From Software Engineering to Astrophysics Grad School

  • #1
fissifizz
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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!
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Choppy
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(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
fissifizz
29
2
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.
 

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