Passion V Practicality

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ofey
Posts: 24
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2010 8:59 pm

Passion V Practicality

Postby ofey » Tue Oct 19, 2010 9:02 pm

I've talk to many people about this and as much as I don't think I should rely on internet people for advice I need some perspective.

I've been in college too long. Not that I was going full time or even for a degree the whole time but still. After HS I went to a kind of crappy state university and flunked out. I then over a few years converted my childhood interests of physics and astronomy to adult interests and sort of "found myself." Now I'm a few years past when I should have graduated and still a few years off. I have a few F's and some W's in my past just from not caring about school, and never in science classes.

My dream in life is to be a research astronomer/physics but I worry that my mounting debt will hinder me. I worry that I won't be able to get a good job with only a physics B.Sc. and I worry that my shoddy past will keep me out of graduate school for physics.

So I think of Electrical Engineering as a good compromise that can get me a good career but I'm not inspired by it after a few months of classes. However, I will have good opportunities if I continue on in EE job wise.

But I only live once AFAIK and I love Physics and doubt my circumstance would give me a chance to go back to it later in life. I have the option of going to a school rated top 50 or so in physics to finish my undergrad in 4-5 semesters or to finish an EE degree in the same time at my current "no-name" school.


Questions:

1. How bad is the situation with only a B.Sc. in physics? Can I get a job? Can I get a good job? Can I do EE jobs for example?

2.If I absolutely "destroy" for the next 5 semesters of physics classes will I be able to get into a graduate program? But this I mean I: get As, do research, study really hard for PGRE.

3. Some older folks have told me they would do their passion and at their age the regret not doing what they loved. How do this match up to your experience?

4. Is it better to have tried at your dream job and failed then to not have tried at all? I feel like EE is "giving in' or the "easy way out".

laser
Posts: 19
Joined: Fri Oct 15, 2010 5:00 am

Re: Passion V Practicality

Postby laser » Tue Oct 19, 2010 9:59 pm

I'm new here :)

I'm not in the same exact position as you, but I'm in a similar enough one.

I went to an engineering school right after high school and failed out (I wasn't prepared well for it, got unmotivated, and spent a lot of time going to parties and playing with boys and not going to class). After that I got a 2 year community college degree in engineering, and went to school full time for mechanical engineering (but for some reason found myself working in electrical engineering firms doing design and drafting). During that I also took up a second major in physics, because I found that I really loved my university physics classes and wanted to learn more.

Engineering school was interesting, and as time went on I found it harder to keep up with both engineering and physics. The attitudes and styles and priorities in the two programs were so extremely different that switching from one way of thinking to the other was very difficult.

I remember talking to one of my engineering professors about this conflict, and that I was thinking about choosing one or the other. She told me to stick with engineering, because even if it is less interesting, I'll always have a job. For some reason, that thought served to convince me to stick with physics, because it was what I felt passionate about.

I ran out of money and finished neither degree, and went into industry for a while, electrical consulting engineering. I frequently fantasized about going back to school for physics. I got to the point with my employer where it was time for me to progress in the company, and they were willing to pay for me to finish a degree in electrical engineering.

Perhaps I'm not a practical person but that led me to quit my job and go back to school for physics. I knew that if I was going to put in several semesters of work to finish, and hard work at that, I wanted it to be in a subject I was passionate about. I was going to have about five semesters of work to do this.

I'm almost done and I don't regret quitting my job, turning down an engineering degree, and going back to school for physics. I don't regret it all. Even if the job marker is harder and the work is harder, I found that it has been worthwhile. It is one of the best decisions that I made for myself, and I derive a lot of joy in learning about physics and doing reasonably well in my coursework. I'm not a star student, but I'm good enough, and I'm confident that I'll get into a few graduate schools in the 40 to 70 rank range. I have good letters of recommendation and good research experience, respectable test scores (from what I can tell), and an average GPA. Not good enough for top 20, but that's ok, most of us don't end up at top 20 schools. My undergrad institution is ranked around 50. I'll be 33 when I graduate. I'll have significant loans to pay off, but that's what working is for.

So I might be biased, but if your passionate goal is reasonably realistic, if you have the ability to do physics, even if it isn't as practical as another career could be, I say go for it, give it everything you have, and you won't regret it, and you won't wonder what could have been.

tut tut
Posts: 10
Joined: Fri Oct 15, 2010 2:30 am

Re: Passion V Practicality

Postby tut tut » Tue Oct 19, 2010 10:15 pm

Wow so this is like the one question on this forum I'm equipped to answer. I took 2 years off after getting my bachelors with no real plan in mind. And in this economic climate, that amounted to a lot of job search experience.

