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Double Major Physics+(?)

  1. Oct 8, 2014 #1
    So I'm a high school student that's graduating this year, and I know generally what I want to do, but need to do research. What I would like to ask in this thread is related to double majors, for reference money isn't really a limiting factor, I just want to make proper career choices.

    I realize that many people change their interests during their undergraduate year, but at this point in time I really want to be a physicist. I've loved physics since I was really young, and am very good at math and physics, compared to my peers anyways. I also really like math, about as much as I like physics, and I feel like I could do math daily. So I'm thinking that I might want to double major in Physics and Mathematics. But will this be beneficial for a career?

    I don't have any really specific idea of what I want to do, but I feel like I want to work with technology. In particular energy and complex electronics are intriguing to me. When I really think about teaching or doing complex pure physics, I don't know that it's as appealing as working with technology. Should I double major in Physics and some computer science or computer engineering? I have the money for school (not a crazy amount, but enough for an education), so is it worth investing more money for the human capital? Should I maybe just take courses in physics, math, and some engineering or computer science, and later in my undergrad make a decision? I'm more interested in working with hardware than software.

    Whenever I talk to other physics-aspirers, they all have really crazy and un-likely ambitions. Mine is quantum computing; I really don't know what the job market for this is. Doing more of the physics-intensive work that an engineer might be less qualified to do. Salary isn't really the largest goal for me, but a decent income would also be nice.

    In general I really know little of the different kinds of careers out there, but I'm thinking something related to technology. And please call me out on any misconceptions or naivete I might have.

    Thanks for any advice!
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 8, 2014 #2
    Quantum computing is really a research topic--something that mainly professors do. Not much of a job market outside academia and a few other (highly competitive) places, like Microsoft research. I suppose in the time it would take you to do a PhD, it will be a slightly different world, so you never know what will happen.

    If you are thinking of energy and electronics, that sounds like electrical engineering to me. Electrical engineering and computer engineering are very close.

    A double major is a great option for anyone who wants to study math or physics, if they have time and money for it. The only problem with doing both of those is that they are both not that great for careers, otherwise, it's a good combination. It's better to have one major be computer science or engineering. You should consider electrical or computer engineering, since that sounds more like the kind of stuff you have in mind. And maybe semiconductor physics, if you want to have some connection to electronics.

    The thing is, very few people are looking specifically for someone with a BS in physics or math. But lots of people are looking specifically for computer science or different kinds of engineering or statistics. Look at some job postings on indeed to see what I mean. You can luck out and get a good job with a just a BS in physics or math, but it could prove to be a major headache to find something suitable. I would only do it if you are confident that you can learn to be a job search magician. Doing a double major would make it harder to fit in other classes that would make you more marketable. You just have to have some kind of plan of how it's going to work. So, either study a very marketable branch of physics or else come up with a back-up plan, like learning programming or something that you have to take very seriously.

    I would just take different classes and see how it goes, but keep in mind that classes can give you a very misleading impression of what the actual jobs will be like, so try to find out about that, too.
  4. Oct 8, 2014 #3

    Meir Achuz

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    I think it's better to concentrate on one major, and be as well prepared in physics as you can be to prepare for graduate school. If you find the math in your physics courses unsatisfying (not 'rigorous' enough), you could take extra math courses. It is easier to transfer from a physics major to a math major than the other way around. The math course called 'real analysis' or 'complex analysis' (after your calculus sequence) will let you know if you prefer math to physics.
  5. Oct 8, 2014 #4
    I double majored in physics and electrical engineering (EE) and a few friends of mine double majored in physics and math, so I feel like I can help here. 'Technology' is an absurdly broad topic that you could go into through an equally absurd amount of major combinations. I know people who did math majors, did their masters in EE and now work in nanotechology. I know other people who doubled in physics and math and now do experimental nuclear physics where they basically build particle detection electronics. Quantum computing is almost purely a research area and there's loads of people doing it in physics and electrical/computer engineering, so in that respect picking either one would be fine (you could switch from a physics undergrad to an engineering grad for instance). Though I did a double major I actually suggest people don't do that unless you're in a program designed to combine both, like Michigan's engineering physics undergrad program (http://www.engin.umich.edu/college/academics/bulletin/depts/engin-phys) or Wisconsin's applied math/engineering physics undergrad program (http://www.math.wisc.edu/amep). The strength of those programs is that they have the combination built in and no longer than a standard major in terms of credits needed, vs a double major done between 2 programs that each have their own stringent requirements taking alot of time and money. I would look into majors like those combined programs if you have the option to look at different colleges (especially those whose faculty do research in the science that interests you), and start doing research projects with those faculty once you get there. What sounds cool on paper or online might not necessarily resonate with you when you actually take classes or do work in it. Good luck.
  6. Oct 8, 2014 #5
    Maybe being prepared for grad school is less important than being prepared for a job. The job issue will come up sooner or later, anyway.

