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I would appreciate some feedback on my specific situation. I have always been passionate about space exploration and would very much love to start doing research on not just the physics that would make warp drive a reality, but also the engineering required to make theory into usable technology. However, I do not have a background in research. My background is primarily in sales engineering. Although I do have an engineering mindset (I have done fabrication design, I have hands-on experience in fabricating machinery, and I have experience analyzing the performance of electric motors), I am not specialized in a specific engineering field.

Additional details about my current situation:

  • My age is 38 years old.
  • I live in the US
  • I currently have about $70,000 of debt. I am able to make the monthly payments while saving money however.
  • I currently work in a full-time job remotely.

My question is this: what do I need to do realistically, so I can start contributing to research in warp drive tech? What financial obligations will I need to worry about during my journey? And how can I evaluate whether the needed sacrifices are worth it? I understand that passion can only get me so far in this potential journey. Also, ideally, I would like to focus on just research and not become a professor. I don't have the patience to be in a teaching position. I once played with the idea of starting a business and if successful, I can use the net income to fund my research.

I understand that some of my ideas or thoughts may seem unrealistic but I would appreciate some feedback on this.

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    You might begin by investing in a bit of professional career counseling. It might help you avoid some unpleasant surprises down the road. Commented May 19 at 15:37
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    sales engineering Is that really a type of engineering (like mechanical, electrical, etc.) or is that a fancy way of saying "marketing"? Commented May 19 at 18:55

5 Answers 5

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The present state of "warp drive theory" is that today's physics says it's impossible. We don't think Einstein was wrong about the speed of light as a limiting velocity.

That said, there is lots of room for improvement in existing sub warp speed space flight technology. That calls for solid engineering and the physics of materials. You might study that combination of engineering and physics. Or use your current skills to find a new job in a company doing the work you are passionate about and contribute that way. Hang out with the engineers.

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Time Commitments

I'm not sure, but you seem to be thinking of this as something you can do as a side-gig, while you're working your full time engineering job. If that's what you're thinking, stop thinking that and start thinking something else.

A PhD alone is usually more than a full time commitment that will push many other things out of your life. In some cases it can be done part time, along with a part time job-- mine ended up that way-- but it is not a road I recommend. Especially at your age, which is only a little younger than I started mine.

Even that part time arrangement is grueling and ends up being more than a full time job, or a full time candidacy, and is much much less efficient. About the only thing it has going for it (in the US) is the preservation of health care benefits and a wage that, even at half time, is probably better than RA or TA pay.

And to be very clear about this, you would need to be transparent about this arrangement on both ends.

Practicality

You need to know more about how academia works, and you need to know more about the (im)practicality of your particular career path. I don't hang out in the physics stacks (and yes, this is physics, not engineering) but I'd strongly encourage you to rephrase this as a question about the practicality of warp drive research, and post it there. (But see the note below-- it may be difficult or impossible to rephrase in a way that gets good information on career paths.)

Because my impression is that it's currently a toy problem of theoretical physics. 'Theoretical' in this case, meaning, 'cannot now be physically realized, possibly not ever.'

I don't have the sense that there are any viable career paths, here. I know of no companies hiring people to do this, because it's too blue sky, and is likely to remain so for the length of even a long PhD candidacy. Tenured professors can do this sort of research under the right conditions, but you've ruled that out. There may be some positions (in the US) in agencies like NASA or the National Labs facilities that do this, but those are the longest of long shot positions.

The most likely result here is that you'd move heaven and earth to find a PhD institution and advisor willing to indulge this, spend five or more years of your life re-training (much longer if you do this part time) only to find there is no career path going where you want it to go.

A Lower Risk, But Still Very High Cost Approach

Consider a master's degree in physics.

Unlike a PhD, a master's degree can be done even with a full time job. It's a burden, but not a heroic burden.

It's also a good way to get your feet wet in academia without sacrificing your career. Also, let's be blunt-- even as an engineer, you probably don't have the math required for this sort of PhD, especially 15 years after graduation. Engineers and physicists simply learn different types of math. So this is also a way to buff up your math skills.

But even this lower risk approach is something you should do after understanding just how theoretical the theoretical physics of warp drives are. I really cannot stress that enough.

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Many people have a romantic idea of what it’s like to do a PhD: unfettered freedom to do research at their leisure. In real life a PhD sucks. It’s necessary to get certain jobs, but the process sucks—it’s a grueling slog that can take over your life and wreck your mental and physical health if you’re not careful. It’s not to be done lightly or without a clear goal and understanding of what it will entail.

