Is physics, computer science, or engineering the right path for me?

In summary, the conversation discusses an individual's interest in pursuing computer science, physics, or engineering as a career. The individual is passionate about math and solving equations, as well as the development of advanced technology. They are unsure if they would enjoy the work of a physicist, or if they are more interested in being an engineer who designs and builds technology based on the research of physicists. Ultimately, it is suggested that the individual should explore all of these fields in college, including engineering courses, to determine which one suits their interests and strengths best.
  • #1
MWatson04
4
1
I am 18 and currently in the middle of taking a gap year from high school to college. I am going to college this fall, and I want to go into college with a better grip on what I want to do than I have now. I absolutely love physics, science, and math. I also have a huge attachment to the idea of going into computer science and studying A.I.

My reason for choosing computer science is one, I love programming, and two, I believe the development of A.G.I. will be the most impactful development during my life (again I'm 18), and I find this field to be extremely intriguing. I also watch videos on YouTube from people like Two Minute Papers, and I feel amazed with what is being presented (for example his most popular video on the OpenAI A.I. learning to play hide and seek is truly mind boggling). The things is these videos are about the aftermath of research and development of the A.I., but would doing research and development for something like this actually be compelling and worth pursuing as a career? As in, is it worth it for someone like me who loves math and long equations, theorizing on topics but also actually working with them hands on, loves working with computers, but also in a "lab" environment where you do heavy research and build stuff like different hardware/software?

Now on the other side for physics, I have a huge passion for wanting to learn more about the universe, and like I said, I love math and solving equations that take up 10 pieces of paper alone. Btw I feel I should make it known my end goal of this career choice would be to become an astrophysicist. As for this particular job, would I spend my time with these complex equations and heavy data that I have to analyze? Or will I just spend my days looking at objects in space and solving for seemingly tedious things like the orbit of that object or something like that? I feel I should point out that my passion for physics also comes from watching YouTube videos about different theories which I feel might not be showing me the entire work of a physicist and is just showing me the "glory" of it. Studying physics is concerning for me because I don't even know if I'm enjoying the idea of the work of a physicist (Research and solving unanswered questions), or if I'm more interested in being something like an engineer who will (depending on your actual work in your field) design and build extraordinary technology that they know they can, and should do, from the work of physicists.

In the end I feel as if the generation I'm growing up in is on the edge of creation and development of things that are close to the crazy sci-fi technology people read about and see in movies. Like for example (not saying this is currently happening, just an example), if people were to come to the conclusion that we can create a full on Iron Man suit, I would assume that the physicists are the ones who do the research to see what is physically possible and see what sort of design is needed to make this possible, then the engineers would build it and bring the technology from an idea to a physical reality. As someone who loves the math and the idea of "lab" work, I also feel I enjoy even more the hands on work and physical development that comes after.

So after telling what I hope is mostly needed and useful stuff, and based off the kind of person I am (I hope I described myself well enough) would you suggest I choose physics, computer science, or maybe even engineering? (Note: For engineering I know I would want to be something like an electrical, mechanical, computer, or aerospace engineer as I feel these are the eningeers who would work on something like an Iron Man suit if we found we could do it or any other "futuristic" tech like advanced spacecraft /spacesuits, robotics, holographic tech, etc. that is to come in the future).
 
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  • #2
Welcome to PF. :smile:

Sorry, TLDR. What projects have you built/written in Physics, Engineering and Programming? What did you like about each of those projects?
 
  • #3
berkeman said:
Welcome to PF. :smile:

Sorry, TLDR. What projects have you built/written in Physics, Engineering and Programming? What did you like about each of those projects?
"TLDR", very likely, "Too long, so did not read".

@MWatson04,
You are obviously interested very much in Mathematics, Physics, and Computer Science. Start with any and all of them upon your first (or two) years at college or university, and include if possible Engineering courses. You will need to revise your goal or objective as you progress.

