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Math Double Major in Physics and Pure Math vs Computer Science and Pure Math

  1. Jan 16, 2013 #1
    I am currently stuck between the two choices. I have to pick my majors soon, as I am going to third year. I originally wanted to go into theoretical physics, but now I am leaning more towards theoretical Computer Science. I have always loved Physics, but I am just more at home in Computer Science. I read in Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, that Feynman always liked to experiment with all these different fields, but he always felt at home with Physics, he was not anxious to talk about Physics. And I think that is how I feel about Computer Science. Looking at my results, I do the best in Computer Science and Maths.

    I don't want to be stuck after my degree and not finding a job related to the field I studied. I have heard my one lecturer in Physics talking about these graduates that get jobs at banks and the financial sector and making so much money. But they studied Physics. So this is kinda a let down because getting a Physics related job is getting more and more difficult. And there aren't a lot of companies that hire theoretical Physicists.

    As you can see, I really like the Maths, so I don't want to drop it, and Physics and Computer Science have a lot of practical related work as well, so that combo doesn't work well, and because they are such different fields they don't mix well. And going into theoretical Physics or theoretical Computer Science, lets me utilize the maths.

    That said, I am kinda aiming to go into Quantum Computing, and for that I need the Physics.

    I really need some advise as to which combination will benefit me the most later on after undergrad studies.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 16, 2013 #2


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    First of all, you are not quite correct in stating that physics and computer science don't mix well, since there are many areas where the two fields overlap, such as in scientific computing, machine learning (many ideas from statistical physics have been incorporated in learning models), and theoretical computer science (computational models for nonlinear dynamical systems, quantum computing, etc.)

    All of that being said, if your primary area of interest nowadays is in theoretical computer science, I would personally suggest pursuing a double major in computer science and math. Since you stated you are still interested in physics, you could probably add a minor in physics based on courses you have already taken.
  4. Jan 16, 2013 #3
    I agree with StatGuy2000. Besides, the quantum mechanics needed for the theoretical side of quantum computing (developing algorithms, etc.) is about as basic as it gets. It's very common for people to get involved with quantum computing with a background in classical computer science and learn the necessary physics as needed. I've seen intro quantum computing courses where the first few lectures were just spent introducing the basic principles and notation of quantum mechanics. Alternatively, you could just take a couple intro quantum mechanics classes as electives while doing the double major math and comp sci.

    Of course, if you're interested in working in actually building quantum computers—or at least developing the theory behind specific implementations—then that's a different story and a solid physics background would be essential.
  5. Jan 17, 2013 #4
    I don't know. I always wanted to go into Physics because it is kinda one of the supreme science, and I guess I want to finish with it to prove a point, and my one friend says Computer Science is not even a real Science. Because my University puts a little bit more focus on programming, but they also have the other subjects, like automata theory.

    But Computer Science has always been my strong point. I have seen some Universities in my country that does give you some basic quantum mechanics classes if you take their honours in Theoretical Computer Science. Also, I have had some basic quantum mechanics in 2nd year of Physics. So I don't know if I must take extra subjects, my University doesn't allow you to go over your credits. So triple majoring is completely out of the question, and Physics modules come packed as two subjects, like Electrodynamics and Modern Physics. My University is completely inflexible.

    Another side of me really want to see what is ahead in Physics, and because the amount of people in my class is in the single digit, I will be letting my class down if I drop it. Also, I don't really like our Physics department, the Computer Science department seem to go out of their way much more to benefit their students.

    Another factor is if I take Computer Science and Maths, I have a big chance of getting Cum Laude.

    How difficult is it to go into a Physics direction later on, if you major in Computer Science and Maths. If I had Applied Maths, then it should probably be easy to go into a Physics direction later on.

    Another problem is, my University doesn't focus on any Theoretical Physics or Theoretical Computer Science. So the Physics department tries to downplay theoretical physics subjects and focus on their applied physics research fields. So I will have to go to a different University to go into a theoretical course.

    Thanks for the help. Sorry that my posts lack structure.
  6. Jan 17, 2013 #5


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    Just out of curiosity, are you based in the UK? I am asking because of your reference to physics modules.
  7. Jan 17, 2013 #6
    No, but I am in a commonwealth country. So they probably follow the same structure.
  8. Jan 20, 2013 #7


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    I see. Sorry for not responding to your post earlier.

    As I see it, pursuing physics because it is the "supreme science" or to prove a point is not a good reason. You should pursue the field of study that you are interested in and enjoy, and from what you have told me in your previous posts, theoretical computer science meets those expectations (and your one friend is completely wrong in stating that computer science is not a real science -- it is very much a real science with very interesting problems).

    Now you have stated that you already have some background in quantum mechanics from the physics courses that you've taken by this point. That background, combined with a background in math and theoretical computer science, should be more than enough to allow you to pursue research in quantum computing or some cognate field, assuming you are interested in further graduate studies.
  9. Jan 20, 2013 #8


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    I was gonna say that. Have a degree in something just to prove a point is not good.
    It seems to me that you have all the reasons to go to CS, but you're probably felling bad for leaving physics or defeated. I don't always say that, and that doesn't apply in much situations, but you have to follow you heart, you must do what you feel better.
    You can't learn everything. Know your limits and do what you can't do. Go to Math and CS.
  10. Jan 21, 2013 #9
    It depends because some people don't consider math (and stats, CS) as sciences.
  11. Jan 21, 2013 #10
    CS isnt a science. Its much closer to applied math.

    "Science (from Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe"

    Economics is closer to the definition of a science.

    There is nothing wrong with not being a science. Math and other pursuits are equally noble.
  12. Jan 21, 2013 #11


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    Well, as someone who regards mathematics as very much a part of the fabric of the universe -- mathematics certainly builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable (in the context of math, provable) explanations and predictions (theorems) -- I regard math as very much a science.

    Computer science, as a mathematical discipline that seeks to understand the concept of algorithms and computation, also is very much a science.
  13. Jan 21, 2013 #12
    The word universe is in reference to the physical universe. Without the "physical"
    implication of the word "universe" it is a pretty meaningless word that encompasses everything. It makes "universe"~"everything" such that everything is a science.
  14. Jan 21, 2013 #13


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    I too when using the word "universe" made reference to the physical universe. I regard mathematics as very much a part of the fabric of the physical universe (an abstraction of the physical universe, as it were). And thus I consider mathematics to be a science in the sense you had described.

    Computer science, as a discipline arising out of mathematics, is also very much a science in this context.
  15. Jan 21, 2013 #14
    The point is you can keep abstracting the universe so that everything is science so that the word loses its meaning.
  16. Jan 28, 2013 #15
    Thanks for the advice. I will take Maths and Computer Science then. Computer Science gives me more safety for getting a reasonable job someday. Also, I heard a few days ago, that I was the top student in my Algorithms class last year. So it would be foolish to drop something in which I am naturally good at.

    It will be a little bit of a letdown to explain to my fellow classmates that I am dropping Physics, considering how small my Physics class is. And we are kinda really close. But the Physics department is also partly to blame, they downplay Theoretical Physics considerably, because all of their research fields focus on experimental physics. So they ruined my original "dream", but in the process I gained a new liking toward Computer Science, which I originally took as a filler.

    I am wondering though, if I later on want to go into a theoretical physics related field in my postgraduate studies. How difficult would the shift be, or would it even be possible. But then again, I think the research you want to do is entirely personal, so it can branch different fields, depending on what your supervisor and university agrees to.

    Really funny how this thread has been going a little bit off topic.
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