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Help selecting applied math or computer science

  1. May 11, 2005 #1
    I have recently switched employers to one provides educational assistance. This means they will cover the cost of tuition and books at an accredited university. It seems foolish to waste such an opportunity however I have a slight problem in selecting a major for a master's degree.

    First a quick background: I am currently a computer programmer specializing in distributed computing and I have always been more interested in math. I loaded up on calculus, differential equations, and numerical analysis electives as an undergraduate. I have continued studying these areas informally even though they are not related to my work per se.

    Now the problem: Ideally I would like to work with physicists, theoretical or experimental, and write the computer programs they need to perform their simulations, data analysis and/or experiments.

    Do these types of positions even exist? Perhaps they require a PhD? Given the quality of tools and libraries these days I imagine most physicists are able to write their own programs in all but the most extreme cases. (So it is at least possible to work for a tool or library vendor. However, I prefer to be closer to the actual result.)

    Supposing that such positions were available. Do you think it would be more beneficial to pursue a master's in applied math or computer science with a concentration in numerical techniques?

    Thanks for your time.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 11, 2005 #2
    yes...you would be an asset to any researcher, not just in physics (since most are pretty lazy when it comes to coding...though with the new generations alot of them learn to code but still want someone to do most of it) and especially since you know distributive computing

    If you are able to build an numerical engines or use one(LAPACK)...ask a prof you want to work with and see if they have a summer position.

    My ultimate goal is to become a 3D simulations expert in Cogsci or astrophysics, though the learning is a bit slow(my programming is slowing me down).

    So if your going down that same area i suggest in brushing up on graphics to and before approaching a prof try coding a basic physics engine.
  4. May 11, 2005 #3
    Discrete Math

    I'm just a math person here, but I'd think about looking into Discrete Mathematics and seeing what caught your eye there. A lot of times people can program but are either too busy with their own stuff to do it or can't see how to cut down the complexity like some computer/math minded people do. I'd think Physicists needed that, but you can definitely keep your options open with either degree.

    Just check out a Discrete Math book or too, check into the complete requirements for the degree though, because you could be doing some stuff you aren't really into, but graduate school is supposed to be about getting more into the stuff you like so with the right department you'll be in heaven either way - hypothetically, right?

    - Vanes.
  5. May 12, 2005 #4
    Thank you for the advice.
  6. May 13, 2005 #5


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    Gold Member

    I think you've some great prospects, and a "package" which is somewhat atypical and as such a really potential asset ... with the amount of software dev going on people who really know what they're up to are a scarcity. These sorts of position do exist, the problem as usual is finding one and getting your foot in, but this'll probably be easiest when getting that further education of yours. I'd go with computer science with emphasis to numerical techs (but this again depends very much on the specific programme you'd be taking), since ypu get to (and can further during and afterwards) brush up your math there and much of the math of computing is really very "numerics " oriented. Then there is always the note that you need to have at least "elementaries" of physics in one form or another (but if you work very much with the mathematics & numerics of the area this can come along the way, but still needs to be addressed in one form or another).
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