EDIT: Excuse me; I misread part of your question and discussion. I should have written responding with "You are obviously interested very much in Physics, and Computer Science, and Engineering. "
Naturally, you will also need to include certain required Mathematics courses, as well as others to help with ensuring your objectives.
 
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  • #4
berkeman said:
Welcome to PF. :smile:

Sorry, TLDR. What projects have you built/written in Physics, Engineering and Programming? What did you like about each of those projects?
I haven't done many projects in all these fields. I've spent most of my time programming as it's been the easiest to get right into considering I have a computer. As for physics and engineering, I don't even know where to start in terms of projects. I would love to buy the necessary tools/equipment or a little kit or something like that to start building a little robot or some sort of electrical or mechanical system. If you have any suggestions for that let me know.

But as for the work I've personally done and the work I have searched about that workers in these fields do, I've found that the idea of creating something and being hands on is better for me and not just sitting down thinking about it. I know that feels like me saying I wouldn't like being a physicist but I'm just not sure because learning about the universe and the laws of our existence is truly exciting.
 
  • #5
MWatson04 said:
I am 18 and currently in the middle of taking a gap year from high school to college. I am going to college this fall, and I want to go into college with a better grip on what I want to do ...
Are you in the US? Have you already been accepted to and settled on a college? If so, which one? That info will help provide better guidance.
 
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  • #6
CrysPhys said:
Are you in the US? Have you already been accepted to and settled on a college? If so, which one? That info will help provide better guidance.
Sorry for not initially including this info, but yes I am in the U.S., and I live in Illinois. I have my eyes set on a few different schools in the Chicago area. Some of the schools I'm looking at include Illinois Institute of Technology, The University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, Loyola Chicago, and Columbia Chicago (I know Columbia is an art school, but they have a programming degree that I'm interested in).
 
  • #7
MWatson04 said:
I haven't done many projects in all these fields. I've spent most of my time programming as it's been the easiest to get right into considering I have a computer. As for physics and engineering, I don't even know where to start in terms of projects. I would love to buy the necessary tools/equipment or a little kit or something like that to start building a little robot or some sort of electrical or mechanical system. If you have any suggestions for that let me know.
Since you have good beginning programming experience, you can skip over the basic electronics kits (clocks, walkie-talkies, etc.) and get into microcontroller (uC) controlled projects that involve both hardware and embedded software design. Here is a Google hit list for basic Arduino projects that you can look through:

https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=arduino+projects+for+beginners

And the Google hit list for Maker projects involving the Arduino uC from Makezine:

https://www.google.com/search?q=mak...IAaUKkgEDNS44mAEAoAEByAEKwAEB&sclient=gws-wiz

Have fun! :smile:
 
  • #8
berkeman said:
Since you have good beginning programming experience, you can skip over the basic electronics kits (clocks, walkie-talkies, etc.) and get into microcontroller (uC) controlled projects that involve both hardware and embedded software design. Here is a Google hit list for basic Arduino projects that you can look through:

https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=arduino+projects+for+beginners

And the Google hit list for Maker projects involving the Arduino uC from Makezine:

https://www.google.com/search?q=makezine+projects+with+arduino&client=firefox-b-1-d&sxsrf=AOaemvL0TIgkX_wVUTknNU6Fv3V4H7uWCw:1640909114964&ei=OknOYeSWOtz59AOutorYDg&ved=0ahUKEwjkm5_n3oz1AhXcPH0KHS6bAusQ4dUDCA0&uact=5&oq=makezine+projects+with+arduino&gs_lcp=Cgdnd3Mtd2l6EAMyBQghEKABMgUIIRCgATIFCCEQqwI6BwgAEEcQsAM6CAgAEIAEELADOgkIABCwAxAIEB46BggAEBYQHkoFCDwSATFKBAhBGABKBAhGGABQ_AhYqBlgsCRoAXACeACAAX6IAaUKkgEDNS44mAEAoAEByAEKwAEB&sclient=gws-wiz

Have fun! :smile:
I'll definitely check some of these projects out. Thank you!
 
