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CS Vs Physics Vs Math

  1. Apr 12, 2008 #1

    I have been lurking around here for awhile and have finally decided to seek the advice of the community elders. Here is my story:

    I am smart, I would like to think I am really smart but unfortunatly in high school and my first time through college I somehow went a stray and did not take academics serious.

    Now I have been in the work force for a few years and realized 2 major things 1) I hate the corporate world and all that come with it(especially for a lowly IT worker like myself) 2) I want to expand my horizons and get a education in something I find fascinating. I realized that school can be fun and what hated about school was the high school method of: "read this, write that". The only classes in high school I did well were science how many people do you know got A's in honor biology yet would fail English,history, etc? That was me.

    So, I have already started attending school again bringing with my few Gen. Ed credits from the first time around and I am doing very well in my classes eg. A's in Calculus and my Java based Computer science class. I hope I am not too optimistic but I think I can work hard and graduate in 3 years and hopefully go to grad school for a Ph.D. Because frankly, thats what I think I want to do in life, I think that is what give me the greatest satisfaction.

    Okay, so where is this all going? Everything sounds fine, right? Well, I am majoring Computer Science; now if I have learned anything by working in the tech industry it is that I am not quite as interested as this hobby of mine as a career as I thought I would be. So you are thinking," well, this guy has problems he isn't happy with anything maybe he should just pick one thing and stick with it!!"

    Okay, I agree. So, heres the thing I love math, I love doing math I am never more relaxed and at peace then when I am doing a math problem, if you love math you might understand what I mean but who knows. And since I was young I loved physics and in particular astrophysics(thanks TNG) . This may not seem so odd on the physics forum but I assure you that none of my peer where reading physics book at 13/14 like I was, and although I didn't understand everything I read I hoped someday I'd go to MIT and invent a way to do FTL travel so we could meet our Klingon friends.

    So, if you read all this I am sorry but what should I do? I don't care about what is more lucrative, but now that you know this story what should I major in? I think I want to do physics or math but I am scared that I will get up to the hard classes and then realize I was not as smart as I think I am. I am taking physic over the summer session and I have already gotten the book and started reading it, so when we see how that goes it might help my decision. But, what do you think?

    Any comments are appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 12, 2008 #2


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    You can combine between two or even three of them, but remember that it would take more than 3 years if you combine them.
  4. Apr 12, 2008 #3


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    frankly I thought of doing so too (combine three of them), but the prospect of staying at the same uni for 5-6 years doesn't look very promising.
    so I am only doing physics and maths.
  5. Apr 12, 2008 #4
    I appreciate the advice but anything more than perhaps a minor is not a real option for me. I am paying my own way through undergrad so the quicker I get out the better and hopefully get into a grad program where they pay me.
  6. Apr 12, 2008 #5
    Maybe I'm just a bitter ex-CS student, but at least at my school the undergrad CS program cares more about pumping out programmers. Advanced CS topics are almost entirely math, and very satisfying (after all, CS has as much to do with computers as astronomy has to do with telescopes) but at least here, you don't get to see those until you're a grad student, and you'd have been better served with a bachelors in math anyway. So yeah, you're right. CS is out.

    Between physics and math? Many people do combine the two with a great deal of success. Whichever one you pick, you should definitely get a minor in the other (with physics you're almost guaranteed a math minor anyway). You're just starting and you think you're pretty bright, so before you choose why not sit down with a math professor and discuss research opportunities at your school and the caliber of grad schools their students usually get into, then sit down with a physics professor and do the same. What they have to say might make things easier for you.
  7. Apr 12, 2008 #6
    I think I might lean toward physics as the major just because I think that being a math grad student might be a bit boring without labs and stuff. Anyone know more about what the life of a math grad student is like? How about getting into a good physics grad school with physics as only your minor?
  8. Apr 12, 2008 #7
    Here is my understanding of the life of a math grad student (taken from the numerous grad students I know):

    +Spend a few hours in lecture.
    +Spend an hour teaching a bunch of punk freshman how to factor polynomials. You will need to spend even more time preparing how you are going to teach them, and a few hours a week in your office helping them (you should review fractions and adding/subtracting negative numbers too, since most students seem to have trouble with these things).
    +Spend the rest of the day in the library reading math books and working out proofs.

