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Scientist wannabes?
Old 08-13-2015, 04:28 PM   #1
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Scientist wannabes?

I'm curious as to whether anyone out there has gotten a post-retirement urge to go back and do something related to their field, or something similar. After almost three years retired, I'm kind of interested in exploring some of the areas that attracted me to science and technology in the first place. But I have no desire to work for pay or on someone else's schedule.

I haven't had any lack of things to keep me busy in retirement, but there are aspects related to work that I kind of miss.

My educational background was in biology, but my career was in IT. Both of those areas have some really interesting areas of concentration - certainly way more intrinsically interesting than the business IT projects I did professionally. But some things are just hard to get involved in when you're not part of a larger organization - I'd think engineers or medical professionals might run into the same issue once they leave the workforce.

I think it's the complexity of scientific or technical fields that still holds some interest. Sure, there's plenty of material to read and try to keep up with advances in the fields, but that doesn't completely fill the bill. I guess I miss working with a team of smart people on a common goal. I've got friends who have kept working because it's the only way to keep active in the field they love.

One area of interest is in water rights and environmental protection, but most of the action there is legal. I've taken some online courses in Environmental Law, and explored the local law school which has a Masters in Environmental Law degree. But it's hard to justify the cost, and I expect I'd be interested in the lectures and reading but have no interest in spending time on tasks that are solely for evaluation - I really don't feel any need to be evaluated at this point in life. But I keep looking at various environmental and conservation organizations to see if I can find a good fit, maybe in research or analysis.

After it hit 60 next year, I can audit classes for free at the local state university branch, so maybe that will be enough to feel like I'm keeping up with the technical world.

There are probably more computer technology areas to explore, and that might be easier to approach. At this point, I'm a lot more interested in the application of technology than in the development - 30+ years of software development was more than enough of that.

Some political areas are appealing, but the noise to signal ratio in political discourse is just annoying.

So I guess my question is - has anyone come up with a way to feed their itch for complexity that doesn't require a lot of commitment to a schedule?
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Old 08-13-2015, 05:04 PM   #2
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I know what you mean. When I was teaching I had a couple of summers where I worked with university researchers designing and building a prototype Cherenkov calorimeter that we tested at CERN. That line of work MIGHT interest me if I could get a part time job/volunteer as a lab rat somewhere. It's the technical problem solving that attracts me - how can we build a device to DO something? I find it difficult to develop a hobby around something that's technically/mentally challenging. Astrophotography comes close, but there's no real chance to work WITH others and what technical challenges there are haven't grabbed me. Woodworking also presents some interesting challenges, but I just can't get over the entry hurdles.
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Old 08-13-2015, 05:14 PM   #3
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I know what you mean, and I think in my case it is a thirst for knowledge or love of learning. I read voraciously and I have taken several free online courses. Someone here recommended The Science of Cooking, by Harvard University, and I'm currently auditing that course, but not taking the tests or doing the labs. I've also taken online courses in history and writing. I have no ambitions to put my new knowledge to work for remuneration though! And no way am I doing any more exams!
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Old 08-13-2015, 05:22 PM   #4
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After I retired I looked into a position as a park ranger, which I had done for a while after getting out of college with a bio degree (naturalist). First I did some volunteering with the MD Coastal Bays organization, and then applied as a ranger at Assateague Island. When I was interviewing with them I discovered that there is very little actual science/naturalist work involved anymore, and much more babysitting and police work, as well as an immense amount of paperwork. I wasn't absolutely sure I wanted a job with a schedule anyway, and when I heard what the job entailed I decided not to go forward with it. I'll volunteer for herp hunts, turtle counts, and invasive species cleanups for fun, but no way I'm going to do it as a job.
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Old 08-13-2015, 05:23 PM   #5
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I would love to work in a lab somewhere or write some code again, but the job would have to fall into my lap. I take lots of classes anyway.
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Old 08-13-2015, 05:47 PM   #6
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I've written some apps for personal use. I even learned Swift (Apple's replacement for Objective-C). It was fun.

Seriously, if it wasn't fun, I wouldn't have done it. And that makes all the difference.
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Old 08-13-2015, 06:07 PM   #7
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One of my friends keeps busy by working on various data science competitions. The netflix challenge was the biggest of them but there's no end of them on kaggle (see https://www.kaggle.com/competitions ). There might be similar "open" projects in other fields.

If you want to work with a team, I think the difficultly will be in finding an opportunity where you can work part time (other than open source software dev).
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Old 08-13-2015, 06:18 PM   #8
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When I worked, I used to like the field work of land surveying. So now I mix finding some old survey monuments in with hiking. I also used to do some digital map/gps programming on the job. I've been able to use this background in creating some travel mapping. Mixing hobbies with the fun aspects of my former job seem to work for me.
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Old 08-13-2015, 06:41 PM   #9
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When my eldest son was born and I was off work I decided to get into an obscure branch of mathematics. I had always been interested in the area but never put a lot of effort into understanding it. 6 years later I published my first paper in a peer reviewed journal. I have some citations a few years later so I figure it was received well. I quit work a few weeks ago and have been doing some work on the area. I figure I have a pretty good start for a second paper. I am working with another retired mathematician but a few states away.
The most important thing I learned was that you just have to put a lot of effort in and it doesn't matter what you believe your abilities are. If you took my paper and showed it to me when I started I would never believe I could have written that.
I should mention that my field is IT and I studied chemistry at degree level so this was a big change for me.
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Old 08-13-2015, 07:35 PM   #10
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I've taken some online courses in Environmental Law, and explored the local law school which has a Masters in Environmental Law degree. But it's hard to justify the cost, and I expect I'd be interested in the lectures and reading but have no interest in spending time on tasks that are solely for evaluation - I really don't feel any need to be evaluated at this point in life.
It has admittedly been a long time since I went to law school, but in my experience there was only one test per course -- the final exam. No other evaluation whatsoever.
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Old 08-13-2015, 08:00 PM   #11
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I did some radiotelemetry with Bog turtles and later Desert Tortoises. I was still doing tortoise field work when I retired and continued until we moved out of Phoenix. I took some field herp courses with The Museum of Natural History at the Southwest Research Station here in town. I have tried to help on some of the projects going on but most of the researchers have grad students in tow to do the field work. I was able to assist once on a hummingbird/coral bean plants study. There were some students, but they were all scared of rattlesnakes. lol

