I can TA instead (possibly for less money).

User avatar
grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby grae313 » Wed Mar 05, 2008 1:09 am

Boulder wrote:Just goes to show how different my mindset is. I never really thought about applying for financial aid.


Well, actually you do apply for financial aid when you apply to get into the grad school, but I see what you are saying. All admitted students are given tuition wavers and a stipend for doing TA or RA work. However, if there was a place to say that you would be funding yourself and paying for your tuition then that might help you a lot. I'm not sure that is an option though, you might want to call a few schools you are looking at. Like others said, once you start your research a significant time commitment will be expected, but if you fund yourself during that period then it might be a big advantage for you.

admissionprof
Posts: 364
Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2008 7:50 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby admissionprof » Wed Mar 05, 2008 7:50 am

Unfortunately, I have not heard of any graduate school that allows external employment for PhD research. Occasionally, people can take courses while employed, and that usually is enough for a Masters. But PhD research is full-time.

Boulder
Posts: 7
Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 11:41 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby Boulder » Thu Mar 06, 2008 1:57 am

I've just finished talking to someone at my former employer who went through both the M.S. and Ph.D. programs in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at CU Boulder while maintaining his job. His comments were:

- The department was quite receptive to having "part-time" students.
- He usually only took one class per semester.
- His advisor was easy-going regarding dissertation work since she didn't have to support him on research funds.
- He continued to work full time.
- The effort took 8 years for both M.S. and Ph.D., including one year he had to take off because of pressing needs on a program at work.
- "I found that the university was understanding about my commitments and willing to work with me."
- TA or RA work was not required.

He did as I have contemplated -- starting out by taking a class to get used to having both work and classwork and then deciding whether or not to pursue admission and a degree.

My first conversation with the Astrophysics department secretary seemed to indicate that they weren't as casual ... so I'm going to have to get to know some of the professors well to see whether I can find as accommodating an advisor.

Boulder
Posts: 7
Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 11:41 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby Boulder » Fri Apr 25, 2008 2:49 pm

Update: While the Astrophysics and Planetary Sciences Department is not at all keen on having a student attempt a PhD while employed, the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences Department at the University of Colorado is in fact quite accommodating. Turns out I actually know one other person who received her Doctorate while working full time, and another who's in the process of getting his Masters.

The ATOC department also is a relatively interdisciplinary department with crossover into APS and geology, so the focus on planetary geology and atmospheres is natural, without having to bother with all that fiddly stellar and galactic stuff.

I start classes in August. Wish me luck for the 7-8-9 year duration.

fermiguy
Posts: 49
Joined: Fri Mar 07, 2008 2:29 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby fermiguy » Fri Apr 25, 2008 3:29 pm

Hi Boulder,

Congrats on starting your grad school journey and good luck! Your drive and tenacity is an inspiration!

good luck again!

zeroangel
Posts: 4
Joined: Wed Apr 23, 2008 3:59 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby zeroangel » Fri Apr 25, 2008 6:13 pm

Hang on. It's actually possible to earn a PhD by working on it part-time? So, I DON'T have to plan to quit my job and have my wife support me while I go to school?

Granted in my case, this line of thought is a bit premature as I first have to take the GRE. However, long-term planning is a recipe for success and this does change things. I was under the impression that regardless of your situation, research was required for a doctorate and it is full-time. This is NOT true?

User avatar
butsurigakusha
Posts: 293
Joined: Sun Oct 07, 2007 8:05 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby butsurigakusha » Fri Apr 25, 2008 7:04 pm

Research is definitely required. I don't know of any exceptions. I don't think there is a universal rule that it has to be full time, but I think most schools probably require that for practical reasons more than anything. If it takes on average 6 years to earn a PhD while working full time, then you can imagine it will take over 10 years for someone working half time. Plus, advisers may not be too keen on having students who aren't able to devote themselves.

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

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby marten » Fri Apr 25, 2008 7:13 pm

If you go to gradschoolshopper.com and look at the AIP data for grad schools, you'll see a tally of current grad students for most physics programs, including part time enrollment. My guess is that most of them are probably masters students who might be funding themselves.

Marten

stardust
Posts: 109
Joined: Fri Sep 21, 2007 8:15 pm

Re: Graduate school after long hiatus in industry

Postby stardust » Sun May 18, 2008 9:40 pm

I haven't read all of the above, but how about this:
do the coursework and get through qualifiers part-time
do the thesis full-time
Also, I think the decision to go full or part time rests on what you want to do when you get out. If you
think you want to keep the same job just be at a higher level, then it may not matter how long it takes.
But, if you want an entree into something else, then making things as quick as you can may help.




Return to “Prospective Physics Graduate Student Topics”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests