Is a Career Change Possible?

waday

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Has anyone contemplated or completed a career change?

Background
I'm fairly well educated in my current path, with a bachelors and masters, as well as getting to the big milestone of being professionally licensed. With all of that behind me, I'm doing pretty well in my current career and have worked up a decent-enough resume for my age.

I've worked government for a few years, then moved to consulting for about the same length of time. I've found that consulting is much more mentally stimulating (which I like), but the work isn't ideal for my personal interests. To make a long story short, I'm really no longer interested in the work I'm doing. I can't figure out if it's the jobs that I've had or if it's the profession itself. Ideally, I'd like to get another job to see if it's my current employer or current work. I've explored my current options, but I'm finding this career does not really align with my career goals or personal interests.

I thought it did align with my interests when I was getting my degrees. I wish I would have been able to figure all this out when I was in high school debating my future life, but that's water under the bridge.

Additional info that may be helpful
For what it's worth, I'm currently an engineer. Would like to possibly move to physics/astrophysics through a PhD program. I'll likely need more math (highest math was differential equations) and physics (two calculus-based classes with labs), but I'm ready and willing to do what it takes for this change. I'd likely need a refresher classes in math and physics.

I realize that such a change would likely result in $100-$200K worth of student loan debt, which is why I'm not taking this lightly. I fear that if I don't make a change now, it'll only get harder in the future.

Questions
I have a few questions, answers and opinions to any of these would be much appreciated!
  1. Is a career change realistically doable?
  2. Is a career change financially possible if the family (wife and dog) currently relies heavily on my salary?
  3. What kind of personal/professional struggles are there with a career change? (Wife currently supports it, assuming it's what I want to do and we can make it work. Dog probably doesn't care as long as she gets fed and walked.)
  4. If you have contemplated a career change, AND YOU DID NOT MAKE THE CHANGE, why did you decide against it?
  5. If you have contemplated a career change, AND YOU MADE THE CHANGE, do you have any advice for someone starting the research into making a change?
  6. Has anyone on this forum made physics or astrophysics their chosen career? If so, if you'd be willing to answer a few questions (through private message), I would be most appreciative!
  7. Instead of changing careers, did anyone increase their hobbies/outside work interests to a level that overcame their issues with their current careers/jobs/employers/etc?
 

Buckster

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Edwin Hubble started life as an attorney, then switched and became a very successful astronomer who discovered that the universe is expanding, hence the big bang. You may have heard of the famous space telescope named in his honor. :)
 

runnah

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Anything is possible.

But I've come to realize that every job/career is filled with the same types of people and problems. So switching careers won't solve those issues.
 
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waday

waday

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Edwin Hubble started life as an attorney, then switched and became a very successful astronomer who discovered that the universe is expanding, hence the big bang. You may have heard of the famous space telescope named in his honor. :)
Good point! Thanks for that boost. :smile:

Anything is possible.

But I've come to realize that every job/career is filled with the same types of people and problems. So switching careers won't solve those issues.
Oh, I absolutely understand and agree that there will be issues with every job and every field.

Agree, switching careers won't change those problems. Without going into details, there are some other issues I'm dealing with that are somewhat field-specific.

What I'm trying to discern is if those normal-job issues can be somewhat overshadowed when I'm doing something I like as opposed to doing something that I dislike. Also wondering, if it's possible and if people were happy or unhappy with the change after having already invested time and money in another career.
 

astroNikon

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As mentioned any thing is possible.

Also look at potential future jobs and earnings related to what you make and be comfortable with that change (the wife and dog too) whether positively or negatively.

I had a couple roommates in college who were theoretical physics/astrophysics majors in college. I had 4 terms of calculus and couldn't understand squat of the math they were doing. One ended up working at a pizza place and the other a Doctor (with nothing to do with astrophysics). Another friend I knew went on to work for NASA.
 

KenC

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Yep, went to school at night (starting at age 39) while continuing to work as a chemist during the day. It was difficult but ultimately worth it in all sorts of ways. Send me a PM if you want to discuss details.

As for your specific plan of doing physics, is there work in the field? Most physicists I've known are doing something else. That's fine if it's a first love that you study when you're young and then find another way to make money, but it would be a tough sell for me to make the effort at a later point if there wasn't a way to use it. Remember that employers always, always look at age, despite any statements to the contrary.

If I were you I'd check on the math. I was an engineering major as an undergraduate and I remember the physics majors taking about four or five math courses I didn't take, and that's just undergraduate - who knows what else they might take in grad school?
 
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waday

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As mentioned any thing is possible.

Also look at potential future jobs and earnings related to what you make and be comfortable with that change (the wife and dog too) whether positively or negatively.

I had a couple roommates in college who were theoretical physics/astrophysics majors in college. I had 4 terms of calculus and couldn't understand squat of the math they were doing. One ended up working at a pizza place and the other a Doctor (with nothing to do with astrophysics). Another friend I knew went on to work for NASA.

