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I've been an electrical engineering technician working with particle accelerators for about 7 years. I'm very good with electronics and have moved from a technician role to an engineer role (without the title). For having a 2 year degree, my pay is quite good - around 78K including 5K overtime. There is not much room for me to improve that number without significant overtime. Overtime is available, and I could earn as much as my willingness to work overtime allows. I've also been moonlighting in physics classes, and will receive my BS in physics soon. I enjoy school and would like to get a master's degree.

I was considering accelerator physics, but the job prospects are very narrow for that field. That's why I'm considering theraputic medical physics (think a radiation pharmacist for cancer patients). Nearly every clinic and mid sized hospital has one, large hospitals have a team. A board certified physicist earns about 120K-150K to start, with income potential of 200K+. It will take me 4 years to finish the program while working full time, plus 2 years of residency with annual salary of ~50K during the residency.

Right now, there is a bottleneck in residency slots with too many applicants, many who are armed with a PhD. If I don't get into a residency after spending 4 years to get the masters degree, I may never be board certified, limiting my earning to the low 100K range. By the time I might finish a residency, I will be 35. That still gives me 30 years in the field. I know many doctors start their career that late in life, but their earning potential may be significantly higher.

My employer pays for all tuition and books so far, and will pay for my master's degree. I have a 5K in student loans in deferment left over from my technical school. The master's program will essentially be free, only costing me my free time, after which I will take a 30K a year pay cut for 2 years. DW can likely fill that gap as she is a school teacher, but that may be difficult with one or more small children. I will either have to rent out or short sell my house because I'm 30K underwater and there is not a residency program near me. PITI is $1600, rental income would be about $1400 minus management fee.

I've looked through physics forums for this type of question and primarily find the thread turns into an academic pissing contest. I'm not writing this post to get affirmation for a decision I've already made, but rather input as to whether it is worth it to pursue this course, whether the risks are too great, and if I'm starting in a new field too late in life.

Cliff notes for those TLDR folks:
I want to start a new career that requires a master's degree and may more than double my salary. I will be 35 by the time I finish. The field requires board certification, which I may never get. In that case, that limits me to perhaps only a 50% increase in salary. I'm not paying for the education. Is it worth it in terms of investment of my time, and perhaps having to short sell my house?

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I submitted my application to graduate school a few weeks ago. It turns out there are a small number applicants this sem... (more)

RedCelicaGT (Nov. 01, 2012 @ 11:24a) |

That's what they told folks at the gulag in Siberia.

HawkeyeNFO (Nov. 01, 2012 @ 7:45p) |

UPDATE:
The program accepted three students. I was one of them and will begin classes in two weeks. Two students received... (more)

RedCelicaGT (Jan. 07, 2013 @ 2:51a) |

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It costs you nothing to get the degree? You are in the best position to get it - then decide if it's worth it / you want to enter residency. If you don't use this opportunity, what would you use your tuition reimbursement for? Most people in your position would be looking at losing their entire salary for 2 years, plus taking on tuition debt.

You will still have 30 years of work left at 35. I would make the jump if it's what I wanted to do.

ETA: Even using the 50% increase in salary number - you will cover the $30k short sale in one year. More if your salary inflates over 6 years. The question I have is how is the school operating in an area with no residency program - that doesn't instill confidence you'll get licensed. How do their graduates perform?

elektronic said:   It costs you nothing to get the degree? You are in the best position to get it - then decide if it's worth it / you want to enter residency. If you don't use this opportunity, what would you use your tuition reimbursement for? Most people in your position would be looking at losing their entire salary for 2 years, plus taking on tuition debt.

You will still have 30 years of work left at 35. I would make the jump if it's what I wanted to do.

ETA: Even using the 50% increase in salary number - you will cover the $30k short sale in one year. More if your salary inflates over 6 years. The question I have is how is the school operating in an area with no residency program - that doesn't instill confidence you'll get licensed. How do their graduates perform?


If I don't do this, I will study beam/accelerator physics at USPAS. There are a lot of changes to the board certification process going on right now. If I would have graduated last semester, I would not need a residency. The change in board certification requirements has placed many accredited programs without a nearby accredited residency program. The students at this particular school end up working for a cancer therapy training firm, or at clinics. Some graduates do not get jobs, as the field is very competitive. With my background in accelerators, I will most certainly have a job when I graduate, just maybe not as a board certified medical physicist.

Make a career change to Finance.

qcumber98 said:   Make a career change to Finance.
What? Like actuarial science?

sounds like a bad plan financially. big effort for something with little upside, i.e. salary ceiling in the new field also. once you get the BS can you get the engineer title? rightly or wrongly, working at a physics lab gives one a lot of "cred" that can be parlayed into entry into other fields. you'll be thought of as "the physics guy" by people who like to watch morgan freeman specials on the science channel. you're not too late in life to start a new career. but if you want to make money you need to abandon the idea of applying your physics degree

If 35 is too old to get a master's, my husband's screwed - he won't be done until he's 37, with further education planned after that.

