Help: Physics major minoring in Spanish

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  • #1
Hello all,

I have just finished up my sophomore year as an undergrad pursuing a major in Physics (and the accompanying minor in math). I know that it is common for physics majors to minor in computer science or programming, engineering, sometimes bio or chem, and others. However, I am wondering if there are any possible benefits to minoring in Spanish as a physics major?

I enjoy learning Spanish not necessarily because it will help my in my career path but more for my own personal enjoyment and growth. After all, college should help one expand their horizons in addition to gaining very in-depth knowledge in a specific field.

I plan on applying to grad school (undecided on the subject, possibly astrophysics) but my heart is not set on it. I may also try for an industry job after I graduate. Although I very much want to minor in Spanish, I worry that not studying something like engineering or CS will set me behind other applicants. So, my questions are:

Since I want to go to grad school, would it be better to switch to a minor in CS even though I haven’t taken any courses yet?

What are the possible benefits to studying Spanish as a physics major? Would it be more helpful for getting an industry job vs going to grad school, or just not helpful at all?

I’d like to know what everyone thinks about this, and I am also curious if anyone else has chosen to study a foreign language in addition to their physics degree.

Thanks!
 

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  • #2
symbolipoint
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The only possible disadvantage is you would be spending less credits on sciences or math or engineerring or CS than on Spanish. You cannot take courses without limits. No reason why you should finish with a MINOR concentration in Spanish. You can choose courses for your own interest and intended growth. You already stated earlier in your post that you are "... major in Physics (and the accompanying minor in math). "

In any event, cultural understanding? language skills outside your own native language? These are good things, regardless of your "major field".
 
  • #3
CrysPhys
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What are the possible benefits to studying Spanish as a physics major? Would it be more helpful for getting an industry job vs going to grad school, or just not helpful at all?

I’d like to know what everyone thinks about this, and I am also curious if anyone else has chosen to study a foreign language in addition to their physics degree.
(a) I once worked for a major global telcom company. When we assembled project teams to support a particular client, team members fluent in the client's language were often in demand. That said, finding a scientist or engineer fluent in Spanish was not difficult; so fluency in Spanish might not give you too much of a competitive edge in the job market. One of the largest economies in Latin America is Brazil, where the language is Portuguese, not Spanish. Fluency in Portuguese is much less common. But one guy, who used to work for me, happened to be from Portugal originally. We had a major client in Brazil; he was assigned to the project team, and within a span of a few years, he was promoted three levels. If he did not have fluency in Portuguese, it's likely he wouldn't have been promoted at all.

(b) I know a student who double majored in physics and German lit (she was already fluent in German). The German lit was purely for own enjoyment.
 
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  • #4
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A number of years ago, I had a young woman student who was majoring in Mech Engr, but minoring in Spanish. She took off a year after her junior year to spend a year in Spain. While in Spain, she met a young man from Sweden to whom she was more than a little bit attracted. She came back to the US, finished her ME degree and graduated, saying that she was going to Sweden as soon as she graduated. I saw her at graduation, in December of that year, and ask if she still planned to go to Sweden. She replied that she would fly out in two days time.

About 10 years later, I got a phone call from her. She was back in the US to visit her family, and she wanted to come see me. She drove to meet me and we had a meal together. In the 10 years, she had married the Swede, had two children, and established herself in an engineering career in Sweden. She had also almost forgotten all of her English, to the point we had difficulty talking.

So, the moralof this story is this: You can never tell what a minor in Spanish will do for you.
 
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  • #5
I am a physics major going into sophomore year who just decided to minor in World Language Studies, where I would take courses in two foreign languages. I was debating between that and CS for who knows how long.

Anyways, it would make so much more sense to minor in CS as a physics major, and my parents were kinda pushing me into that as well. My (little) background in CS was a Python intro class in highschool (which I didn’t hate, and actually kind of enjoyed). I found first-year linear algebra pretty interesting as well. So it was not an intimidating idea to minor in CS, which made the decision so much harder.

I was raised bilingual and always pictured myself being fluent in more languages but never had the time or effort to try hard enough. I took French in highschool and a German course this year but still consider myself a beginner in both. I knew if I wanted to get better, I needed to take this language learning thing more seriously, and an elective here and there was not gonna be enough.

The ultimate goal was always to get into grad school and go into research (I’m thinking astro as well!), but I would also consider an industry job. There’s A LOT of uncertainties in my plans though, being a freshman and all. I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up doing something totally irrelevant to physics either.

Because of the uncertainties in my future plans, I decided to go for that languages minor. I figured a physics BSc would prepare me (just) enough for grad school if that’s where I wanna be in 3 years. And more importantly, I was convinced that “the job I end up doing in the end might not even exist now”.

