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Choosing a major when you like many areas

  1. Jan 24, 2010 #1
    I'm a rather bemused American high school student who needs advice on choosing a college major. The future is starting to seem very close, and I'd like your help in condensing all of my interests into one field. If it's relevant, I'm looking at colleges such as UT-Austin, UMichigan, Cornell, and UMinnesota.

    I really like solving problems. The most intriguing sorts of problems are those that involve taking a precondition, finding patterns, and developing those patterns to reach some sort of conclusion. I obviously enjoy mathematics (esp. proofs), but other areas of science are cool too. Chemistry is absolutely fascinating and physics appears promising. Even geology seems like it would be fun. The only areas I dislike are evolutionary biology / genetics (which is boring) and other biology beyond the purely chemical level.

    My goal is to be involved in discovering something new. Fields such as finance and software engineering are not attractive because they seem entirely artificial - a new financial model or programming language is not the same as a new understanding of the way the universe works. I don't care about being rich - I'm a very frugal person - but being unemployed or employed outside my field would be a problem. I care a great deal about career stability.

    Statistics and data analysis seems like a really useful area to me, but I would want some scientific connection. The same goes for computer science.

    I enjoy public speaking, debate, and teamwork (unless my team members are idiots).

    I guess what I really want is to combine my interest in logic and patterns with scientific research. Do you think that a hard science + statistics or math double major would be a good pairing for grad school or industry? If so, what science field would be the best fit? If not, why not?

    Also, would an engineering degree be preferable to science in any way?

    Sorry for the somewhat inarticulate and disorganized post. I appreciate any comments.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 24, 2010 #2
    Put any science major down (doesn't really matter which) or a math major, then start taking courses. When you've hit your second year and find you really like <insert subject here>, declare that as your real major. So long as you're not in engineering, and even then, you can probably count all those soul searching courses towards your free electives for your degree anyway.

    General consensus on this board is that grad schools don't care about a double major cause they see your coursework, and industry is generally meh 'cause you list relevant coursework on your resume.

    They're used for different things. If you want to be an engineer, you need an engineering degree. If you want to do anything else, you probably don't. Engineering degrees are slightly more flexible, but they're also a form of torture if you don't like the material. It seems like you want to go the crazy theoretical route, so science may be much more your speed. There's cool work in bio-informatics, computational biology with a bio-chem bent, and all sorts of fun chemistry research. Structural civil engineering also has a lot of the stuff you're interested in, but it's very applied.

    I do something of this sort working in a computer science lab. A lot of computer science involves this sort of stuff. Basically, don't dismiss a field based on your pre-conceptions about it, and software engineering is a subfield of comp-sci, not the same thing.
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2010
  4. Jan 24, 2010 #3
    ^ Interesting. Do you agree with the comments (especially by AuburnMathTutor) on this forum?
  5. Jan 24, 2010 #4
    Kind of, though I think the dismissal of systems stuff is partly to blame for the vast number of horrible programmers out there. I work with very big data sets, so I have to think about time vs. space trade offs all the time. I think it's helpful if anyone working in comp sci had a good understanding of their tools, but one of the professors I work for is not a coder (she's a hardcore math person with matlab skills.) They're right though about the difference between theory and practical courses, though some schools do a half/half balance. I don't know if math kids would necessarily find the theory courses easier though, as it does go off and do its own thing at times.

    I agree that AP comp sci (especially Java) is one of the very worst things to decide to choose your major based on. It's a very small subset of the whole field, and Java's not even my favorite language to introduce programming paradigms. I'd basically agree on the whole idea about logic, 'cause if you can't wrap your head around AND and OR statements, you're gonna have a rough time of it.
  6. Jan 24, 2010 #5
    Theoretical CS does have some appeal, and it seems very useful for modeling in most scientific areas.

    I guess the only question I need to answer in the next year or so is whether to apply as an engineering student. Many universities do have separate engineering colleges, and I've heard that it can be a pain to transfer into these. Your description above basically fit with what I've heard elsewhere, and science seems like a somewhat better fit. However, it seems like transferring from engineering to science would be easier than vice versa. Can you comment on that?
  7. Jan 24, 2010 #6
    Modeling is math + code + domain knowledge. Not sure if theory helps all that much.

    Depends on the school. At mine, engr->sci is easier 'cause anyone accepted into the engineering school is already in the college of liberal arts and sciences (which handles all the non-major courses.) Transferring into the school of engineering requires having some GPA and coursework and filling out a form, but generally strong math/science students don't have a problem. It totally depends on the school though, so talk to admissions people.
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