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I need degree guidance (long read)

  1. Jun 6, 2012 #1
    This might be a long post. So thanks in advance for reading it and trying to help.

    First, some background on me. I am a student at a community college, and during the fall will be my third semester at the college. I was following a premed course schedule, but I have come to a realization that I don't think the medical field is right for me. I am interested in a degree and career path that will be more technical to suit my problem solving abilities. I know problem solving abilities are needed for doctors, depending on the type of doctor, but using medical knowledge to solve problems does not sound like my cup of tea.

    One of the reasons I chose premed was for the security of a job and a good income. This is important to me. I am a hard worker and I am determined to excel at anything I do, but I believe it's difficult to get that starting job for many degrees.

    So what career / degree am I interested in? Well, I don't know, I don't think I've been exposed to enough information. But I do know some things that will narrow it down.

    I am interested in math. At my college, I've taken calculus 1 and 2, and I am currently taking calculus 3 over the summer (calc 3 is equivalent to multivariable calculus by the way). I have gotten A's in calculus, and I seem to be one of the top students in the classes. I am far from a "human calculator", but I am best at thinking logically / cleverly to solve problems.

    I am also somewhat interested in some computer aspects. I've made custom games with the Starcraft 2 editor. For people not familiar with Stracraft or it's editor, I will just say it involves an entirely GUI interface, essentially I was creating mini games with easy tools. But some of the mini games I experimented with I was proud of, I did my own research and learned many things about physics and 3d math. I learned about 3d physics engines and found them extremely interesting. One project I spent months on, and it has a 3d physics engine with collision detection and collision response, and other stuff. I also learned about programming logic without actually learning a programming language, I learned about arrays, functions, sorting algorithms, and much more. I have experimented with visual basic minimally, I've managed to make some very elementary programs with visual basic. Looking back, I could have learned the programming language of Visual Basic more, but I had no desire to learn the language because I thought it would not be worth it if I was not going to major in computer science.

    I also like physics, but I think I made this clear when I said in the above paragraph about how I made a mini game with a physics engine. Physics is basically applied math, I think is powerful and interesting. However, I've read that there are very little jobs for people with physics degrees.

    So I talked about 3 things I like, math, computers, and physics. I also like science in general, except biology (because it is mostly memorization and not very applicable). I've considered engineering, but I think most fields of engineering are more focused on work experience, manual labor, or designing things, rather than on math or in-dept problem solving. Don't get me wrong, I know engineers need to be smart, but I think I'm looking for something for something smarter. Engineering is broad category though, I would say that something like a mechanical engineer, where I would work in a machine shop and stuff like that, I definitely do not want to do. But because programming / computers interest me, I might be persuaded to become a software engineer. Aerospace engineering interests me because of the physics and flight / space involved, but I'm not sure if I would actually like a typical job in that field.

    I've always admired people who were brilliant and invented new ideas or achieved great things, example being Albert Einstein. I could picture myself being a research scientist for something. I don't want to have a mediocre job / life, I want to do something special / important. I mean, I could imagine myself doing something with CIA, NASA, or another important organization. But the big question is, what degrees or specialists do organizations like these want? I've actually looked at the CIA recruitment page, but it does not actually say what they are currently looking for, just what they would want in general (I assume there is a reason for that :P ).

    I need a degree that would be promising. And I'm mainly talking about a bachelors degree, I know I would probably need/want to go to graduate school for many fields, but I'm only about to start my second year at college. I've considered being a mathematician, but in my research, it does not look to be promising unless I wanted to teach, and I don't want to teach. The applied parts of math, statistics, engineering physics, and some others, it seems could be filled by degrees better than general math, such as a statistics degree. If there was a promising career with high importance / good salaries with a math a degree, whether working with some government agency or some respected business, I would not think twice about a math degree.

