There are often many people who switch careers midway. Some from software engineering to a product management role which is quite popular given relevance of previous career to current career. Another example is software engineer to a data scientist. Some might be less relevant but still have the same corporate setup, for example, a software engineer to supply chain engineer. Some might be irrelevant like software engineer transitioning to teaching high school physics but transitioning is still easy. Some might be super irrelevant and 'risky' like software engineer with 5-7 years of experience, going to study masters in physics then a PhD then couple of postdocs and finally becoming a professor in say high energy physics.

I exactly wanted to know about the last case, how can a present software engineer with >4 years of experience in software engineering, pursue physics and establish a successful career (PhD, post-docs, then professorship) in physics academia.

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    I don't really understand your question. You learn enough physics (if you haven't already) to get yourself admitted to a graduate program, do good work as a graduate student, then apply for postdocs and eventually a permanent position. What else is there? If you want to know how to guarantee success - well, in life there are no guarantees, especially when there are more people - all of whom could follow the rules if there were any - than jobs. – Alexander Woo Oct 7 '20 at 19:37
  • @Alexander Woo: I too found this question strange (although there seem to be quite a few here like this), and I was tempted to answer with: "Spend the next 6 to 12 years (depending on present background in physics, and success shortly after Ph.D.) studying nothing but physics, all the while earning 80% to 90% less (if you're very good at physics; otherwise, expect at least some negative "earnings", especially in the first few years getting an undergraduate background in physics) than you're probably currently earning." – Dave L Renfro Oct 7 '20 at 19:49
  • One way is to not do the PhD/post-doc/professor route, but go into software engineering for physics-related applications. Lots of software being used from the fairly mundane to some very cutting edge stuff. – Jon Custer Oct 7 '20 at 20:01
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    There is absolutely no obstacle preventing software engineers from transitioning to academia. The sole reason you never see this happen is because they just can't stand to give up 90% of their salary for a few years. – knzhou Oct 7 '20 at 23:46
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    It's worse than @knzhou says because the salary will be lower for your whole career. – Anonymous Physicist Oct 8 '20 at 1:02

Your situation does not sound fundamentally different from any other university graduate.

Your work experience will possibly give you some technical and time management skills that others don't have, but you'll just have to put your skillset to good use like every other graduated student.

Note, that going to graduate school for the sole reason to become a professor is a bad idea. The odds are extremely slim. So if you're not enjoying the process/path you'll likely be disappointed. If you're loving doing research with very little income go for it!

  • Thanks for your inputs. I've planned this as different milestones. Milestone1-> Masters, Milestone2-> PhD, Milestone3-> 2 postdocs, Milestone4-> academia. For now I'm determined to complete till Milestone1 for the love of physics. I can switch back to software or allied careers if it doesn't go well for various reasons (I sincerely hope this'll not be the case). From Milestone 2 it'll a roller coaster ride, I'll definitely continue physics or settle for cross disciplinary fields involving physics. I think I'm in 'Love doing research with little income' category, let's revisit after Milestone1. – Hari Oct 8 '20 at 13:37
  • Some of the 'various reasons' being societal/familial/personal pressure for a partner. Getting discouraged due to less financial benefit in the career. Figuring out masters that the aptitude/interest in physics was misjudged (Grass looks green on the other side !!). I've just spelt these out for sake of discussion. I'm well aware of these and made this choice. I hope after Milestone1, my passion for physics either fuels up a lot to proceed further or dies down, not troubling me for the rest of my career or still exist but save me from the guilt of not trying out physics as a career, – Hari Oct 8 '20 at 13:45

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