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Switching major to physics/astronomy, advice please?

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#1 Lyuda

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Posted 14 March 2019 - 11:26 PM

*I hope this is the right section to post this in.*

My junior year of high school I came to the conclusion that I wanted to study physics and become an astronomer. Unfortunately, I was far behind in math and physics which led me to believe that I simply wasn't "meant" to understand math. I've since completeled 3 quarters of community college studying to be an electrican. It's much too easy and the only reason I ever started doing it was so j could make a decent living. Over and over again I say the line, "I wish I would have done astronomy instead."

Well, recently I said enough is enough. I've only been in college for a year and I'm only 18, there's no reason to give up this early and be stuck with regrets. The math is no longer an issue, I know I have to take the time to learn it and eventually I'll understand. Soon I will begin the process of switching my majors over.

However, a lot of things worry me, the main being how to avoid going into thousands and thousands of dollars worth of debt. My current plan is to take as many gen-eds at my CC as I can, which is cheap, switch to our local university to study physics (they don't offer a degree related to astronomy, only physics), which is still relatively cheap, then transfer to the larger university to finish my degree with astronomy emphasis and have a load of credits built up. One of the other reasons I'm not immediately transferring to the large university is because it's an hour away and I have 2 birds to care for.

My other worry is managing work with school. I really don't want to lose all income because of classes, but it seems like a sacrifice I may have to make.

I would really appreciate any advice on avoiding as much debt as possible, things to watch out for or expect, ways to make my life easier, etc.

Thank you, all.
-Sean

Edited by Lyuda, 15 March 2019 - 09:41 AM.


#2 petert913

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Posted 14 March 2019 - 11:49 PM

Advice?  Brush up on your math. shocked.gif



#3 RadioAstronomer

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Posted 15 March 2019 - 12:10 AM

Hi Sean,

I studied physics in Europe and moved to the USA to get my PhD so I can't offer any advice regarding debt, but if you have any other questions about starting a career in astronomy feel free to ask. I'm only in my early 30s but I wish someone told me a couple things when I was your age...

I can say this though: 1) No one gets into astronomy (at a professional level) for the money. This is a profession that will get you a ticked straight to middle class at best. 2) Start coding, ideally in Python. If you become an astronomer you will need to code. A lot. 

Best.


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#4 DaveC2042

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Posted 15 March 2019 - 12:33 AM

Hi

 

Australian here, so not too up on the finance side of things in the US, but I have a science degree majoring in astrophysics.

 

Some random thoughts:

  • Take the maths really seriously and do lots of boring repetitive exercises.  This is how to ensure the difficult stuff eventually sinks in;
  • Go to the relevant office at every university you are considering and grill them about scholarships and grants and so forth.  Be polite but pushy about this.  There is a lot of free money sloshing around in most universities;
  • Once you are at a uni, keep going back to that office at least every year to try again.  Preferably with some really good exam results;
  • Look into doing paid work at the university.  This could be just ordinary work, but also teaching assistant and research assistant work.  You probably won't land those in first year, but it never hurts to ask and get on their radar;
  • Keep in mind that with solid maths you can wind up all sorts of interesting places.  I went from abstract algebra and quantum mechanics into investment banking, which pays rather better.  If your university has employer open days, go to them and bring an open mind;
  • Resist the temptation to try to juggle long hours of work with your degree.  All that will happen is that you will do both badly.  A bit of weekend work, a frugal lifestyle, maybe a bit of debt.  No overseas holidays.
  • Student loans are fundamentally evil, but perhaps unavoidable.  Borrow as little as you possibly can and spend it on nothing but food, rent and textbooks.

 

Good luck!


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#5 Taosmath

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Posted 15 March 2019 - 12:34 AM

Sean,

 

Your plan sounds very rational to me.

 

I am a physicist. I worked for 20 years in high end Research and Development in Applied Physics here and in the UK.  I then taught 10 years in public high school and for the last 7 years I've been full time (math) faculty at our local branch campus of the University of New Mexico (which is effectively a community college).