As much as I'd hate to say it, your degree matters. Can you get a job with just a bachelor's in physics? Absolutely. I mean, I've lectured in university labs and done a year's worth of astrophysics research as an unofficial grad student in a great cosmology group, I've gotten plenty of internships, and with a little creativity even worked in unrelated fields like journalism. But can you enter a career in research? I'm afraid that's very hard. Even in industry nearly every R&D job requires a PhD. I recently interviewed for the first engineering job I found interesting enough to apply for. I was told that my prospects are rather grim because this small company had never considered anyone w/o a PhD before.

In this world, you're just going to run into barriers. If you're ok with being bottom of the food chain for a while, not being so choosy w/ salary, getting a lot of "internship" experience and slowly working yourself up to a slightly more free-thinking position, I don't think it's impossible. But be prepared for some grunt work, and get ready to be treated worse than you're worth.

On the other hand if you like programming, you have great prospects w/o a PhD.

I think if you're absolutely sure you want research-- and research in physics, my recommendation would be to go for graduate school. Or at least a master's degree. If you have the talent, it should show once you apply yourself.

ofey
Posts: 24
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2010 8:59 pm

Re: Passion V Practicality

Postby ofey » Tue Oct 19, 2010 10:30 pm

Wow laser your post definitely holds some serious weight with me. While our details are different your story seems to mirror mine very well. I'm a bit younger than you, not that it matters, and seeing what you are doing/have done for your passion is pretty encouraging.

I'm 25 and that is pretty average at my engineering school but if I go to the physics school it is with mostly traditionally aged students on a regular campus. How did you deal with being an older student? How did you get involved with younger physics classmates.

ofey
Posts: 24
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2010 8:59 pm

Re: Passion V Practicality

Postby ofey » Tue Oct 19, 2010 10:32 pm

Tut Tut-

I'm pretty sure I want to do real research. I tried to get a good job in the physics department at my engineering school and found it to be "Applied Physics" which here atleast is essentially engineering. It was sad to find that our physics department doesn't do any fundamental science!That is what prompted me to get out dodge. What are you doing now Tut Tut, do you plan on grad school?

I do plan to go to Physics Phd program for all intents and purposes but want to see what my options are if things don't work out that way.

tut tut
Posts: 10
Joined: Fri Oct 15, 2010 2:30 am

Re: Passion V Practicality

Postby tut tut » Tue Oct 19, 2010 10:50 pm

Yeah! I'm applying to graduate schools in physics this fall, and hence, stalking these forums night and day.

This has been the first serious interruption I've ever had in my schooling, and while it has been difficult at times, it's been pretty eye-opening. I've realized how much I love fundamental research and just how much better it is than every other line of work out there haha.

laser
Posts: 19
Joined: Fri Oct 15, 2010 5:00 am

Re: Passion V Practicality

Postby laser » Tue Oct 19, 2010 11:05 pm

ofey, I'd be lying if I said it was easy to relate to the others. I left a very good social life to return to school, and as such, when I do have time to socialize, I usually spend it with close friends that I had before I went back to school. As such I don't socialize much with the other students in my class.

I think part of why I haven't gotten much involved with the other students is because I was more comfortable hanging out with my nonphysics friends, I'm older, I transferred in, and I'm female. In most of my classes, I'm the only woman. That status was, at least at first, a lot more intimidating for me than being older.

I have made some friends, and occasionally study with others (though I usually study alone), and found that I often forget about the approximately 10 year age gap between me and most of the other students. And sometimes I really remember, because the vast differences in life experiences and attitudes sometimes show in conversation.

If I have any regrets as far as relating to the other students is concerned, it would be slipping into my comfort zone (i.e. not branching out into new social circles due to shyness and the differences in age and gender). Once I did break out a little from my shyness I've found that, in spite of these differences, there are a lot of interesting and high-quality people studying in my class with a higher level of maturity than I expected. Sadly I won't really get to know them well at this point. I would encourage you to forget about the age difference as much as possible, and get involved in study groups and make friends. I know my GPA would be higher if I had been better able to integrate myself, and I would have had a lot of fun with some of the other students.

I think there might be a bad calculus pun in there...




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