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Calling all chem- physics- and math-philes!
April 4, 2014 1:01 PM   Subscribe

For the grad-level education I want, I need an understanding of chemistry, physics, and calculus at a minimum. I have a BA in a tangentially related field (or will in a couple months). What are the best resources for learning these subjects without spending even more time/money on tuition?

I'm about to get my BA in Geography, but would really like to angle toward oceanography as a career. I have few qualifications for this as it stands now - the last time I took a math course was a 150 course in 2008, I haven't taken chemistry since high school, and I've never taken physics. I need a basis in chem, physics, and calc I & II before I can think about getting more into atmospheric science or environmental science.

Honestly, I'd just switch my major in a heartbeat to atmospheric science, but I'm 24 already and switching would mean at least three, maybe four more years of undergrad, and given how rigid the program is at my university, I'd have to give up on my no-loans streak to go full time, or else it would take me more like 5-6 years. Ack.

So, I'm starting now by watching CrashCourse Chemistry on Youtube, and will be taking a look at YaleCourses as well, particularly for physics. I find I learn best when I can add books to my lecture learning though, so I'm looking for suggestions for books, textbooks and otherwise, that I could take a look at.

Mathematics is probably going to be trickier. Complicating my learning of math is a history of high school teachers who destroyed my confidence years ago; this lack of confidence in math in general is pretty much the only reason I chose to get a BA and not a BS in the first place, and I'm only now realizing that I can probably do it after all and maybe my high school teachers were just wrong/didn't care enough to help me understand. So, in this case I'm looking for ways to simultaneously build up my confidence and my knowledge.

Bonus question: It's not strictly necessary, but while I'm at it I'd like to poke my nose a little farther into biology. I took some bio courses while I was getting my associate's degree back in 2007-2010, and I'd like to refresh my memory.

Thanks in advance for any and all assistance.
posted by Urban Winter to Education (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Have you looked at the pre-reqs for the grad programs you're interested in? For many places, you will have to have the physics, chem and math on your actual transcript, which means you'll have to do a post-bacc of some sort. Unfortunately, just acquiring the knowledge by yourself to get into a grad program in a science field is probably not going to fly at most places.

That said, if you really just want to learn on your own, Khan Academy and Coursera I have found to both be excellent for math courses.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:05 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]


Check out some of the "Cartoon Guides..." I know they have them for Statistics and Physics. They are very approachable but do not water anything down. I think the first chapter or two of the statistics book covered what I learned in my college Intro To Statistics class, so you don't necessarily need to get through the whole book.
posted by Michele in California at 1:13 PM on April 4


I guess this is me thread-sitting; I'll stop after this:

I do plan on doing some additional schooling so that I have the credits on a transcript, but I can't see any reason not to start learning sooner rather than later, especially since I'm not sure whether I can actually afford to continue school in any capacity right this minute.

I'm not deluding myself into thinking I'll get into a grad program without the in-class coursework - but I also don't want to wait until I am enrolled in a class to approach any of this.
posted by Urban Winter at 1:14 PM on April 4


Gotcha, that makes sense. Yeah, Khan and Coursera are great. MIT has great open courses as well. Here's a list from open culture with a ton of free online courses. If you scroll down to the sciences you can find some great online bio, chem, physics courses available through iTunes and some other places.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:24 PM on April 4


I just dropped out of a marine sciences grad program. Memail me if you want some detailed advice and information.
posted by oceanjesse at 1:24 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


This is a quote from the Scripts Institute of Oceanography at UCSD:

The average yearly salary for an oceanographer with a bachelor’s degree (in 2009) was $33,254. Postdoctoral researchers average salary ranged from $37,400 to $49,452.

So...while Oceanography is an amazing career, it doesn't pay much. And your best bet for getting a career in this discipline is to apply specifically to an Oceanography program as a second degree.

If you are exiting school, and you don't want to get into debt, find work that straddles the line between Oceanography and Geography.

Here are some jobs currently advertised on USAJobs, which is the federal government's website for jobs. Check out the Student Trainee jobs to see if any are of interest to you. At least you can get a job in your existing discipline, while checking out other options. USAJobs didn't have any listings for Oceanography.

At 24, you seem to be taking a very long time to get out of university. I'm hip, I was the same age when I finally graduated (after 7 years), but I dropped out and then dropped back in.

If you have a similar path, then I have nothing to say on the subject, you did what you did how you could do it. But if you've been in school full time for all these years, and you're delayed in graduating because you changed your mind about your major, I'd be suspicious that you really have a lot of scientific interests, and not a lot of ideas about turning these interests into real-world jobs.

A cheap way of getting core classes for a possible jump to Grad School would be to take them through a Community College. Cheap, cheerful and transferrable. That's how I got all of my classes for my MBA.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:31 PM on April 4


If your intent is to apply to a graduate program in oceanography, you should take all of these courses at a University. One reason is that you will probably need these courses on your transcript if you want to be admitted to a decent grad program, as was mentioned up thread. But here is another reason. Oceanography is the application of physics, chemistry, math, geology, and biology, to the marine realm. Very few oceanographers actually have degrees in oceanography at the undergraduate level. Some oceanographers (myself included) have never taken a course in oceanography. Most approach it from one of the other sciences. So to do modern marine science research you need to be well grounded in the basic sciences and mathematics. And most research in oceanography is highly interdisciplinary.

So if you want to get started before taking University courses in these subjects, some of the options others have mentioned sound great. But I would start with math. You might want to take the math placement test your University uses, just to see where you stand. The result will help you understand better where you need to start with something like Khan Academy or the MIT open courses. Once you feel confident about your algebra and trig skills, I would launch right into calculus and chemistry. I would wait on the physics. Take calculus based physics after you have completed the calc I and II sequence.

Good luck!
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 1:33 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]


I'm wondering if it would make more sense to find a job in an ocean-related line of work. A PhD is great but the competition for good research jobs is great in any academic-style research organization, and you are already behind.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:55 PM on April 4


The oceanographers I know mostly have huge math backgrounds of some sort. Some came from biology, others from physics or (and) chemistry, one or two from engineering. I agree: calculus now, with differential equations of all types to follow. Numerical and finite modeling coursework won't hurt either. Stats, unless you are doing biology, isn't as important as basic math for atmospheric or hydrographic science.
posted by bonehead at 2:33 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]


An paid summer internship on a ship could also be great experience for you. Memail me if you would like to know about that, too.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:36 PM on April 6


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