Anyway...I guess I don't understand why you'd necessarily have to take a pay cut after getting the degree. Would it be written in some sort of contract with your current that that's what they want from you in order to fund the master's? If that's the case, what would it cost for you to pay for it on your own, while maintaining your current position?

Since you're planning to work full time while you're getting your master's, why not? After you do that, you can see if you can get a residency or not. If you do, great. Now you have some experience and have your foot in the door. If not, you're still where you are right now except you may be able to move up due to your master's degree. Very little downside to me.

If I don't do this, I will study beam/accelerator physics ... (text omitted)This is a wild shot in the dark, but do you think there might be more opportunities in the field of MRI development than in accelerators? If you like particle physics, you might also like that. If you want an MS you should be able to do that in 2 years still.

akiri423 said:   Anyway...I guess I don't understand why you'd necessarily have to take a pay cut after getting the degree. Would it be written in some sort of contract with your current that that's what they want from you in order to fund the master's? If that's the case, what would it cost for you to pay for it on your own, while maintaining your current position?

I will have to quit my current job after graduating with a master's to attend the residency program. Old job ~80K, residency ~50K.

RJG said:   If I don't do this, I will study beam/accelerator physics ... (text omitted)This is a wild shot in the dark, but do you think there might be more opportunities in the field of MRI than in accelerators? If you like particle physics, you might consider MRI. If you want an MS you should be able to do that in 2 years still.

I'm not sure I'd like diagnostic imaging physics as much as theraputic. I've had many family members die of cancer, and I'd like to help others have the best chance at survival. If theraputic medical physics doesn't work out, I'm not sure how hard the transition would be to diagnostic.

35 is not too old for such a career change.

You're looking at potentially doubling your salary for 3 decades. Thats good ROI on taking a few years out.

Don't you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone!

Does the medical physicist job expose you to radiation? That would be the only sticking point in my decision making, otherwise it is pretty cut and dried. You are maxed out in your current position and you still have a desire to build a higher paying career.

outtawhack said:   Don't you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone!

if your life is honey and roses, what are you going to talk about @ the old folk's home?

BNizzle said:   Does the medical physicist job expose you to radiation? That would be the only sticking point in my decision making, otherwise it is pretty cut and dried. You are maxed out in your current position and you still have a desire to build a higher paying career.

My current position exposes me to radiation. I've always worked with radiation since I was an electronics intern. I always will.

Honestly, I feel much safer working around x-ray generators than when I was employed at a rocket factory. I think medical physics will be a boon to my personal safety.

There's a particle accelerator in Las Vegas?

Las Vegas, NM, maybe....

lray said:   There's a particle accelerator in Las Vegas?

Las Vegas, NM, maybe....


There are probably several in what-ever city you live in. Most cancer centers have one.

BNizzle said:   Does the medical physicist job expose you to radiation? That would be the only sticking point in my decision making, otherwise it is pretty cut and dried. You are maxed out in your current position and you still have a desire to build a higher paying career.

Not much with the newer linear accelerators. Only the patient is inside the room when the machine is delivering radiation.

OP: With the rapid expansion of patient load and technology of radiation therapy, residency spots have been increasing. If you aren't geographically limited in your residency search, you have a great shot at getting a residency.

In general, go for it, otherwise it would eat away at a mind like mine and I will slowly begin to lose focus on what I'm employed to do.

If it's valuable enough to you that you use your spare time to study it, I think you can do really well at it given more time by being able to devote your working time to it. I used to study engineering in college, but my interests were outside of that, and I was running a small business. In retrospect, I was interested in business, but thought I could study engineering during the day and then run my business at night. My passion should have been easy to spot, but at the time I convinced myself that engineering is what I should be doing.

Another perspective to think about is maybe what you would want your kids to do. Often times, it's easier to encourage them to do what fulfills them the most, and then not do that for ourselves.

Finally... most CEO's I know have studied more than just 1 subject. At executive levels, you need to get along with many different people, and so being well versed in multiple topics is a good idea.

As an outsider without having spent too much time to analyze your post and your history on FW, I think the fact that you devote your free time to something should tell you what you should be doing. Your career and money situation will be okay - I think it will suffer more if you do things that you know didn't use your full potential. You will have to find a way to make it work. I have no idea if that means not driving a Mercedes and just having a Honda Civic or something, but those changes won't kill you. They're doable and if you're happier with the work you do, others will see and I think the person to get promoted more quickly is the one who enjoys his work the most.

Just go for it

Congrats to you Red. Dreams have no age limit.

Bill Wilson started AA at 40.

Mandela becomes President at 76.

Julia Child learnt to cook at 40.