    Actuary science has a lot to do with math. Actuaries do calculations involving risk, mainly hired by insurance companies. This is almost the only field I've found that is somewhat interesting and is promising (because their in demand). However, I would not want to have a mediocre job with this, the sort of 9 to 5 type of deal. I know I would have to start at this stage, but where could I excel in this field? I don't think I could, I would probably work for the same company for the same hours everyday doing the same calculations, which would not be fulfilling to me.

    Another career I've considered is software engineer. Software engineers are in demand. I would like this field because of the problem solving involved and skillful design involved. But I don't like the idea of going through endless amount of code all day. I am really not sure about this career, it seems like it could be good but I have doubts.

    I think I've talked enough, sorry for the long read. Here is when I throw questions at you. Judging by what it seems I'm looking for, or by whats in demand, could you guys suggest any degrees, or could you shed some light on some careers I would be interested in? Cryptology also seems interesting. Any thoughts on that? I read somewhere on these forums that the CIA would gladly pay someone to research abstract algebra, is this true? I don't know what abstract algebra is, I've only taken calculus courses so far, but it sounds like something I could be interested in.
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 6, 2012 #2


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    Hey ResolutE and welcome to the forums.

    The first thing I wish to say to you is to try and not do something because you think other people think it is not mediocre. Find something that you personally don't find mediocre and don't think you have to seek approval from anyone else to validate for you whether it is mediocre or not.

    People contribute in all different ways to the collective, and saying that some of these people or their jobs are mediocre is not a good outlook to have.

    The thing thing that you should realize is that everything will have its mediocre moments and be boring. It doesn't matter what it is whether its the training to become something else, or even part of the work itself, there are things that are just plain boring and this is for everything. Doctors spend a lot of their time with paperwork, engineers spend a lot of time in meetings (as do many white collar workers including programmers), and scientists spend a lot of time doing repetitive work, especially if they are running simulations, double checking experimental setup (including apparatus and instrument setup), and programmers spend a lot of time implementing fairly basic things and are not the kind of 'grand designers' that some might imagine.

    But the point is, that there is absolutely nothing wrong with any of it. There is no shame in liking work that others would find boring if it genuinely contributes in some way. You might like tracking down bugs in code just to get the feeling that you along get when that happens. Others might get so frustrated that they throw the monitor after ten minutes.

    If you want people to fawn over you, you might consider something over than engineering, physics, mathematics and so on. Most people that contribute don't ever get told that they are appreciated, never get a thank-you, and most people don't even know they exist. For a lot them, they don't really care that this is the case because the benefits are not required in the form of external recognition (although I imagine they would appreciate any recognition that they come across). Don't fall into the trap of needing approval for everything you do because you will self-destruct, especially if you don't get it.

    If you want to gain wealth and you are starting from scratch, then think about giving people what they need, want, or both.

    There are lots and lots of problems that people face all the time and they aren't all technical ones. People do lots of things: they eat, they want to be entertained, they want some things made easier, they want to be educated, and so on.

    People like to eat, and they have particular tastes, and they want other people to cook good quality meals: thus they go to restaurants. People want to go to one place to buy all their food and other items at a place which has a large selection of stuff: so they go to supermarkets.

    People want houses built? They consult architects. Got a leaking tap? Call a plumber. Need that noise in your car looked at? See a mechanic.

    People have ever increasing needs and wants and this presents an opportunity for anyone to step up and provide these kinds of things. Some people are happy working for somebody else without having to worry about the things that the owner has to worry about and that's ok. Others like to step up and worry about those kinds of things while letting others do the work they don't have time for. Some even braver souls do all of this and are kept very busy.

    You can benefit other people in all different kinds of ways: whether you are working for someone either as an employee or an employer, in any industry, doing any kind of work, for any group of people, and you will have many opportunities to be appreciated for your work if you do your work well, even if you don't actually hear this appreciation directly.

    I would think about this first before you decide to do anything further.
  4. Jun 6, 2012 #3
    As a fellow player, may I know which Starcraft 2 game you designed?
  5. Jun 6, 2012 #4
    Actuarial science does involve a lot of math. Actuarial jobs are business jobs in which you sometimes do math. Credentialed actuaries are in demand. Entry level actuarial analysts (so, you) are not in demand. If you’re really interested in the career, don’t let this stop you; preparing for the difficult task of getting that first job can greatly improve your odds.

