How hard is it to get into a CS PhD compared to physics?

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Hello guys (and girls),

I'm from Europe and I was wondering whether any of you know how hard it is to get into the top US CS PhD programs as compared to getting into physics. I think I've once read on Quora that getting into engineering is way harder since this area of research does not receive as much funding as physics. Is this true for computer science as well? I thought there must be a huge interest from industry in CS research and that thus there might be more places available.

Thanks for your help

PS: Does anyone know forums like https://physicsgre.com/viewtopic.php?t=145205 for CS? Would be interesting to see profiles of computer science PhDs.
 

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  • #2
Vanadium 50
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I'm not sure how you could tell what is harder. You would need students who were well-qualified for both programs and see what the relative admissions rate is, right? The denominator has to be awfully small.
 
  • #3
Choppy
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Assuming you're an undergraduate student, or will be one soon, it's probably safe to assume that either PhD path is going to be very challenging, require extreme dedication and won't have any guarantees. Make the choice based on what you want to do, rather than how easy a path might seem.
 
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  • #4
berkeman
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I was wondering whether any of you know how hard it is to get into the top US CS PhD programs as compared to getting into physics.
What is your educational background? Do you already have a BS or MS in Physics, and are considering applying for a CS graduate programs because they are easier and/or easier to get into? Or is your background in CS, and you want to transition into Physics (not realizing how much harder it is)?

I would estimate that the level of advanced math for a graduate student in Physics is about an order of magnitude harder compared to a CS graduate student. Probably only 3-5x harder than EE, but easily an order of magnitude harder and more advanced compared to anything you will see in CS. Trying to compare the difficulty of PhD programs in CS versus Physics seems like comparing apples and oranges to me. Unless you already have a very strong background in advanced math for Engineering and Physics applications, I don't think you should be considering applying for a Physics PhD program over CS.

For example, are you comfortable with all of the subjects covered in this textbook?

https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/the-birth-of-a-textbook/

https://www.amazon.com/dp/113805688X/?tag=pfamazon01-20&tag=pfamazon01-20

1581992532607.png
 
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  • #5
CrysPhys
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I'm from Europe and I was wondering whether any of you know how hard it is to get into the top US CS PhD programs as compared to getting into physics. I think I've once read on Quora that getting into engineering is way harder since this area of research does not receive as much funding as physics. Is this true for computer science as well? I thought there must be a huge interest from industry in CS research and that thus there might be more places available.
You're making a decision that will strongly affect your future career (and life overall). So you should carefully check your premises and logic. "I think I've once read on Quora that getting into engineering is way harder since this area of research does not receive as much funding as physics." Engineering is a much broader discipline than physics. So it's your belief that funding for graduate research in all branches of engineering combined (electrical, mechanical, computer, civil, chemical, bio, aerospace, materials, ...) is less than that for physics. Have you checked whether this is in fact true?

Your focus appears to be on availability of industry funding for graduate research. Have you checked into the percentage of funding for graduate research from industry vs. government? How significant is industry funding?

Even if discipline A is better funded overall than discipline B, and even if there are more grad student slots for discipline A than discipline B, how many candidates are applying for discipline A vs. discipline B?
 
  • #6
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You're making a decision that will strongly affect your future career (and life overall). So you should carefully check your premises and logic. "I think I've once read on Quora that getting into engineering is way harder since this area of research does not receive as much funding as physics." Engineering is a much broader discipline than physics. So it's your belief that funding for graduate research in all branches of engineering combined (electrical, mechanical, computer, civil, chemical, bio, aerospace, materials, ...) is less than that for physics. Have you checked whether this is in fact true?

Your focus appears to be on availability of industry funding for graduate research. Have you checked into the percentage of funding for graduate research from industry vs. government? How significant is industry funding?

Even if discipline A is better funded overall than discipline B, and even if there are more grad student slots for discipline A than discipline B, how many candidates are applying for discipline A vs. discipline B?
What is your educational background? Do you already have a BS or MS in Physics, and are considering applying for a CS graduate programs because they are easier and/or easier to get into? Or is your background in CS, and you want to transition into Physics (not realizing how much harder it is)?

I would estimate that the level of advanced math for a graduate student in Physics is about an order of magnitude harder compared to a CS graduate student. Probably only 3-5x harder than EE, but easily an order of magnitude harder and more advanced compared to anything you will see in CS. Trying to compare the difficulty of PhD programs in CS versus Physics seems like comparing apples and oranges to me. Unless you already have a very strong background in advanced math for Engineering and Physics applications, I don't think you should be considering applying for a Physics PhD program over CS.

For example, are you comfortable with all of the subjects covered in this textbook?

https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/the-birth-of-a-textbook/

https://www.amazon.com/dp/113805688X/?tag=pfamazon01-20&tag=pfamazon01-20

View attachment 257257
I'm currently studying physics and I'm planning to pursue a PhD in this field. You're right, I'm pretty uninformed in regards to CS, but this is only the case since I have already decided to go into physics.
I was just curious about CS. Anyway, thanks for your answers; I should have clarified that I'm not asking this question in order to decide between both fields.
 
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