When I was working on my failed PhD the rule of thumb I heard was that you should be working at least 60 hours a week to succeed. Weekends? Working. Nights? Working. Friends, hobbies, etc.? What are they? If you’re considering doing a PhD part time I would expect to spend 80 hrs a week on work plus PhD bare minimum if you intend not to be doing the PhD for a decade or more, more likely 100 hrs a week or more.

Especially at your age (and this isn’t ageist; I’m around your age) I’d think long and hard if you have that kind of energy and drive and make sure you’re not just following a romantic notion. That’s not to discourage you but as I said, a PhD is not to be tackled lightly. A part time PhD even less so. And as others have said there may well be better options for you to achieve your goal.

Finally consider that research builds off previous research, so if a warp drive (if even possible) is still a LONG way off you may never get to work on it—you may spend your life making teeny tiny steps in that direction that may be hard to even recognize as contributions toward your goal or worse you may not even get funding to work on your goal. Are you ok with this? If not then research may not be for you. Again not trying to discourage you, but it’s important to have a realistic understanding of what research is before choosing it as a career because it’s not the glamorous ideal portrayed in tv and movies.

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Warp drive is physically impossible. And that's the opinion of the existing pros.

You gotta have zero debt and a fat wedge to cover all eventualities, e.g. life/illness cover, kids education fund, hedge against periodic stock market collapse, plus the dough for 4 - 6 years full-time study/research under your current expenses to consider any research program.

Thinking of a PhD is crazy in your situation.

Less crazy would be to focus on bringing back actual product gaps in the market for your company's design/dev engineers to consider. Mightn't be much harm in you doing some prototype designs - even if only on paper - towards this sort of endeavor.

But don't you ever forget that it's seldom the ingenious ideas that make it, it's usually the ordinary but workable ones that people pay their money for.

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A person has zillions of thoughts in a day that he wants to materialize but could not due to one reason or the other In your case, I am sorry, but I think you are a bit late in the game as 38 is normally an average age of finishing a PhD (who have already done undergrad and masters in relevant fields that I assume you don't have). But exceptions do exist! Normally, students start learning how to do research from the college days.

You need a rock solid plan to even think about transitioning from sales to becoming a space junky. I think with your current portfolio, it is very hard, if not impossible, to get a PhD directly as there are certain eligibility criteria to fulfil to enter a grad school and I don't you tick mark even some of them.

Warp drives is not a child play and you need to be good at so many different domains of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM). And if think you are a STEM guy and you are serious about warp drives, you can start pursuing it personally. And when your personal research is in some worth-demonstration phase you can contact some NASA guys as you need a lot of well established infrastructure to even perform testing.

Here are some of the directions that you think you could follow:

  1. Enhance your education: You can still acquire the required knowledge with or without getting a degree. I think the former is gonna take much more time.
  2. Practical Experience and Network: I follow a guy on YouTube, who became a rocket engineer without pursuing a college degree. The internet is doubtedly the biggest university that could teach you almost everything. Join some local tech groups, talk to professionals and share your idea. They must guide in a better way how and where to start.
  3. Financial Management: Your dream needs hell lot of buck$ and you need to find some good grants and investments for procurement, prototyping, testing and experiments (just to name a few).

So, be realistic, practical and pragmatic in your approach and see what you can achieve with your current situation.

Good Luck!

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    I don’t think 38 is an average for finishing a PhD in any field. Most people with postdocs will have a full time position (in industry or otherwise) by the time they get to 38. The funding structure now favors short PhD and very few PhD students will be funded much beyond 5 years, which would place them in the late 20s or early 30s by the time they finish. Commented May 19 at 12:40
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    @ZeroTheHero Not sure about PhDs specifically, but according to NSF's 2022 statistics the median age to a US research doctorate in the field of education is 38.9 years. (I don't know what percentage of these doctorates would be EdD degrees.)
    – Anyon
    Commented May 19 at 16:07
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    38 is a lot closer to the age at your first (or second) faculty reappointment than at a PhD graduation. Commented May 19 at 17:47
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    The problem isn't the age-- I started mine at about 40. The problem is wanting to make an absolutely radical change of career directions without knowing nearly enough about the new direction. Warp drives are not engineering research, they are physics of the most theoretical type, namely, the type that appear to require materials that have never been proved to exist.
    – Anonymous
    Commented May 19 at 18:51
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    @Anyon in Physics APS reports here the average age for the class of 2019 was 30.5 and median 29.5yrs. Commented May 19 at 21:20

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