 

My comments are:

  • You must absolutely pursue your dream.  If you want to be an astronomer then you must go after that or spend a lifetime of 'if only' moments.
  • Your time studying to be an electrician will not be wasted.  At the very least it has shown you what you want to do.  It will also bring you experience of practical matters which will be invaluable when you get into your degree program.  If there's any chance that you can get sufficient qualifications to get an entry level electrician's qualifications without spending a ton of money or time, then do it.  It will help you when you go for job interviews by showing you have a practical side plus (and this could be a big plus) it could be a way to earn decent money while you pay for yourself as you go through school.  My buddy paid his way through medical school by working as an X ray technician.You might have a way to do something similar.
  • Take as many courses as you can at your local Community college.  CC's are set up to prioritize teaching and you're likely to get better, more individualized teaching there than at a larger institution.  The CC faculty will be used to working with students needing help at lower levels - which is not usually the case at 4 year colleges. The CC faculty will also probably be delighted to have a highly motivated student with a clear career goal asking for their help. After all that is the mission of a CC.
  • Do not concern yourself about starting too late.  I have had multiple students suddenly get turned on to Math when whichever  piece of the puzzle they were missing was eventually put into place and the subject clicked. They found they could do math, despite their misgivings and they even enjoyed math.
  • Make sure you understand what you are doing.  Don't be satisfied with merely cranking through the procedure to get the correct answer.  Tomorrow's employees will need to apply their knowledge in new ways and in new circumstances.  This requires understanding, not merely cranking the numbers.  So ask questions and try to link what you are learning to what you already know.
  • Work hard to build your math fluency as well.  Understanding is crucial but useless unless you can apply it.
  • Ask around to see if your region has bodies that gives scholarships/grants/ programs to help people in your circumstances.  We do, so perhaps there are some in your locale too.

There is much more, but you have made a good start and your plan seems to me to be a very sensible way to begin.  If you carry on like that and work hard to lay in the STEM foundations that you will need to build on in the future, I don't see why you wouldn't succeed.

 

Good luck to you.


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#6 greenstars3

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Posted 15 March 2019 - 12:36 AM

make sure that your junior collage credits will transfer to your instate university or you will be taking the same classes all over again.  electricians get to work in observatories also

 

Robert


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#7 GoFish

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Posted 15 March 2019 - 01:03 AM

If you have a passion for astronomy, and you already know this, then you are way ahead of most young people entering college. You are very fortunate. 

 

My only concern in reading your post relates to finances. I don’t know what kind of income is earned by professional astronomers, or by scientists whose degree is in astronomy. I would not want to see you accumulate so much debt that you can’t pay it back in a reasonable timeframe while earning a typical salary in your field. 

 

For technically oriented people, a nice alternative to the pure sciences is engineering. The main advantage being a much broader job market and the probability of higher lifetime earnings. 



#8 Ian Robinson

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Posted 15 March 2019 - 01:27 AM

Take the hardest maths subjects + hardest high school physics and chemistry subjects you can and make sure you get a very firm grip on them else you WILL STRUGGLE when you are studying even level 100 physics and maths topics at undergraduate level.

If you don't have these prerequisits , you need to do bridging courses to get up to strength else you will not succeed in an bachelors' degree in science majoring in physics or in engineering (if you decide to do that instead because of the better employment prospects).


I would be getting hold of the student guides for Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Mathematics from the universities you are interested in going to (who pressumeably have postgrad programs in cosmology / astronomy offered in their department of Physics , THOUGH THIS IS NOT USUALLY OFFERED and most end up moving to another university to do these areas of specialization in physics at graduate level and postdoctorial level).

You need to major in BOTH mathematics & physics ==> 200 level, 300 level and 400 level physics and mathematics topics .

You will have a HARD road ahead of you , you will need on average at least high level credits or distinctions in EVERY subject taken in your undergraduate coursework program , refer to the appropriate student handbooks for the degree programs for details.