Ronald Reagan first elected to public office at 55.

Would you like working in therapeutic medical physics? Go get a PhD in physics and do research on the Z-machine at Sandia National Laboratories, way cooler than being in a hospital .

1)I have a friend who did this- made great $$$- looks like even if you didn't get those 'residency' spots that you would reach the break-even point in a few years.
2)You reference that you know doctors starting their career that late in life but that their earning potential is higher- not always- if they arent' in a high paying specialty they are making the salary you refernce- I know many family medicine docs who start their career around then that will make less than you likely will
3)Have you seen what the job entails? Have you worked with patients dying of horrible cancers? I have- it's not for everyone. Sick patients and the futility of some treatment can be very depressing to some people. Plus if you're not used to medicine, sick people can be icky. Honestly- diagnostic imaging work probably has a better chance of helping people than radiation oncology...

RedCelicaGT said:    I've been an electrical engineering technician working with particle accelerators for about 7 years. I'm very good with electronics and have moved from a technician role to an engineer role (without the title). For having a 2 year degree, my pay is quite good - around 78K including 5K overtime. There is not much room for me to improve that number without significant overtime. Overtime is available, and I could earn as much as my willingness to work overtime allows. I've also been moonlighting in physics classes, and will receive my BS in physics soon. I enjoy school and would like to get a master's degree.

I was considering accelerator physics, but the job prospects are very narrow for that field. That's why I'm considering theraputic medical physics (think a radiation pharmacist for cancer patients). Nearly every clinic and mid sized hospital has one, large hospitals have a team. A board certified physicist earns about 120K-150K to start, with income potential of 200K+. It will take me 4 years to finish the program while working full time, plus 2 years of residency with annual salary of ~50K during the residency.

Right now, there is a bottleneck in residency slots with too many applicants, many who are armed with a PhD. If I don't get into a residency after spending 4 years to get the masters degree, I may never be board certified, limiting my earning to the low 100K range. By the time I might finish a residency, I will be 35. That still gives me 30 years in the field. I know many doctors start their career that late in life, but their earning potential may be significantly higher.

My employer pays for all tuition and books so far, and will pay for my master's degree. I have a 5K in student loans in deferrment left over from my technical school. The master's program will essentially be free, only costing me my free time, after which I will take a 30K a year pay cut for 2 years. DW can likely fill that gap as she is a school teacher, but that may be difficult with one or more small children. I will either have to rent out or short sell my house because I'm 30K underwater and there is not a residency program near me (Las Vegas). PITI is $1600, rental income would be about $1400 minus management fee.

I've looked through physics forums for this type of question and primarily find the thread turns into an academic pissing contest. I'm not writing this post to get affirmation for a decision I've already made, but rather input as to whether it is worth it to pursue this course, whether the risks are too great, and if I'm starting in a new field too late in life.

Cliff notes for those TLDR folks:
I want to start a new career that requires a master's degree and may more than double my salary. I will be 35 by the time I finish. The field requires board certification, which I may never get. In that case, that limits me to perhaps only a 50% increase in salary. I'm not paying for the education. Is it worth it in terms of investment of my time, and perhaps having to short sell my house?




At 29, it isn't too late to start anything in life. Thank your lucky stars you know what you want to do, have the capability to do it and have the means to make it happen. Even if you are only limited to a salary in the low 100s, you have certainly bettered your current position and it hasn't really cost you a lot of money. In other words, YES your ROI will be worth it.

wp746911 said:   1)I have a friend who did this- made great $$$- looks like even if you didn't get those 'residency' spots that you would reach the break-even point in a few years.
2)You reference that you know doctors starting their career that late in life but that their earning potential is higher- not always- if they arent' in a high paying specialty they are making the salary you refernce- I know many family medicine docs who start their career around then that will make less than you likely will
3)Have you seen what the job entails? Have you worked with patients dying of horrible cancers? I have- it's not for everyone. Sick patients and the futility of some treatment can be very depressing to some people. Plus if you're not used to medicine, sick people can be icky. Honestly- diagnostic imaging work probably has a better chance of helping people than radiation oncology...


Re: 3) medical physicists rarely, if ever, interact with patients so I'm not sure this will come into play very much. I'm curious what makes you say the last part?

drsauce said:   wp746911 said:   1)

Re: 3) medical physicists rarely, if ever, interact with patients so I'm not sure this will come into play very much. I'm curious what makes you say the last part?


In my experience, there is quite a bit of interaction, treatment planning is a team sport, and the patient is a part of that team.

Also, while not done as much as it used to be, Brachytherapy (implanted radiation, either temporary or permanent) exposes the physicist, while there is exposure to only the patient with linear accelerator treatment.

Kudos for using your real SN.

Whereabouts is the Vegas property? Some of the heavy hitters have been contemplating acquiring a frat house in Vegas. Perhaps there's a deal to be made.