Yeah, I'd definitely need more math as a prerequisite into the program. Then, more math after that, haha. The one friend that worked at a pizza place... did he ever get a job in his field? I'd love to work for NASA in pretty much any capacity, haha.

Yep, went to school at night (starting at age 39) while continuing to work as a chemist during the day. It was difficult but ultimately worth it in all sorts of ways. Send me a PM if you want to discuss details.

As for your specific plan of doing physics, is there work in the field? Most physicists I've known are doing something else. That's fine if it's a first love that you study when you're young and then find another way to make money, but it would be a tough sell for me to make the effort at a later point if there wasn't a way to use it. Remember that employers always, always look at age, despite any statements to the contrary.

If I were you I'd check on the math. I was an engineering major as an undergraduate and I remember the physics majors taking about four or five math courses I didn't take, and that's just undergraduate - who knows what else they might take in grad school?

Thank you for the info! I was never really afraid of math, but I definitely know I'd need to take a few prerequisites just to get INTO a program, and probably have to take one or to more just as a refresher, haha.

I do worry about the stability of the job market in physics, especially with gov't funding in this sector remaining relatively constant with more and more research grants, meaning much more competition. Outside of research, I'm not sure of too many other jobs; I'm guessing medical and manufacturing research? Again, probably pretty darn competitive. I'd definitely be happy as a professor, but again, lots of competition.

@KenC, if you don't mind, I may PM you later tonight (when I have more time to type and think)?
 

Designer

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I've changed jobs/career several times, but only once by first returning to college. I did that rather late in life, but even then I was able to repay my loans fairly quickly.

So I'd say it's probably doable, but I doubt if seeking an advanced degree is the correct path. There may be other options for you.
 

astroNikon

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The one friend that worked at a pizza place... did he ever get a job in his field?
Nope
Not even after he got a different degree

The one friend that worked for NASA got straight A's in high school, College/Masters / Phd @ California Berkeley. So, that's your competition in that field.

I have another friend that used to work for Orbital Sciences .. a real rocket scientist. Now is a math professor at a college.

You really need to research what jobs are available in that field and where they are located. Pretty much you'll have to relocate where the jobs are.
 

Gary A.

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I changed my career a number of times, I think I get bored easily. For whatever reasons ... I have difficulty working with others ... I suspect coworkers are intimidated. I think I am average and expect other to work/participate at the same average level. Working news was fine as we all worked somewhat autonomously. But when I left news and pursued a corporate career, other managers didn't appreciate my minimal expectations for myself and others. So I started my own company, when it became successful, and/or, I became bored, I'd dump it and start another. I started a new company about two years ago. It is struggling, but I know that it will be successful and within the next 30 days I'll probably be starting another.

What do you expect/desire as a return from a formal education? What do you wish/desire to do in physics?

If your dreams are a PhD ... then follow your dreams for the purity of following your dreams, for the purity of accomplishment for accomplishment's sake. If you expect to make more money, be more successful with a PhD as opposed to an engineer ... my initial response is ... think again.
 

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I agree about finding out what the job market is like for that type work. And how much schooling are you talking about? Is it a related field that most of your current degree coursework would count toward?

I can't get past that amount of debt...

But engineering obviously pays more than education (my field) so you'd have to figure out how many years it would take and how much per month you could afford to pay it back. Assuming there are plenty of jobs available - I'd check with any colleges or universities you're considering and talk to someone in their career counseling (or whatever dept. it is) to find out what jobs are in demand.

The change I made after about 10 years in public schools was going into early intervention; I just had to take a few grad classes for that specialization and I took evening classes; paid for them, no loans. Did that for 20+ years, once I got there I never left! lol til an early retirement (due to having a stroke, luckily had my 30 years in).

Don't make the decision now right after the holidays - nobody sounds like they wanted to go back to work today!
 

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I contimplated it for a while but ended up not making the switch. A combination of realisation that I probably wasn't best suited to the carrer I was considering and after 10 years of working from the bottom up in the industry I moved into after leaving where I completed my apprenticeship (and not being able to find a job in the same field), things finally fell into place for me and I managed into a position that I could finally consider a carreer as opposed to just a job. Sure, some contracts are not exactly what I'd prefer to be doing but sometimes small steps are needed and some **** needs shoveled along the way. A massive boost for me recently was the company I work for won a big contract that secures our work for the next 6 years, possibly 12 if we do well.

I guess you need to decide whither it's the job that's the issue or whither it's the place you are in or just possibly a stale point in your career (in which case refocusing on a new goal may work). It's not always easy to distinguish between those and can be a really difficult descision to make.

Oh, and if you think about it engineering is really just taking physics and applying it to the real world to create effective solutions.

And yes, I have lots of hobbies. Photography is my creative outlet, Fishing and walking help my desire to be outdoors and get away from it all, I have a big ass smoker in my garden which I fire up when the weather is nice, I rebuild my own fishing rods, am into computer gaming and usualy have some project I can make with my hands on the go and I'm considering getting into jujitsu again after I injured my elbow bouldering last year.
 

limr

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What kind of personal/professional struggles are there with a career change? (Wife currently supports it, assuming it's what I want to do and we can make it work. Dog probably doesn't care as long as she gets fed and walked.)
...
If you have contemplated a career change, AND YOU DID NOT MAKE THE CHANGE, why did you decide against it?