    My job certainly doesn’t involve doing the same work or the same calculations every day, though I do have monthly duties. And I sure as hell don’t have a 9 to 5 “type deal”. I work many more hours than that, even before you include studying for the exams. But if you think you can’t excel, then you probably won’t, and you may well end up a perma-analyst doing the most boring work available.

    What’s wrong with going through code all day? You say you would like the problem solving, but it seems this doesn’t apply to code. Why? If you don’t like software code, why even bring up software engineering?

    And who says a software engineer goes through endless code all day? People I know who attained that title are more involved in the management of the entire project. Some of them wish they spent more time coding. . . but of course there’s no hard definition of what a software engineer does.

    How much research on what people in these jobs actually do have you done?
  6. Jun 6, 2012 #5
    I want to impress myself, not other people.

    It's not a popular map, you don't know it. I might fix it up a bit more and try to get it popular in the future. If you want to see it, PM me.

    I've spent countless hours googling degrees and jobs. I've even done some sample actuary problems / statistician problems, to see if I would like that kind of math. It's ok.

    edit: Classes are closing out for the fall.. should I take linear algebra / differential equations? both? I'm currently registered for a engineering physics, is physics even worth taking if I'm not going to be a physicist or engineer? Should I take statistics?
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2012
  7. Jun 7, 2012 #6
    I am extremely to pressured to choose a degree. I need to fix my schedule for the fall...

    I have taken 2 semesters of english, bio and chem. I took 3 semesters worth of calculus up to multivariable calc. I've also taken 1 social science (intro to sociology). These all the courses I have taken so far.

    From what I know now, if I were to switch from premed to something more math related (and I'm certain I will I just don't know which degree ) I think I would have wasted the semesters of chem and biology.

    I'm currently registered for engineering physics, differential equations, a humanities course, a "computer concepts and programming" course.

    The humanities I would need for any degree so I would keep that in my schedule, but why would I take engineering physics if I were to major in math? And if I wanted more exposure to math to see if it like other types of advanced math besides calculus, shouldnt I be taking linear algebra instead of differential equations? Should I be taking statistics? I wish I knew the best degree for me :(
  8. Jun 7, 2012 #7


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    Well you are going to have plenty of options to do that if it is what you really genuinely want.

    Lots of things are hard and challenging and that is not only things that are intellectual. Impressing yourself will likely take the form of trying something you are not comfortable with and then surprising yourself by actually doing it either in part or whole in a way that you didn't anticipate.

    You can do this in almost any way possible. Become a programmer and work on projects. Build a house. Solve a hard and useful math problem. Become a michelin chef. Spend decades of practice, constant gigs, and hard work to become a great musician. Bust your arse to become an athelete or personal trainer. Spend years honing your skills into something specific so that you become better at it.

    My point is that you can do anything that will impress yourself, and you don't need us to tell you what that is since you will a good idea of what impresses you anyway that no-one else here knows.
  9. Jun 7, 2012 #8
    True. But really, "impressing myself" is a side goal, no point in impressing yourself if you cant get a job with a certain degree.

    What do you guys think about a Major in Math and a minor in CS? If I were to do this... what CS courses should I take? I would want to learn a programing language that is very useful, even useful for developing physics engines / games. The the beginning CS courses teach java, and I have an idea that java sucks.
  10. Jun 7, 2012 #9


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    Anything applied is great. If you want to program and do software development, get a portfolio under you with projects: ones that are more complex, use multiple platforms/languages, with teams of programmers is better. Pick a domain and start building up a portfolio in that area.

    Add some applied mathematics courses like statistics and probability, numerical work, computational work, and learn to communicate in the best possible manner that you can.