You need to be given REALISTIC guidance here , you should visit the university and try to line up a meeting with the course coordinators in the departments of physics and of mathematics , they will tell you exactly what you need to get in , and can guide your subject selections. They will help with securing any credit for prior studies elsewhere in other courses .


Expect to have rigorous lectures , weekly tutorials , weekly laboratory classes and very hard assignments , and very hard exams. You MUST do the reading, the labs , the homework and get a very good grip on the theory and calculations.
The lecturers wont much care if you pass or fail, the laboratory supervisors and tutors are there to give you guidance ONLY.
Make sure you buy the textbooks and the lecture notes (often available as downloads these days , but not a substitute for attending lectures ( things are said in lectures that help clarify more difficult stuff in the notes).
Learn to study and work problems in a team setting - usually laboratories are set up to be done either individually or in teams of 2 or 3 students).
Become very familiar with the library.
Don't fall into the trap of doing joint assignments unless this is required by the lecture.




I think you need aim to get at least honours 2-1 or first class honours in you bachelor's degree to be in with a chance of getting an offer to join a doctorial program in physics.


Ask about academic scholarships ( you might be eligible ).

Edited by Ian Robinson, 15 March 2019 - 02:26 AM.


#9 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 15 March 2019 - 04:06 AM

Sean:

 

A few thoughts:

 

- Study hard at your community college, be the top student in your classes. Take the most difficult math and physics courses offered. 

 

- Finish your electrician's degree.  It will provide you with a good income and a useful, practical skill that's very valuable in a research environment. I was the hands on leader of a well funded research group for 30 years.  The PhD students were all extremely sharp in math, the big dufference, sme had hands on skills, some were severely handicapped in the lab.

 

A smart PI knows a student who's an electrician is a valuable asset. 

 

- Take your time, do it right. Understand the math and physics from first principles.

 

- Astronomy is a graduate level specialization. Don't worry about an undergrad degree in Astronomy. Undergrad courses in Astronomy are generally not rigorous even at a serious astrophysics University.

 

Jon



#10 NickWDavis

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Posted 15 March 2019 - 08:41 AM

Keep in mind that there are very few academic positions available for Physicists and astronomers so it a very competitive job market. The vast majority of graduates end up working as engineers, programmers, or researchers, and that’s if they’re lucky.



#11 Lyuda

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Posted 15 March 2019 - 09:32 AM

Thank you all for the wonderful advice. I will do as many have suggested and finish my electrical degree, this will provide me with a fall-back job and help advance through my education. I will take the advanced math courses at my community college to prepare for the road ahead. Most of the credits from those should carry over. My goal is to work with something related to astronomy, but I will refrain from having high expectations for that. Instead, I will continue to work towards being an astrophysicist but keep engineering in the back seat.

Again, thank you to everyone!
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#12 llanitedave

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Posted 15 March 2019 - 12:49 PM



make sure that your junior collage credits will transfer to your instate university or you will be taking the same classes all over again.  electricians get to work in observatories also

 

Robert

Absolutely.  Someone trained as an electrician would be a real asset in a lot of physics laboratories.

 

Everyone is emphasizing the math -- for good reason.  A lot of formal university classes in math are very poorly taught.  I know this from sorry experience.  A good way to get ahead of the math equation is with a good series of extra-curricular instruction.

 

Here's a guy who did me a world of good after decades of math neglect:

 

Professor Leonard



#13 Pess

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Posted 15 March 2019 - 01:09 PM

Here are a couple thoughts.

 

-Not much money in astronomy.  You can teach, do research. End up a solid middle class citizen. If you want to go this route, do it because that is where your heart is.

 

-Physics gives you a few more options, especially if you learn to code.  People that know their way around IT are worth their weight in gold. However, they to tend to be stressed and burn out early.

 

-I've been out of college for awhile now but I teach classes now and again (medical oriented).   The big difference is in Community college the course material is at a slower pace and you can get more one on one help.