You may have heard me mention my paralegal studies and brief stints working as a paralegal. In short, a few years back, I reached the "Senior Adjunct" status, which gives almost no perks, but one of them is free tuition, so I did a paralegal certificate part time. I thought I'd try it as a back-up career since adjuncting, many might know, is soul-crushingly underpaid and I didn't know how much longer I could stand it. I've always like law and I know that paralegal work is one of the few areas that is still adding jobs. I wasn't sure if I'd like it or what field I'd go in, but it was free, so what the hell?

In my second to last semester, I took CrimLaw and did an internship at the DA's office and loved it so decided to go ahead and try to get some part-time work. Well, it turned out that it's really hard to break into Criminal Law (on either side, but especially prosecution, which was of course what I was more interested in). And even in civil law, for the most part, before I could get to the jobs that would give me a decent wage and some satisfying work, I would need to be humping it at crappy long-hour, low-paid jobs at insurance or real estate firms for several years.

So professionally, I would have had to start from zero again, especially since my old career field didn't really dovetail nicely into the new career ("Why would an English teacher want to work for Legal Aid???") But also, it would almost certainly mean doing work that didn't mean diddly squat to me, at the very least for several years. I loved the internship at the DA's office and if I had to work in defense, I would have been happy doing work for Legal Aid as well (I don't think I'd enjoy a fancy defense firm, helping to get rich suburban kids out of possession charges :048: ) BUT, it was hard to break into, as I said, and there was the danger of being pigeon-holed as a real estate/probate/insurance/contracts paralegal. And so personally, that would have crushed my soul even faster than living on an adjunct's salary.

I knew this for sure when I got a job working part-time for a lawyer that I called Lumbergh (I knew it the first time he said "Yeah, that would be great.")

He did all the law I didn't want to do, and I can't even tell you how much I hated it. So I quit and decided to give myself a few weeks to really think if I wanted to pursue the paralegal thing, or throw my energy back into making something happen at the college instead. As it turns out, an opportunity came up for a better part-time admin job that has more potential than I've seen in years, so I took that. And so far, I have no plans to give paralegal another go. Perhaps I tried the change too late (I'm 44 and it's not like I'm old but I'm old enough to feel exhausted at the thought of paying my dues in a new profession all over again). Perhaps I didn't want it enough, my heart just wasn't in it (I still enjoy teaching and only enjoy certain areas of law, and not the profitable ones!) And maybe I didn't go far enough (should I have sucked it up, racked up some more debt and gone to law school? Then I could have more easily found work at a DA's office). I don't know. All I know is that it didn't quite work out for me, but that also might be because of the timing of the new opportunities at the college that reduced my need to change careers.

But I do NOT regret trying, so at the very least, I encourage you to take it as far as it makes sense to you.
 

KmH

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waday,

I met several University of Arizona Astronomy majors back in the 80's through my association with the Flandreau Planetarium and Steward Mirror Lab on the U of A campus.
Astronomy majors that were struggling with the astronomy math opted for their fall back goal of becoming nuclear physicists.

Frankly, I would say the worst scenario is to look back years from now and regret not doing what your heart told you to do.

Edwin Hubble started life as an attorney, then switched and became a very successful astronomer who discovered that the universe is expanding, hence the big bang. You may have heard of the famous space telescope named in his honor. :)
It looks like Hubble started out with Physics and Astronomy.
He got a bachelor of science degree in 1910 from the University of Chicago.
As one of the first Rhodes Scholars he then studied Law, Spanish and Literature at Oxford. He left Oxford in 1913 and at age 25 decided he wanted to be an astronomer.
Hubble's former professor helped him get back into the U of C/Yerkes Observatory and he got his PhD in Astronomy in 1917.
After a very brief stint in the Army at the end of WWI Hubble spent a year at Cambridge for more studies in Astronomy.

According to author Bill Byrson in A Short History Of Nearly Everything, Edwin Hubble was an inveterate liar and told tales of almost constant valor - rescuing drowning swimmers, embarrassing world-champion boxers with knockout punches in exhibition bouts, leading injured soldiers off the WWI battlefields in France, and more.

According to Bryson Hubble also lied about practicing law in Kentucky in 1913 after he returned from Oxford and was actually a high school teacher and basketball coach in New Albany, IL during that time.
Hubble was from Wheaton, IL. His father was an insurance company executive.

Hubble moved to California and the Mt. Wilson Observatory in 1919.
When Hubble died in 1953, no funeral was held for him and his wife never revealed his burial site.

Vesto Slipher, at the Lowell Observatory, provided the first measurements of galaxy red shifts in 1912, more than 10 years before Hubble did galaxy red shift measurements.

None the less, Hubble was the leading astronomer of his day, and with some help from others, like Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Hubble pushed the known boundary of our universe way further back.
 
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