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Programs Is a 2nd major in comp sci useful in computational physics?

I'm majoring in physics and I'm planning on pursuing computational astrophysics in graduate school. Will a second major in computer science/programming look good to graduate schools, and/or will it give me great advantages in the field of computational astrophysics or astronomy?
 

Dr. Courtney

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I'm majoring in physics and I'm planning on pursuing computational astrophysics in graduate school. Will a second major in computer science/programming look good to graduate schools, and/or will it give me great advantages in the field of computational astrophysics or astronomy?
No second major is worth adding time to your graduation or lowering your GPA or lowering your PGRE score or reducing your research accomplishments. A few programming courses would likely be helpful, but a track record or successful programming accomplishments in a research context will mean much more than any double major. What programming languages do you already know? What efforts have you made to get into a research group?

Most of the time, double majors take too much time away from what should be higher priorities.
 

Choppy

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It's unlikely that a second major itself will be a decisive factor in graduate school admissions, but a lot can depend on the details.

There are some good reasons that one might consider a second major though. One is if you think you may want to go to graduate school in computer science. Having that second major generally keeps that second option open. Another is that it can expand your employment options when you graduate or eventually leave academia. Employers will often seek out computer science majors for programming positions. With a physics degree alone, you often face a hurdle of convincing employers that you have relevant skills.

As Dr. Courtney said, a second major doesn't come without consequences. Generally, you have a lot fewer elective options. If you would have chosen those comp sci courses anyways for your electives then the second major may be a good idea. And it's also important to consider workload. Some students struggle when all courses are STEM-heavy in a semester. Their grades suffer, which has a negative consequence insofar as graduate admissions go. On the other hand other students thrive under such circumstances, so this can come down to what kind of student you are.
 

StatGuy2000

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No second major is worth adding time to your graduation or lowering your GPA or lowering your PGRE score or reducing your research accomplishments. A few programming courses would likely be helpful, but a track record or successful programming accomplishments in a research context will mean much more than any double major. What programming languages do you already know? What efforts have you made to get into a research group?

Most of the time, double majors take too much time away from what should be higher priorities.
@Dr. Courtney , you seem to be assuming here that adding a second major will necessarily result in lowering the GPA. But isn't this predicated on the notion that the material from the second major necessarily detracts from learning about physics?

One can argue that the material covered in the second major (e.g. math, computer science) could be complementary with physics. I've certainly known many students who have thrived and succeeded in completing double majors with physics (most commonly physics and math, or physics and computer science).
 

Dr. Courtney

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@Dr. Courtney , you seem to be assuming here that adding a second major will necessarily result in lowering the GPA. But isn't this predicated on the notion that the material from the second major necessarily detracts from learning about physics?

One can argue that the material covered in the second major (e.g. math, computer science) could be complementary with physics. I've certainly known many students who have thrived and succeeded in completing double majors with physics (most commonly physics and math, or physics and computer science).
Having mentored and observed many physics majors through the years, I've known very few who can tackle the second major without compromising aspects of their first major and graduate school preparation.

Sure, it is a theoretical possibility, but one that I have never seen in practice. Majoring in physics, earning grades commensurate with their grad school aspirations, and making some research accomplishments is more than most aspiring physics majors that I've known can accomplish. I've counseled a number regarding second majors. When they write down all the additional coursework for that second major, there is simply too much added time to complete the second major in four years without compromising something else. It usually adds up to over 20 hours each semester to complete a BS in four years.

When they get to this point, I usually advise that they narrow their list of added coursework to those courses that are genuinely providing the added value they are hoping for to their physics major. Most often this process provides sufficient coursework in the second discipline for a minor in that second discipline. But in no case has it been sufficient for a second major. Nor has the full coursework required for a second major ever seemed necessary for preparation for graduate school in a given subfield of physics. And for students who are often looking forward to many more years in school to complete their PhDs, I can't in good conscience recommend an extra two or three semesters earning a second BS.

I'm advising two Physics majors now who considered double majors. Even though they both started off with 30+ credit hours, a second major would require over 20 credit hour course loads to graduate in four years. Since their scholarships only pay for four years, they are not interested in taking more time. They are each now on a path to earn minors in a second discipline while keeping their total course load at or under 17 credit hours each semester, which leaves ample time for research, staying fit, having a bit of a social life, etc. For most students 20+ credit hours every semester is a recipe for bad grades, overly stressed students, and an unbalanced life. It is a very, very rare student who can do it and actually be well prepared for grad school.
 

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