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Going from Comp. Sci. to Physics

  1. May 10, 2009 #1
    I really grew to like computer programming in my HS years and am going to be attended a small university where I will major in computer science. I recently have gotten incredibly interested in physics and would like to double major. Unfortunately, the university I am attending does not offer a major in physics, only a minor. Should I:

    • Get a CS degree and minor in phyics, then go to grad school for physics
    • Transfer to a university that offers a physics major
  2. jcsd
  3. May 10, 2009 #2
    Which courses do you have available to you for the physics minor.
    You may find it hard to begin a graduate physics program with only a physics minor.
    Math will be another large factor. What math courses will you have available to take.

    Generally a physics major will have taken Calculus I,II,III and Differential Equations. Also common to a physics major are Linear Algebra and Mathematical Methods ( a course which covers a wide range of topics in math concerned with physics such as linear algebra, vector calculus, differential equations, partial differential equations, statistics... etc)

    I would consider you reasons for attending the current small university before making up your mind for transferring somewhere, ie. is it Financial, Family, Girl/Boy friend, Sports, etc. If it wouldn't make sense for you to go to a different university right away that is something to think about.

    If you do end up doing the CS. Major, Physics minor then I would recommend you take as many physics and math courses as possible before graduating as they will be beneficial to getting accepted to a physics graduate program.

    Also perhaps I think many graduate programs will allow you to make up the courses you missed during undergrad by enrolling in them during your graduate program. They might not count towards the total credits you need for your Masters or PHD thus prolonging the program.
  4. May 10, 2009 #3


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    Graduate programs typically begin with a year of classes on the basics (i.e. approximately the same stuff physics majors cover in undergrad), but it's intended as a review, so I wouldn't count on learning things there for the first time. I'd echo mgiddy911's statement: it depends on what courses you would be able to take as part of the physics minor.

    For what it's worth, computer programming is an increasingly important skill for doing research in physics. In fact, I've heard of cases in which people did supposedly excellent research in physics without even understanding the basic physical principles involved - all they did was write code! (Don't count on being able to do that either, though ;-)
  5. May 10, 2009 #4
    If you could list the courses in the school's Physics minor, we'd be much better able to tell you what sort of exposure to Physics you'd be getting. You probably want the following:

    Introductory physics sequence (optional... may be skipped with AP or other credit)
    Modern Physics (relativity, intro to quantum, atomic, nuclear, etc.)
    Classical Mechanics
    Thermodynamics/Statistical Mechanics
    Quantum Mechanics
    A lab or two (optional, but recommended)
    Calculus I, II, III (,IV, etc.)
    Differential Equations
    Linear Algebra

    The more physics and/or math courses you can take, the better, but as long as you're getting something vaguely resembling the above, you're cool.
  6. May 10, 2009 #5
    Between a CS major and Physics minor, I would essentially take all of those classes, with the exception of intro to quantum mechanics.
  7. May 10, 2009 #6
    Well, I guess that could be alright, then.

    Here's the thing. At least at my university, the thing is that a very heavy emphasis is placed on QM. It was in the introductory sequence, it was in Modern Physics, it had its own course, and it even made its presence felt in Stat. Mech. My place may be heavy on QM, but...

    I think you should ask yourself what you want. If you want a broad introduction to classical physics, you should be fine. If you want an introduction to what physics is today, as in, what physics is doing now (solid state physics, etc.) you might want it.

    Here's an idea: any physics or EE professor worth his salt will have had QM at some point in his life. You could always do an independent study / directed reading one semester and get a good, rich introduction to the field. It wouldn't be ideal, but it's definitely something to think about.

    I, for one, didn't think QM was my favorite subject. I like the classical stuff. That being said, QM is one of those classes that - more than most others - has expanded my mental horizons a lot. It's worth looking into...

    But I would say that, in any event, what the university you're going to is offering is "close enough" as long as your life plan isn't to become a physicist doing research into physics. If you want to learn a lot about physics and enjoy it, and to be able to use it to solve problems you come across in your life and to appreciate the beauty of nature and of man's creations, and even to work in a complicated technical job where physics is used intensely day in and day out, I think you're more than fine.

    If you want to go to graduate school at Stanford and win a Nobel Prize in Physics, it might be to your benefit to look into other programs.

    I hope this doesn't dishearten you. Rather, what I'm trying to do is to make you feel good about it. I think you'll be fine, if QM is the only missing link. And, like I said, you have options with that.
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