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Double Major Physics/Math vs. Physics Major/Minor in CS

  1. Nov 5, 2014 #1


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    Greetings all,

    I am an older college student (25, sophomore currently) and have a decent amount of credits under my belt.
    My original plan attending university is/was to achieve a BS in Physics and a minor in Computer science. This could be accomplished in the next two years for me, rather easily (ease of schedule).

    However, I have really been enjoying math - to the point where I look forward to assignments - and have been disliking computer science. I am considering a double major in physics and mathematics.

    I believe that if I could choose whatever I wanted based on just my feelings, I would instantly choose double major in Math/Physics. I am wondering if this is a good choice:

    1) How important is an understanding of CS in physics disciplines today? Is it so important that me making this decision will harm me someday.
    2) I am not one to really care about job prospects, but for argument's sake, how does this effect me in 'real world' today?
    3) My other fear: Focusing my attention on higher leveled math courses may be impractical for life. Do you agree with this statement? Is higher level math more of a 'game' rather then practical application towards everyday life? I am focused on making this world a better place someday and intend to do so.

    Thank you.
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2014
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  3. Nov 5, 2014 #2


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    What is it about CS that you dislike? I'm asking because if it's programming you dislike, that's not all computer science is about. There are some much more interesting topics that are more abstract/theoretical (algorithms, computability theory, automata, etc.).

    The need for CS knowledge depends on what kind of physics you want to do. If you want to do quantum information/quantum computing in the areas of quantum algorithms, quantum error correction, cryptography, Turing machine etc. then actual CS knowledge will come in handy.

    I see the computational physics grad students always scouring the internet for some open source software that can do ab-initio or whatever it is they need to do. I don't think they have a CS background.

    I think the minor helps on paper, as a formality in case programming would be required for some job. Skill-wise I don't think it's a big game changer. I'm a physics major getting a CS minor. The couple of programming courses I've taken got me a research job with a bioinformatics group. I don't do much coding though, I just use legacy code that's been handed down to me.

    If you don't like CS the minor would be a waste of time. Do math/physics if that's what makes you happy.
  4. Nov 5, 2014 #3


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    I appreciate the information. I will check in with a few things CS related to get a better understanding of it before I make the final decision, however, I am thoroughly enjoying mathematics and permitting this isn't a 'bad' choice for some unforeseen reason(s), I think I will pursue the double major.
  5. Nov 5, 2014 #4
    I don't know why I chose your thread to say this, with the countless minor/double major questions on here, but be careful when studying more than one topic.

    I'm graduating this quarter with a major in math, minor in physics and I almost wish I didn't do the minor. Instead, I wish I simply took (more) graduate classes. I'm graduating with a senior thesis and 4 graduate classes (and plans for grad school), so it's totally possible to fully explore one topic, but I wish I wouldn't have done the minor and instead done a ton more graduate work. I took 6 upper division physics classes (along with 4 lower division ones), and I feel like I would be way better off now had I taken 6 or 10 more graduate math classes. It sounds like a lot, but really a class is a class. Maybe only 5 more graduate classes, but still.

    Part of getting a degree (ANY degree) is being able to learn things on your own. If you get a degree in physics, a lot of the math you missed out on can be learned on your own, same with CS. With CS, you can learn programming online easily. There are a ton of resources. It might be a better use of your time to skip the minor or double major, and take graduate classes or do research or something.

    I've also found in doing the minor in physics is how much overlap there is. A huge part of quantum mechanics was just getting used to the linear algebra. I took a year of functional analysis, so a lot of stuff was repeated. If I wanted to fill in the gaps with the physics, it wouldn't have been impossible for me to learn it on my own. Similarly, had I only taken the quantum class it wouldn't have been impossible for me to learn functional analysis.

    Also, a huge part of going to college is having the time to play with the material. When you have a lot of classes, you don't get that chance. I have been taking some huge schedules this past year, and although I did well in my classes, I really wish I had more time to play with the material. I had to be practical in my time studying. That's not what college is about, IMO. I miss taking a homework problem, and just playing with it. What happens if I add or remove this assumption, what happens in this or that limit, what does the result really mean? When I take larger schedules, it's really practical and my whole goal while studying is to churn out correct solutions quickly. I don't like that.

    This is longer than necessary and fairly offtopic, I'm sorry, I just wanted to get it out there.
  6. Nov 5, 2014 #5


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    Ah, a beautiful post. As if my future self is here to guide me :).

    Thank you for your views. I found it greatly interesting and applying to my situation.

    I'm not quite sure how I am going to respond to an experience like that. On one hand, it seems extremely logical to just focus in one area, but the allure of enjoying two magnificent fields is beautiful to me (and hard to resist). I think I may need to bring this up with my advisor.
  7. Nov 6, 2014 #6


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    1. Not too much. You will have to learn programming and some computational software (like Mathematica) but you won't need any computer science specifics like complex algorithms, networks etc.

    2. I don't think it is too difficult for math/physics to go into the software engineering field, so job prospects shouldn't be that big of an issue.

    3. Most areas of mathematics have some applications.

    If you're asking my opinion, you should go with Mathematics/Physics primarily because you seem to enjoy it more than computer science. After all, that's what matters most.
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