From Software Engineering to Astrophysics Grad School

In summary: Computational astrophysics can be a really good area to focus on if you want to focus on a particular field of study. However, it's important to be realistic about what you can realistically achieve in a short amount of time without some additional support. In terms of writing a thesis, you might want to think about how you can combine your research interests into a cohesive paper. For example, if you're interested in using data analysis to study a particular topic, you might want to incorporate that into your thesis. or if you're interested in developing new computational methods for astrophysics, you might want to focus on that. It might also be worth considering doing a dissertation on a particular topic.
  • #1
fissifizz
29
2
Greetings everyone. I am an undergrad currently majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Physics. I entered college as a physics student because I wanted to pursue astrophysics as a career. After my first 1.5 years of courses and a summer research experience, I concluded that a career in research/academia wouldn't suit me. Following that, I switched to CS as I already had lots of interest in it and it provides a great job outlook.

As far as immediate post graduation plans, I plan to start my career in software engineering, and I have done previous internships and received offers for companies who pay well and who I'd like to work for. However, the physics bug keeps biting me. I keep thinking about possibly going to grad school for astrophysics in the future after working for some time. The reason is because I asked myself two questions - (1) If money were of no concern to me or my family, what would I do? (2) What work excites me the most? And the answer to both those questions is probably astrophysics. For those reasons, I wouldn't want to completely shut that door without giving it some more serious consideration.

I would love your thoughts on this, especially if you have done something similar instead of directly going to grad school.

(1) Around how much time could I spend working between undergrad and grad school before it would actively hurt my chances for grad school admission? And how could I show my interest and skill in scientific research if I have that huge gap between research in undergrad and grad school? Do people ever work research part time?

(2) I have 4 semesters left in college, and if I get serious about grad school, I'd need to do a CS and Physics double major. This would definitely add a lot to my plate, and I would also have to reallocate some of the time I put in CS into Physics, but very carefully lest I be a jack of all trades master of none. If anyone has experience doing this, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. My college requires double majors to write a final thesis combining the two majors, so I'm sort of interested in computational astrophysics. Would doing undergrad research in this field pigeonhole me in that particular research area?

Thank you!
 
Physics news on Phys.org
  • #2
fissifizz said:
(1) Around how much time could I spend working between undergrad and grad school before it would actively hurt my chances for grad school admission?
This is a tough question to answer because a lot can depend on what you're doing in the meantime. In terms of admissions, the gap is probably wider. If you're actively working in a STEM field, you've probably got about 5 years before anyone would really be all that concerned about your date of graduation. That said, the bigger concern is the actual atrophy of your relevant knowledge base and skill set. In courses that are graded on a curve are you going to be able to keep up to other students who haven't had a gap? This gap can become significant after only a year or so without any reinforcement activity.

And how could I show my interest and skill in scientific research if I have that huge gap between research in undergrad and grad school? Do people ever work research part time?
Some do. My anecdotal experience with this is that students/recent grads tend to do okay with this if they don't have much else on their plate, but if you start a "career" job, it's challenging to find the time to make a significant contribution outside of that. The other big key is to find a project that you're really passionate about and want to spend time on rather than something that you're doing just because you think it will look good on your application.

You might also want to consider enrolling in some kind of continuing education course. Some programs will allow you to take a single graduate course or even additional undergraduate courses after you've graduated. This will force you to keep up some skills.

(2) I have 4 semesters left in college, and if I get serious about grad school, I'd need to do a CS and Physics double major. This would definitely add a lot to my plate, and I would also have to reallocate some of the time I put in CS into Physics, but very carefully lest I be a jack of all trades master of none. If anyone has experience doing this, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. My college requires double majors to write a final thesis combining the two majors, so I'm sort of interested in computational astrophysics. Would doing undergrad research in this field pigeonhole me in that particular research area?
Not really, no. Students make the best of the opportunities they have. And admissions committees know that the research a student does as an undergrad is not necessarily what they would like to do as a graduate student. You do have to consider the skill set that you build up though. If you've got a major programming background, it's likely you're going to gravitate towards projects where those skills will come in handy. And you'll have less of a learning curve to climb. But that doesn't mean you're stuck in that realm at all.
 
  • #3
Choppy said:
This is a tough question to answer because a lot can depend on what you're doing in the meantime. In terms of admissions, the gap is probably wider. If you're actively working in a STEM field, you've probably got about 5 years before anyone would really be all that concerned about your date of graduation. That said, the bigger concern is the actual atrophy of your relevant knowledge base and skill set. In courses that are graded on a curve are you going to be able to keep up to other students who haven't had a gap? This gap can become significant after only a year or so without any reinforcement activity.

I see. I would be actively working in STEM (software engineering), but atrophy of physics skills is a serious concern. I could always study in my free time, but that's easier said than done, especially without the added pressure of tight deadlines that you get in school. I'm sure grad schools would also be concerned about this too, right? Would doing very well on the Physics GRE at the time of my application help with this?

Thanks a lot for your reply, it's really helpful. I guess a bigger concern I'm thinking of now is whether grad schools would take me seriously if I spent so much time outside of physics.
 

What is the difference between software engineering and astrophysics?

Software engineering is the application of principles and techniques from computer science to design, develop, and maintain software systems. Astrophysics, on the other hand, is the study of the physical properties and behavior of objects and phenomena in outer space. While both fields involve problem-solving and data analysis, software engineering focuses on creating functional and efficient software, while astrophysics focuses on understanding the workings of the universe.

What skills from software engineering can be applied to astrophysics?

Software engineering requires skills such as coding, data structures, algorithms, and problem-solving, which are also essential for astrophysics. Both fields also require critical thinking, attention to detail, and the ability to work with large amounts of data. Additionally, software engineering experience can also be useful for developing software tools and simulations used in astrophysics research.

What are the benefits of pursuing a graduate degree in astrophysics after a background in software engineering?

Pursuing a graduate degree in astrophysics can open up opportunities for research and teaching positions, as well as the chance to make significant contributions to the field. With a background in software engineering, you may also have an advantage in developing and utilizing advanced computational tools and techniques, which are increasingly important in astrophysics research.

What challenges may arise in transitioning from software engineering to astrophysics?

One potential challenge may be adapting to a different type of work environment. While software engineering often involves working in teams and meeting deadlines, astrophysics research may involve more independent work and longer timelines. There may also be a steep learning curve to understand the complex theories and concepts in astrophysics.

Are there any recommended courses or experiences to prepare for a graduate program in astrophysics after a background in software engineering?

It is recommended to take courses in physics, astronomy, and mathematics to gain a strong foundation in the fundamentals of astrophysics. Additionally, gaining research experience through internships or independent projects can also be beneficial. Building a strong background in coding and data analysis through software engineering courses and projects can also be helpful in preparing for graduate studies in astrophysics.

Similar threads

  • STEM Career Guidance
Replies
5
Views
851
Replies
8
Views
2K
Replies
26
Views
1K
  • STEM Career Guidance
Replies
2
Views
1K
  • STEM Career Guidance
Replies
4
Views
3K
  • STEM Career Guidance
Replies
12
Views
2K
  • STEM Career Guidance
Replies
1
Views
1K
  • STEM Career Guidance
Replies
20
Views
424
  • STEM Career Guidance
Replies
3
Views
2K
  • STEM Academic Advising
Replies
3
Views
938
Back
Top