That might have been a little too optimistic, but I guess there’s nothing wrong with being optimistic but preparing for other possibilities at the same time.

In the end though, I am a clueless girl who just finished her freshman year. I might still switch to a CS minor; I don’t know. I guess I didn’t wanna give up my dream of speaking more languages. And if not now, I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll have the chance to self-teach myself or take language lessons after university ends, and real-life starts.

Sorry I might’ve written too much, and it was probably not that helpful. It was really interesting to see someone in a similar situation I’m in.

I don’t know wether foreign language skills would be helpful in grad studies or industry jobs (but probably not THAT helpful). I’d say think more about your reasons for minoring in Spanish, weigh the pros and cons of that as well as pros and cons of switching your minor to something you have not taken courses in previously. Both are good choices and just don’t regret the decision you end up making, I guess. (Or do! It’s never to late to start learning something new)
 
  • #6
symbolipoint
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Learning languages is good to do. Attending university is something that lasts only a few years if done as full-time regular; so if learning languages is one of your interests, then take the opportunity! You never know completely - you may earn your degree in Physics and do some science, or engineering related work; or later than that, your languages knowledge and skills could help to put you into a very different career.
 
  • #7
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I'm a lot older than most here (class of '67) but did kind of the same thing: major in physics, math minor and took a Russian course every semester as an elective because I enjoy languages. (Also some summer courses in German and Spanish). Never regretted it at all and, since the ways of fate are indeed strange, the Russian actually was key in getting a pretty good job in later years. So yes, some strategizing of your minor is probably a good idea, but don't let it drive you away from things you like.
 
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  • #8
gmax137
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Well this is a refreshing change from the many threads where students bemoan the unfairness of having to "waste" their time on non-STEM classes. I think studying Spanish alongside physics is an excellent idea. If nothing else, learning another language will never be easier for you -- I'm pretty sure it just gets harder as you age.
 
  • #9
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Well this is a refreshing change from the many threads where students bemoan the unfairness of having to "waste" their time on non-STEM classes... .

One of the stunningly wise things my state university did was to put the natural sciences and math departments(*) in the College of Liberal Arts, with the attendant requirement to take non-STEM courses in things like history, art, languages and such. University should be more than a trade school.

(*) Alas, it put engineering in a separate college. Big mistake, IMO.
 
  • #10
Sorry I might’ve written too much, and it was probably not that helpful. It was really interesting to see someone in a similar situation I’m in.

I don’t know wether foreign language skills would be helpful in grad studies or industry jobs (but probably not THAT helpful). I’d say think more about your reasons for minoring in Spanish, weigh the pros and cons of that as well as pros and cons of switching your minor to something you have not taken courses in previously. Both are good choices and just don’t regret the decision you end up making, I guess. (Or do! It’s never to late to start learning something new)

First off, I just want to thank you for taking the time to reply to my original post. I really enjoyed reading your response, so don't worry about it being too long. One of the main reasons I started this thread in the first place was to hopefully find some other people who are in the same situation as me.

I still don't think that minoring in Spanish will really help me if I do end up going to grad school, but I am confident in my decision to continue studying it anyways. My desire to become fluent in another language has won out over the usefulness of a CS minor. You also said in your response that "I knew if I wanted to get better, I needed to take this language learning thing more seriously, and an elective here and there was not gonna be enough," and I relate to this sentiment a lot. It seems to me that the CS skills needed for physics research are more easily self-taught than a whole new language is, so I would rather put my effort into learning Spanish through courses now while I'm still in undergrad (agreeing with you once again, that I should do it now while I have the chance).

Again, I really enjoyed reading your response. I wish you the best of luck with the rest of undergrad, and whatever may come next!
 
  • #11
Learning languages is good to do. Attending university is something that lasts only a few years if done as full-time regular; so if learning languages is one of your interests, then take the opportunity!

I'm a lot older than most here (class of '67) but did kind of the same thing: major in physics, math minor and took a Russian course every semester as an elective because I enjoy languages. [...] So yes, some strategizing of your minor is probably a good idea, but don't let it drive you away from things you like.

Well this is a refreshing change from the many threads where students bemoan the unfairness of having to "waste" their time on non-STEM classes. I think studying Spanish alongside physics is an excellent idea. If nothing else, learning another language will never be easier for you -- I'm pretty sure it just gets harder as you age.

Thank you all for these excellent responses! My fear of straying too far from the path to grad school was making me hesitant to study Spanish like I really want to, so it is great to hear such positivity and support for studying a foreign language. If I could like your responses again I would, so this post will have to suffice :)
 

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