    You don't have any money (typical stipend seems to be in the 15-20 thousand range: a little more than minimum wage) so you can't really go out and do anything fun (not that you would want to anyway). So you will probably end up in the library reading your math books and preparing your lectures.

    Sounds like a great time :rolleyes:
  9. Apr 12, 2008 #8
    In Physics, you have the option to be an experimentalist or a theorist. Math only has theorists.

    Physics also has more potential to jump disciplines. I've published work in theoretical astrophysics, experimental atomic physics, chaos theory, acoustics, ballistics, and brain injury. I've also done some consulting in blast injury and forensic science, and I've got a few more biology problems on the back burner. I've also earned more than a few bucks as an engineer, and worked as a math teacher.

    Michael Courtney
  10. Apr 12, 2008 #9
    No one yet has address my biggest worry. I am worried I am going to go into you know my 300 level classes and then realize I am not as smart as I thought I was.
  11. Apr 12, 2008 #10
    In my opinion, doing well in school is 90% hard work, 9% smarts, and 1% other. Just work hard and you will do fine.

    As for what to major in, that will naturally fall into place: just keep taking classes and you should soon realize what you like and what you don't like. I started out as a physics major but after the second semester I did not care much for it, and so I switched to math.
  12. Apr 12, 2008 #11
    this is just for undergrad too. If you majored in math and wanted to go to grad school in physics I don't think it would be that hard. I'm a math guy and the upper level classes can hard but a lot is just hard work and experience. Which ever one you choose you're almost certain to take upper level classes in the other too. You can also bounce around to many different subjects from a math degree too. CS is actually almost all math and there is a lot of opportunities in biology too, bioinformatics is a big area. Math is a broad subject in itself so the best think I think you should do is take some more classes in both fields, i'm sure they will go towards your degree, and then make a decision based on your experience and interest from there.
  13. Apr 12, 2008 #12
    I would avoid CS. Do the math or physics. Programming is easy for a bright person. I do a lot of programming now, but majored in Electrical Engineering. A lot of physics and math types do programming also.
  14. Apr 12, 2008 #13
    If you only have a physics minor, you have to really prove you know your physics! If you do well on your physics GRE and take "hard" physics classes to round out the minor, then you should be fine.

    On the other hand, if you're already worried about math being boring, and think you're more interested in experimental physics, then schools are going to want lab experience, and maybe won't care so much about your math background - physics it is!
  15. Apr 12, 2008 #14
    Math certainly isn't boring to me I am just worried I will get lost and do poorly. Calculus has been pretty intuitive for me so far so that is a good sign I suppose?
  16. Apr 12, 2008 #15
    To clarify I mean to say that math classes at the undergrad dont seem boring to me but doing a Ph.D. in math seems like it would get lonely.
  17. Apr 12, 2008 #16
    Well that depends on the how you are. I know a lot of PhD students and they all seem to hang out together or at least know each other. Of course doing a PhD is a solitary task, much more so than working an office job. But there is a community, a community of people who should share your interests.
  18. Apr 13, 2008 #17
    I was in a similar situation and I just went for it. Luckily I could afford to be out of the workplace for a while. I'm doing math right now, and like someone else said, it's almost all about hard work. If you put in 60+ hours a week, you'll find yourself doing stuff you never thought you could do :)
  19. Apr 13, 2008 #18
    i'm in a similar position, debating math vs physics, so i talked to my math professor and he said that right now, us students want to choose whatever major we like, but later on in life, when we have families to support, we're gonna want to choose careers that make better money. in pure math, if you decide in the middle of getting your phD that you want to quit, it'll be much tougher to find industry-related jobs than in physics, because at least physics deals with real-world concepts

    but if you, like me, hate experiments, then the choice is that much tougher...
  20. Apr 13, 2008 #19
    For me, the 100 and 200 level math and Physics courses were much more challenging than the 300 and 400 level classes. In the 100 and 200 level courses, the math itself was a constant challenge, new material was always coming quickly, and the problems were consistently hard. By the 300 level courses, the math stopped getting harder and things seemed to generally slow down. The material became more of a straightforward application of earlier stuff.

    Michael Courtney
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