Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Decision time approaches

As I enter my final semester as a physics undergraduate, there is a decision looming which I have put off for at least a year: What next?

My choices seem to be along the lines of:
- go back to slacking (the easy option)
- get a real job (the hardest option, in many ways)
- continue education

The final one comes with its own three options:
- aim to become a secondary education (6-12) physics teacher
- aim to become a university physics professor
- aim to become a researcher

Assuming that slacking and getting a real job are off the table for the moment, that leaves me with some complex choices to make, even if I stay at GMU for my continued education (UMCP is a far better physics campus, but I really dislike the idea of driving into MD each day for grad school).

GMU's College of Education and Development (CEHD) offers a Masters of Education in a variety of subjects, including physics. For admission, one needs 3 letters of recommendation, a goals statement and successful Praxis I exam results. The Praxis seems to essentially be a GRE for the education side of things. The LoRs will be interesting to achieve - I am not sure what they are to recommend (my physics knowledge? My teaching ability? My personality and work ethic?). I'm sure I can find three profs who attest to my hard work at school and in classes. Not much teaching experience, however (that's the whole point here!). The deadline for spring admission is November 1st. For next fall, it would be April 1st.

For either the professor or researching angle, I need a PhD. The work is essentially identical for either direction, only my concentration work would change. GMU's sparkly-new Physics PhD program requires acceptable scores (whatever that means!) in both the general GRE (fairly easy) and the physics GRE (very not easy). There are only fall admissions for the graduate program, which leaves me with an April 15th deadline.

Given that I am unlikely to get all my testing done as well as other paperwork within 2 months, the April deadlines are more achievable. That means I can get my various paperwork collected throughout this semester and schedule my test-taking in late winter or early spring (so as not to worry about studying for it during classes).

Now I need to find someone who can usefully advise me as to paths and suggestions of how to approach them. I've already had one person suggest I find a high school physics teacher and ask to sit in on classes just to watch how things go. (Alas, he also suggested I do NOT choose a specialist school like TJHSST, the only place I actually might have access to a physics teacher, because I know his wife!)

And, of course, after all this, there is no indication one way or another that I would be any good at research or teaching in any capacity. I already know I don't do well with teaching indifferent or uninterested students, which could be a challenge. On the other hand, research is undirected ultimately - a situation in which I also do not excel. That's what I get for redefining my existence in my 40s.

Update: Just after I posted this, I received email from my favorite professor, which included in part this sentence:
"I have a potential Ph.D. thesis project if you are interested." That may help narrow down my decision somewhat!


Anonymous said...

PhD in Physics is good idea if you have interest. It was hard for me even to get through Masters.

If you are looking for info on GRE checkout Happy Schools Blog

Scott said...

Thanks, anon! I'm checking Happy Schools Blog now. Have we met yet?