 

-At a big University you are basically a number and you are competing against a much brighter, on average group of students.   You may find yourself lagging in math to keep up.

 

-If earnings potential is a factor, consider mixing a physics/engineering degree.  If you can handle such a demanding course load (and, yeah, the math will rot your brain) your potential to end up in the upper middle class is much improved  ;)

 

Pesse (Got no answers on the money thing. Government subsidizing Students de-incentivizes colleges to make tuition reasonable.) Mist 



#14 tomwall

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Posted 15 March 2019 - 03:00 PM

Advice from a Dad:

-The CC thing is a good idea. Take as much of your math as you can from the CC. They will offer more help than you'll get at a 4 year.

-Pursue the astronomy/physics major(s), but also get a High School teaching certification. My daughter graduated as a microbiologist and most of her class is now teaching High School... including her! BTW, she loves it. 

-Avoid debt like the plague!

-Reconsider the electrician thing. It would provide the cash and flexibility to finance your education.

 

Good Luck from a happily retired teacher.

 

Tom,

Tucson



#15 vsteblina

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Posted 15 March 2019 - 10:25 PM

Sean:

 

A few thoughts:

 

- Study hard at your community college, be the top student in your classes. Take the most difficult math and physics courses offered. 

 

- Finish your electrician's degree.  It will provide you with a good income and a useful, practical skill that's very valuable in a research environment. I was the hands on leader of a well funded research group for 30 years.  The PhD students were all extremely sharp in math, the big dufference, sme had hands on skills, some were severely handicapped in the lab.

 

A smart PI knows a student who's an electrician is a valuable asset. 

 

- Take your time, do it right. Understand the math and physics from first principles.

 

- Astronomy is a graduate level specialization. Don't worry about an undergrad degree in Astronomy. Undergrad courses in Astronomy are generally not rigorous even at a serious astrophysics University.

 

Jon

My “new” idea.  I was a junior college transfer to a “elite” four year institution.

 

The best thing that happened was I made an appointment with the professional school to talk about transferring in a year or two. They set up all my classes at the junior college, made sure that  those classes I missed at the junior college I could take after transfer.

 

When I transferred in it made a huge difference. They knew I was coming but quite frankly I was scared about if I was smart enough to graduate. IT REALLY HELPED that I talked to them beforehand.

 

Hopefully, you will find someone at that four year school to be supportive and helpful in your education. 

 

 

And here are the rest of my comments.........

 

As somebody that thought he wanted to be an astronomer......it lasted less than one quarter in school.

 

That was a real blessing in the end.

 

The real concern is that middle ground.....you really want to be the best in your field, not just average.

 

Jon, is absolutely right on finishing your electrician’s certification. You could make real good money working part time and finance your education easily. Something most students cannot do without student loans.

 

AND....Jon is absolutely right. Being an electrician will open lots of professional doors.  

 

I knew a Civil Engineer that knew how to run a D8 Cat and could literally build a road by himself. I was in awe of his meld of common sense talents and professional skills.

 

Good luck to you.

 

Oh, the answers you got on this post.....print it out and highlight the important points.

 

Really, lots and lots of great ideas. I wish somebody had done this with me when I was a college student.


Edited by vsteblina, 15 March 2019 - 10:39 PM.

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#16 Jon Isaacs

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Posted 16 March 2019 - 06:23 AM

-The CC thing is a good idea. Take as much of your math as you can from the CC. They will offer more help than you'll get at a 4 year.

 

 

I see two sides here.  Math and physics at a community college will be slower paced with more one on one help.   It will also be less rigorous.  This is why I said you need to be the top student in your classes because when you transfer to a 4 year university,  you will be competing against students who have been through a more rigorous program. 

 

And too,  you will need to understand the math you know on a fundamental level. 

