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Help! Lots of questions/issues/trouble

  1. Aug 7, 2012 #1
    Hullo thar,

    I'm a kid who finished high school a year ago, didn't do anything this one, and will go to college in Europe in three weeks. I also have to declare a major right at the beginning, the sort-of-generally-assumed-but-not-official deadline for this being the 1st of August, and I haven't decided yet. This isn't a terrible disaster, but I simply do not know what choice to make, and was hoping some knowledgeable people might be able to help me out (relatively quickly).

    Basically, I don't know whether to choose physics(+math), or computer science(+math). I sort-of-know that I *want* to do physics, but I also sort-of-think that I should do computer science, for several reasons. Here's a list of reasons for each major I can think of:

    - I think I would enjoy this major more than I'd enjoy CS. I've seen a list of classes for both majors, and with CS I could only see five or so I'd find interesting. The others either seem quite boring or are about things I already know (I'm quite the geek).
    - Stuff like this excites me. Like, "I absolutely don't get this, but ohmypizza I'd love to get to understand this."
    - I'm quite ambitious, and quite frankly, physics is simply the harder degree at the university I'm going to. For example, for physics and math you get the whole Calculus I to III series, whereas for CS you get 'Calculus for CS', which makes it kind of obvious that it's watered-down. I like to do hard stuff. (On the other hand, see the second point under CS.)
    - I can minor in world domination! :wink:

    - Probably better employment opportunities than physics. The jobs I can think of are probably also more enjoyable. I like programming, for example, but I don't much like going into finance, or any such thing. There's also the fact that - other than becoming a professor - many of the things that are in my head of what I'd want to do with my degree in physics are very entrepreneurial in nature, and thus not the only 'plan' I want to have.
    - Less stress. I have a history of depression, and am fairly certain I'll keep having periods of depression where it's very hard or practically impossible to get stuff done. In light of that, it might be wise to lower my standards a bit (also see the above about entrepreneurial stuff). Though this may be a clear sign that CS is simply not what I want to do, the simple fact is that I'm terrified that I'll end up majoring in physics and then flunk out or won't be able to get a job just because my depression killed that. I also already know (if I may say so) quite a bit of CS. And let's face it, I can do a lot of CS while I'm comfortably seated in my chair in my room, which may be a good or a bad thing for my depression, I seriously don't know.
    - I can't say I'm super-excited about physics laboratories, although I think this is likely more because of the presentations and the possibility of screwing up in front of people (there's the stress again) than because of the experimenting itself.
    - Uhm, this is slightly embarrassing, but I've forgotten most of my high school calculus this year, so although I want to do the more advanced calculus classes, I'm worried about those, too.

    So, uhm, help? I could very much use some specific advice, as long as it's not 'go see a psychiatrist', because I've already been at five of those, so that doesn't seem to work. Other advice about how to make it easier for me to do what I want to do is, of course, appreciated. :smile:
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 7, 2012 #2
    Financial concerns are prevalent in the software industry. It's business. And you don't need to study CS to enter the field / become a coder.

    There aren't many paying positions in computer science research.

    If you get into commercial software development, it's not necessarily low stress. You need to really enjoy it, you might be required to work hard and fast occasionally and in some cases be able to take financial risks. You may also need to constantly learn new technologies.
    Doing science/research is generally low stress, but takes a lot of work and study and doesn't necessarily pay very well.

    I think your interests to study theory and avoid business and social concerns supports that you might enjoy yourself most in doing science and research. Of course you need to put a lot of work and study in and be genuinely interested in the subject(s) to do anything worthwhile there.

    Another option is to get into some form of engineering, and you get to do plenty of physics & math depending on what discipline you get into.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2012
  4. Aug 7, 2012 #3
    I didn't mean the financial concerns when I said finance, I meant that I think people who major in physics are more likely to get into an unrelated field: e.g. finance. I'm also aware I don't necessarily need to study CS to get a job in the software industry (I've had a programming job before), but it does of course make it easier.

    Fair enough. You may have a point. But that doesn't exactly make making a decision easier. ;)

    I don't know... I do like practical applications and stuff, hence my more entrepreneurial dreams, so I'm not sure if doing theoretical stuff is all I want to be doing.
  5. Aug 7, 2012 #4
    I believe most research isn't in theory nowadays, but in inventing and developing new applications. Think of R&D. And you can get there with any scientific or engineering background depending on the application.

    Engineering is obviously a pretty clear combination of practice, entrepreneurship and theory.
  6. Aug 7, 2012 #5


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    Hey OmniQuestion and welcome to the forums.

    I think that if you had a good amount of programming experience before, taking a CS degree would be a very bad idea.

    You will bored out of your mind when you realize that the joy of learning has worn off after a couple of weeks, because it becomes painfully obvious that you will be relearning what you have already learned before through practice that was a lot deeper and a lot more meaningful (i.e. you wrote code because you had to do something, not because it was an "assignment").

    I strongly suggest you think about this kind of thing.

    If you are worried about work you might want to consider engineering over physics.

    Personally all of these degrees (physics, CS, engineering) are all going to be extremely demanding degrees in their own right, but ultimately you won't get through any of them unless you care enough about the actual field and learning itself.

    With regards to doing R&D stuff or entrepreneurial stuff, if you have a programming job before, it might be wise to get into another position until you get enough experience so that you can move into this area.

    For entrepreneurial stuff, the best thing you can possibly have is real experience doing real projects, and also having the right skills and mindset for starting a venture.

    The experience is really important because when it comes to getting some kind of financing, people will look at this. The other thing is the people involved: with experience comes new people and new people adds to your networking contacts. Getting the right people in a venture is really critical.

    The idea of having a million (or billion) dollar idea in IT leading to success was tested in the dot com boom and it ended badly. Ideas are easy to come by if you think long enough, but the real things are not only if the idea can be carried out to its completion, but if anyone will buy or use it.

    You'll get an idea of these kinds of things with more experience and just by observing what is happening in the industry as a whole. After a while things become a lot easier to spot, and you will get ideas of where you think the industry is heading, what the new needs will be and how it will evolve: this will give you the kind of knowledge you need to start a successful venture.

    It is a risk, no denying that: the thing is that you want to make the risk as calculated and as analyzed as possible because if you don't, you'll be throwing a lot more away than your money and even time: you'll probably make the depression a lot worse.
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