    Disagree. One or two courses will not tell you anything. I thought I liked math more for a while, based on courses like that, but in the end, I was very, very dissatisfied with it, partly because my motivation was really to understand the universe, but that is really the job of a physicist. Most mathematicians have little or no interest in understanding the universe, so it is very hard for someone who does to fit in with them.
  7. Oct 8, 2014 #6
    There are two main universities that I'm looking at. I live on Vancouver Island, and I will go to either University of Victoria or University of British Columbia (Vancouver). The nice thing about UVic is that it's closer to home, and it offers a specific math/physics double major program (http://web.uvic.ca/calendar2010/FACS/FoSc/DoMaaS/PaMaPR.html). The nice thing about UBC is that it is one of the higher rated schools in Canada for physics, as well as it actually does a fair amount of physics research (or so I'm told). Apparently they also have "Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics, at the TRIUMF facility, a world-renowned accelerator for the study of sub-atomic science". However, looking on their website they don't appear to offer specific double major programs (http://science.ubc.ca/students/degree/types).

    Time or money isn't much of an issue, I'm just fearing an irreversible bad decision. I'm a particularly academic student, compared to my peers anyways, so maybe I could take the extra work load. I live in a small town, so me being the most academic here is a rather small sample size to conclude I'm academically gifted enough for the extra work. So I don't really know what I should do. I talked to my physics teacher today and he suggested that I take math courses, physics courses, chemistry courses (certain honors programs require first year level chemistry, although I don't know if my AP chemistry will cover that), and an electrical engineering course or two, to see what I like.

    According to the UBC website (I'm more interested in UBC than Uvic myself) they accept most AP credits. By the end of the year I'll have done AP Calculus BC, AP Physics C, AP Microeconomics, AP English, AP Chemistry, and AP Statistics. I don't know how much any of that will help me, but assuming I got all fives (I did AB Calculus last year, I didn't find it difficult; I got a five), I could in theory get extra credits.

    The biggest thing is that I just really don't know. Will the AP courses help me at all?
    Should I just take some general physical science courses and a bit of engineering and go from there?

    Thanks if you read this, the advice is well appreciated.
  8. Oct 9, 2014 #7
    I tend to agree with your teacher; most STEM majors have physics, chemistry, calculus, differential equations, linear algebra and programming on their list of requirements (it's good to know statistics as well). You'll need the physics and calculus sequence to even do a class in circuit analysis (basic electrical engineering), but I think this would be a good idea as well. So going through those classes and picking up the subject that you like best is a decent plan; the fact that you'll have all the AP credit is a really good thing but how those subjects are taught in high school vs college are vastly different (unless you could somehow take the college version of those courses to satisfy your AP credits, a few friends of mine did this).

    If I was faced with the choice you have now I would probably choose UBC, only due to the fact that they have that large research facility. Even without a dedicated program, a double major in physics and math is easier to pull off then a double major in physics and engineering (and won't take nearly as long). The fact that that research lab is tied to what would be your home institution is a huge plus since it would be relatively easy to participate in interesting research projects in a big name facility with the professors in your home department. In my experience a number of research projects and/or internships under your belt will make your resume/cv stand out more to grad schools and jobs more than what the name of your degree is or what your GPA is; so my take on it is whatever choice would give you the easiest access to research opportunities that are interesting and have impact when your name is put on a publication.
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