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Is CS better paired with Physics or Math?

  1. Jan 30, 2013 #1
    I'm in my second semester of a Physics MS program, and my goal is to come out with good math and computer science skills. I also want to get an interesting job near the ocean since I'm a nature loving surfer, so I thought that physics and programming might land me a gig at an oceanographic research facility (or, if all else fails, I could just program at a company near the beach).

    I don't have a background in physics so I've gotta take undergrad classes for a few more semesters. I took a probability class last semester and it was honestly my most interesting class, simply because it was so general and miraculously applicable to all kinds of things. I've taken linear algebra and it rocked my world - seriously changed the way I think - and it's made me wonder how else my brain might be empowered by more math. I know that things like Modern Algebra are pretty high-level, but perhaps, combined with some good programming skills, these "mind opening classes" could help me be a really powerful problem solver and inventor on and off of the keyboard.

    No disrespect to physics - after all, it's the study of nature, which is my true love. I just worry that focusing on physics without a deeper mathematical background will leave me feeling like I've scratched the surface but don't really understand the bigger picture.

    I'm wondering what's a better pairing with computer science: Math or Physics? Perhaps this is too personal of a question. I do think that I'd be unhappy if my work was too disconnected from the world outside. But, in the long run, I can't help but wonder if an investment in math now will pay off later, even if I end up doing science.

    Thanks for reading, thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 30, 2013 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    I think CS is better paired with Physics as so much research into nonlinear unsolvable differential equation systems requires it. As an example, research into fluid flow using the Navier Stokes is done this way. So too cosmology, GR ...
  4. Jan 30, 2013 #3
    If you believe pure math will make you a better problem solver then do pure math. However do keep in mind that intro to probability and linear algebra are not like real pure math classes. I had a taste of real pure math in my graduate level mathematical physics class.

    Trust me, if your school requires it, wait until you finish your grad level mathematical physics class then judge whether math is for you.
  5. Jan 30, 2013 #4


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    Gold Member

    I wonder if you are confusing CS with programming? CS is very close to pure math. Very little physics in CS.

    At the same time, most of CS is irrelevant to the sort of programming that takes place in companies (ok, most companies).
  6. Jan 30, 2013 #5
    Applied math is probably a decent option. Most MS level applied math degrees will get into numerical methods for solving DEs, applied linear algebra, and also let you take some elective classes in another field like physics, engineering fields, or physical science.

    Might give you a little bit of both.
  7. Jan 30, 2013 #6
    Thanks for the input everyone. I do realize that I haven't seen much "real math" yet. I really don't have a background in proofs and I can see how the sort of math that I've done is just the application of things proven in "real math" classes. Is that sortof correct?

    I also do see that there's a difference between CS and programming. I am trying to be practical and I'm not too concerned with making breakthroughs in CS. I'm more after just being a darn good programmer, and it just seemed to my naive mind that the sort of mind-stretching that might happen in "real" math classes might lead to novel programming solutions. My friend programs for a hedge fund and it sounds like linear algebra comes into play big time in his work. He also mentioned that Stats should really be taught from a linear algebra perspective!

    I just got to thinking that more explorations of relationships could be a powerful thing (Modern Algebra, uh, other stuff..?). At the same time, in terms of doing work that I find interesting (creating useful stuff for the world), perhaps it's important to stay grounded in the sciences.

    Sorry for rambling, I hope to get more feedback!
  8. Jan 30, 2013 #7
    Oh, and I'll look into applied math, thanks. I guess another issue is that I found math to be "harder' than the physics I took last semester. My ego has been telling me to take the hardest path, since that might make me stronger in the end.
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