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Old 08-14-2015, 01:17 AM   #12
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Thanks for some interesting ideas and feedback - gives me some more ideas to check out. I figured there must be others interested in keeping involved technically. It does need to be fun, that really is the key.

The team aspect might be hard to duplicate, and sometimes access to more expensive equipment or environments isn't there outside of an organization. It sounds like that isn't an unusual issue, tough to duplicate the effort of working without, you know, actually working.

But hey, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin managed to follow and expand their interests most of their lives, so it's not impossible. Then again, they probably had a bit higher mental horsepower than I can generate.
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Old 08-14-2015, 01:22 AM   #13
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It has admittedly been a long time since I went to law school, but in my experience there was only one test per course -- the final exam. No other evaluation whatsoever.
I'll check that out a bit more. When I talked to law school admissions people and asked about the effort needed to be spent in order to be evaluated, they didn't really answer very specifically. That's assuming I'd even come close to making the admissions cut.
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Old 08-14-2015, 01:35 AM   #14
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I find this a fascinating topic.

I've pretty much retired from appliance/air conditioning repair and now I'm drawn to learning chemistry, physics, math etc.

Even though 60 now, I do believe there's a good chance many of this age group will see their 90s with good health. There's a desire in man to contribute and make life better for others.

I remember Buckminster Fuller said (and I paraphrase) that each individual would spend their life and accomplish only one thing but that one thing would make their life worth living.
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Old 08-14-2015, 08:55 AM   #15
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Although I haven't researched enough to find anything solid, I do think there could be some opportunities in the open-source/crowd-sourced area.

For example, let's say I have a good idea for a product. But it might not be practical for me to bring the product to market - I don't want to invest the $, take the risk, and/or set up the business, source the materials, set up a distribution network, etc, etc etc.

But if I open/crowd-source the idea, other people can join in and perfect the idea, and get some attention to it. And maybe someone who already has the connections can organize a build of the product. I wouldn't care about profits, I'd just be happy to see the product get into people's hands. And I might benefit just from being able to buy the product myself - it might be something too hard to build as a one-off, but a group could get quantities built.

This earlier link.. https://www.kaggle.com/competitions .... was sort of in that vein, but not much in the way of products.

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Old 08-14-2015, 10:25 AM   #16
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I was a mechanical engineer supporting a DNA sequencing lab. As soon as I ER'd I started taking classes with our local university Osher Lifelong Learning Institute which puts on classes for people over 50. I take classes but I also volunteer to put on science classes. I recruit faculty and grad students to speak at each class. Basically a themed speaker series.

I did put on an engineering class but I've also had classes in synthetic biology, positive psychology, paleontology, and the theory of evolution. Doing this gives me a chance to continue to explore science in a substantive way on my own time; on my own terms; and in a way that I don't have to deal with the office bureaucracy. I also, recently, helped a local high school biology teacher mentor some kids in a robot building project.

You might want to look into teaching and mentoring opportunities.
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Old 08-14-2015, 10:31 AM   #17
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Shortstop14: law school applications are down so far that you probably would make the cut, if that is what would interest you. It would be an expensive hobby, though.
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Old 08-14-2015, 11:32 AM   #18
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I know what you mean, and I think in my case it is a thirst for knowledge or love of learning. I read voraciously and I have taken several free online courses. Someone here recommended The Science of Cooking, by Harvard University, and I'm currently auditing that course, but not taking the tests or doing the labs. I've also taken online courses in history and writing. I have no ambitions to put my new knowledge to work for remuneration though! And no way am I doing any more exams!

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Old 08-14-2015, 11:43 AM   #19
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Interesting Topic


I am a software developer and my primary purpose of RE is to become a biology groupie!


Since I attained FI several years ago, I have tried to break into the bio-informatics field by dropping my wage rates to very low levels. Never could get my foot in the door.


So, I have spent the past few years looking for a problem to solve. I now have a hard problem in hand and need to get the smarts to pursue it. I will RE next spring and then begin to study organic chemistry and Thermodynamics and Calculus (again as I had all this in college).


Just so you have the complete picture, Starting next April, I will be driving around the country in a motorhome while studying Organic chemistry. A true test of concentration!


>> So I guess my question is - has anyone come up with a way to feed their itch for complexity that doesn't require a lot of commitment to a schedule?


So, my answer to this is to find a hard problem to solve and get after it. The key is to make this problem your passion.
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Old 08-14-2015, 01:12 PM   #20
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Shortstop14: law school applications are down so far that you probably would make the cut, if that is what would interest you. It would be an expensive hobby, though.
Yeah, no doubt about the expense - it's hard to justify the dollars and the time, unless it's going to lead to something solid. I have a tendency towards analysis paralysis, and a degree program likely just pushes the actual action farther down the road.
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