 

Jon



#17 Lyuda

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Posted 16 March 2019 - 10:07 AM

The additional posts have been wonderful. All of your comments are being taken into consideration, I deeply appreciate the advice that has been given by each person. It really makes the road ahead much less vague and daunting, I can actually form a plan and have an idea of what to do.

Along the lines of electrical and physics, I would like to explore the possibilities of the two together (other than electrical engineer). I'm curious as to what I could do utilizing both degrees.

Thank you, everyone.

#18 rockethead26

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Posted 17 March 2019 - 08:21 PM

The additional posts have been wonderful. All of your comments are being taken into consideration, I deeply appreciate the advice that has been given by each person. It really makes the road ahead much less vague and daunting, I can actually form a plan and have an idea of what to do.

Along the lines of electrical and physics, I would like to explore the possibilities of the two together (other than electrical engineer). I'm curious as to what I could do utilizing both degrees.

Thank you, everyone.

How about design and construction of instrumentation for Earth and space based telescopes.



#19 llanitedave

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Posted 18 March 2019 - 03:08 PM

Another skill that would be extremely valuable in your chosen field would be the ability to code software.  Many researchers need to develop custom software for their projects, unique needs call for unique programs.

 

One of the popular languages in astronomy is Python, because of the number of tools it provides for data mining.

 

Here's a talk at last year's Pycon by astronomer Jake Vanderplas concerning some of the tools he uses:

 

https://www.youtube....h?v=zQeYx87mfyw



#20 Cajundaddy

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Posted 18 March 2019 - 03:35 PM

Avoid student debt like Anthrax!  I like your plan to cover as much GE at your local CC as possible and work concurrently, perhaps as an electrician, thru summers to cover the cost of your education.  Seek grants not loans and put studies first, frat parties second.  I would probably focus on a BS in physics and pursue astronomy in postgrad.  This was the path of a friend who is currently on the Juno project at NASA JPL. 

 

https://science.jpl....v/people/Orton/


Edited by Cajundaddy, 18 March 2019 - 03:37 PM.

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#21 Cajundaddy

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Posted 18 March 2019 - 03:56 PM

I see two sides here.  Math and physics at a community college will be slower paced with more one on one help.   It will also be less rigorous.  This is why I said you need to be the top student in your classes because when you transfer to a 4 year university,  you will be competing against students who have been through a more rigorous program. 

 

And too,  you will need to understand the math you know on a fundamental level. 

 

Jon

This may be true in some areas but was not my personal experience in 100 and 200 level courses.  I took calculus at both CC and UC where the classes, coursework, and even time frame were identical for 4 unit semesters.  Class sizes were smaller at the CC and there was more personalized help available.  Similar stories were reported for 100-200 level chemistry and physics.  I took both of those at CC and was far ahead of many of my peers at UC.  Results may vary regionally but my own experience and that of one of my kids indicate that a CC is a great place to cover GE requirements and prepare for upper level courses at a UC or private school.

 

Alas my calculus skills were a black hole and after several attempts, I abandoned my quest for an engineering degree in favor of Business Admin.  When a $ symbol was in front of the numbers, math  suddenly made perfect sense. 


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#22 BillP

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Posted 19 March 2019 - 10:55 AM

Thank you all for the wonderful advice. I will do as many have suggested and finish my electrical degree, this will provide me with a fall-back job and help advance through my education. I will take the advanced math courses at my community college to prepare for the road ahead. Most of the credits from those should carry over. My goal is to work with something related to astronomy, but I will refrain from having high expectations for that. Instead, I will continue to work towards being an astrophysicist but keep engineering in the back seat.

Again, thank you to everyone!

 

waytogo.gif waytogo.gif

 

Just as a side note for you, in the electrical field, an Electrical Lineman (people who install/repair high power lines) is in the top 10 for blue collar salaries.  Natural gas distribution companies offer the highest average wage for Linemen in the U.S. of $95,550; electrical power companies employ the most linemen and pay them $73,850 a year on average.  http://www.nwlinejat...plate4/?page=30




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