I don't have a background in your sector (current or proposed), but am a big fan of quality, free education.

The US is full of people changing careers FAR later in life. MOST INVOLUNTARILY

In your deliberations, remember to factor in the REGRET of not living your dreams and the RISK of NOT DOING what you can do now. In a few years, health, wealth, family, or company paid education could put you in a position where you could not swing this IF you so desired.

If this is your passion, this is a no brainer.

Don't let doubt (man's greatest downfall) stop you. Always bet on your intelligence. And stop overestimating your competition for the residency programs.

Constantly improve and update your skills. Its the only way to survive.

One last comment. Eat healthy and keep weight at 10% below "ideal body weight", and 35 is not close middle age.

subieaggie said:   Would you like working in therapeutic medical physics? Go get a PhD in physics and do research on the Z-machine at Sandia National Laboratories, way cooler than being in a hospital .
Re Z-machine: I've been given the opportunity to work on the Z-machine. I've toured the facility and corresponding laser facility. Ultimately, I don't like ABQ. I also hate the slow bureaucratic grind associated with working at a national lab.

Sounds like a thread for NukeMed to weigh-in on.

Celica - I always assumed your were the sit at home type, working on 22R engines and enjoying some weird reverse-alimony gig. Good to hear you're gainfully employed.

RedCelicaGT said:   subieaggie said:   Would you like working in therapeutic medical physics? Go get a PhD in physics and do research on the Z-machine at Sandia National Laboratories, way cooler than being in a hospital .
Re Z-machine: I've been given the opportunity to work on the Z-machine. I've toured the facility and corresponding laser facility. Ultimately, I don't like ABQ. I also hate the slow bureaucratic grind associated with working at a national lab.


Awesome. Sorry for making an off topic comment. I am biased from my engineering background...

Not at all OT, its kind of funny how small the accelerator world is and that you suggested Z.

Logan71 said:   Sounds like a thread for NukeMed to weigh-in on.

Celica - I always assumed your were the sit at home type, working on 22R engines and enjoying some weird reverse-alimony gig. Good to hear you're gainfully employed.


Yeah, I was hoping him and maybe beethoven girl would chime in.

edit:
oh crap, dp.

Logan71 said:   Sounds like a thread for NukeMed to weigh-in on.

Celica - I always assumed your were the sit at home type, working on 22R engines and enjoying some weird reverse-alimony gig. Good to hear you're gainfully employed.


Is NukeMed a nuclear medicine doc? If so, he doesn't do therapeutic radiation with a linear accelerator.

OP,

Just make sure it's something you will enjoy doing. If it is, then go for it.

If your employer is going to pay for the education, then you really have a low risk decision.

I will also throw this out there. Now, more than ever, it is important to be able to increase your skills and demonstrate that you have the potential to adapt. I don't care how secure you think your job is because you are indispensable, your company is making money hand over fist, there's a huge market, etc.... There are always things within your company that are beyond your (and often your manager's) control such as fraud and management incompetence. You never know when you will be involuntarily looking for another job.

Take what you can get from your current job and keep developing yourself in some way. That's the only way you can guarantee "A Job" even if it isn't your current job. Better yet, a job that you can enjoy doing.

Good Luck.

OP are you sure that your employer will pay for this degree, I ask because many employers require the degree to be related to the field in which you are currently employed with them.

If you have already ascertained this then ignore my post, if not please get this confirmed first.

I realize you are currently getting your BS in Physics and probably are getting it fully reimbursed by your employer and your MS in almost the same kind of field should (theoritically) & automatically get employer reimbursement also, but I would run it by them once.

Yes, they will pay. They've paid for other employees to do the same.

1) Saying anything is too late at 30 is patently ridiculous. Go do what you want.
2) Unless money's all you think about, this isn't a financial decision. This is a decision about how you want to spend most of your waking hours for the rest of your life, however long that may be. Do what you want to do.

There are those who take a leap of faith and then there are those who do a PhD on it. I fall into latter types, like you do. I think you should go for it, reasons:
1) If not- potential for 'road not taken regret' for the rest of your life
2) Doesn't seem like there is any down side, other than pay cut for 2 years and more work load. you seem disciplined enough to stay on track
3) Positive outcomes- almost guaranteed
4)Age , I don't see it as a hindrance at all.
so why not. hard work always brings joy and prosperity, sooner or later. and you seem to be not shy of working hard. Good luck!

Skipping 42 Messages...
UPDATE:
The program accepted three students. I was one of them and will begin classes in two weeks. Two students received a graduate assistantship but I didn't apply due to my regular job which pays several times the salary. I'm unsure how many applied but it seems applying for graduate school to begin in spring semester may be advantageous because the application puts one "out of sequence." It seems more students apply for fall than for spring.

Thanks to all for the input, advice, and in many cases, encouragement.



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