    If you want to develop 3D games, take linear algebra, all the calculus, numeric methods, analytic and computational geometry, and then learn some physics. Then along with this, become a very good programmer doing assembler (for optimization routines) using vector instructions, learn data structures, algorithms, networking protocols (you will end up designing your own optimal ones), compiler design (you will need this for scripting), framework design (learn things like COM, OLE, .NET internals and how they really work for constructing game engines), and also all the libraries you will need (video, audio, physics, rendering, collision, etc), and then put this into practice with using C++ by taking everything and tieing it all together. This is what you will need to do learn to make a game engine, and is recommended if you want to understand how to start to analyze the design and modification of existing game engines.

    If I were you I would double major in computer science and mathematics if you want to get into this, but be warned that you will be competing against other people and you will have to do this more or less as your life, and not just some fad that you think is cool for a week, a month, or even a year.

    Also remember that it's not always about the courses you take, it's about the usefulness that an employer thinks you can bring to the table for a specific role. If you have good marks, but are otherwise not useful for a particular role, nobody is going to care.

    So with regards to this issue, talk to recruiters at career fairs to find out what kinds of things people are looking for, and this will give you a better and more focused set of ideas that will help become more 'employable'.
  11. Jun 7, 2012 #10
    I can imagine myself really enjoying a job like this, using math/physics knowledge to work on games / software.

    But I have some uncertainty, I know I am very good at logic and would probably be good at programming but I have never tried to use a program language seriously before. I am currently registered for a "computer concepts and programming" for the fall, which is like an Introduction to Computer Science I think.

    I am currently registered for differential equations in the fall, would you recommend switching that to linear algebra?

    Also, since I think I've already wasted time/money/credits on bio / chem courses, should I take statistics? I was going to take it over the summer, but I dropped it because I'm also taking a humanities course at the same time period over the summer. (It actually starts in July so I could probably still get it back). I mean, if statistics was really important for me, I would work hard and get As in both.
  12. Jun 7, 2012 #11


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    If you are a math major, you will have to take both a DE course and a linear algebra course. Statistics is a good thing to take for many different jobs, mainly for the thinking and the use in a lot of different situations: it's something people can relate to at some level and this means that when people see statistics, they have a feeling of what they mean and how to use them if the techniques are simple enough. Just be aware that it doesn't make you a statistician taking a few probability/stats courses here and there.

    If you want to apply for software development jobs you will have needed to program a lot of stuff by yourself. If you get to the interview stage, the guys and girls interviewing you will know this within probably half an hour at most.

    Programming can be a 'dirty thing' at times. It's not always nice and clean: finding bugs, writing code that needed to be written yesterday and patching a repository that has been in development for a decade means that things will get specific and ugly.

    It can be rewarding for one type of personality and invidual, but others will despise it and hate it. Chances are if you are able to stick with it for two years and go through all the debugging hell in a language like C++ while writing lots and lots of different kinds of code with API's (i.e. external libraries) with code written by other people, then I think you will be able to take this wherever you want to go. If you end up getting frustrated way too easily, then that is a sign that it is probably not for you.

    Also remember to pick a theme or particular set of skills that you can do well in. The way things work nowadays, is that people are hired who have particular skillsets that complement and supplement the other skillsets of other employees.

    If you can do a few things well enough, can work with other people, and can get through your work without breaking down, then people will see that and will probably offer you a job depending on these and other (company fit, personality, etc) things. Also look for jobs that are genuinely interesting to you, or otherwise have general motivations for because experienced interviewers will be able to see this rather quickly if you end up at that stage. It doesn't just hurt them and their time, it hurts yours as well.

    You can always get new skills and experience as time goes by, but again just focus on a couple of things and become good at those. Also find other people in the industry, or who have experience working in similar positions and get their advice as well.
  13. Jun 7, 2012 #12
    Should I take Stats? Should I take Physics?
  14. Jun 8, 2012 #13
    Yes, but have you done anything to see if you would like that kind of work.

    They're not the same.

    I think you're asking the wrong questions.
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