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  • #9
At a good university, your first 3 or 4 semesters will basically be the very similar in any STEM field. Similar enough at least that things you missed won't be a problem to catch up on and things that aren't technically requirements will still be useful to any of the fields you are interested in. Basically, you have time to think about it, and you'll get in depth on topics that could help you decide what you enjoy.
 
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  • #10
Yes TLDR. But... Decide later.
There can be a lot of overlap between those fields, so you don't have to choose yet. Go to college, take core STEM curriculum and then choose when you have to, which probably isn't now.
 
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  • #11
MWatson04 said:
Sorry for not initially including this info, but yes I am in the U.S., and I live in Illinois. I have my eyes set on a few different schools in the Chicago area. Some of the schools I'm looking at include Illinois Institute of Technology, The University of Chicago, University of Illinois at Chicago, Loyola Chicago, and Columbia Chicago (I know Columbia is an art school, but they have a programming degree that I'm interested in).
I'll give you a more detailed response later. But in terms of school options, is there some reason you need to limit yourself to Chicago proper? Otherwise, given your interests, I would recommend you also look at Northwestern in Evanston. And as for University of Illinois, you'll be far better served by the Urbana-Champaign campus than the Chicago Circle campus.
 
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  • #12
I agree with the "decide later" advice. As a general rule I am a firm believer in the notion that college should be a broadening experience, not a narrowing one. The folks I know who are really creative in any field have myriad odd ideas in their armamentarium to attack a problem.

If you find an idea that is fascinating by all means pursue it narrowly but generally you will have opportunities to specialize most of your career
That being said, take as much math as you can until you decide. Much easier to catch up on other things if necessary (at least for me).

I agree that Champaign-Urbana is a very good choice.

Purdue (there are reciprocal tuition arrangements with Illinois students I believe)
Also Wisconsin( Madison and U of Chicago are good but may be pricier
 
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  • #13
Have you done much research online for good programs that you are interested in? In a few minutes I found a lot of information. I would question your choice of Columbia College. It does not seem to be particularly strong in computer science/AI. Lewis University (Romeoville, Ill.) on the other hand would be a much better for AI but not physics. Also, it may not be universally recognized as a good program like U of I (Champagne-Urbana) a degree from which would be of value for job seeking or graduate school admission. U of I also has a great physics program and recognized in astronomy and computer engineering. The University of Wisconsin has a great physics program and does have an astrophysics program as well as AI program.

Choose wisely.
 
  • #14
Let me put in a good word for Rose-Hulman Institute in Terre Haute Indiana. Every person I know from there is excellent. It is not so strong in physics though.
 
  • #15
MWatson04 said:
My reason for choosing computer science is one, I love programming, and two, I believe the development of A.G.I. will be the most impactful development during my life (again I'm 18), and I find this field to be extremely intriguing. I also watch videos on YouTube from people like Two Minute Papers, and I feel amazed with what is being presented (for example his most popular video on the OpenAI A.I. learning to play hide and seek is truly mind boggling). The things is these videos are about the aftermath of research and development of the A.I., but would doing research and development for something like this actually be compelling and worth pursuing as a career? As in, is it worth it for someone like me who loves math and long equations, theorizing on topics but also actually working with them hands on, loves working with computers, but also in a "lab" environment where you do heavy research and build stuff like different hardware/software?
Have you tried thinking about it in terms of WHAT impact it will or can have and what impact or difference you can hope to make?
 
  • #16
Hi!
I had the same dilemma when I wanted to choose what to study, since I have similar interests. I was undecided between computer science and physics (and engineering). I ended up choosing engineering physics (which is popular in my country) with the reasoning that it is easier to learn CS on your own than physics. I just took my masters degree in physics last year and I have not regretted that decision at all. I learned that what makes me tick is learning the secrets of the universe and I would never have gotten the same satisfaction working only with computers.

That is how I though and everyone works differently. You need to find out what is most fun for you. Both astrophysics and creating new AI will require a PhD though. From what I gather, working with advanced AI does require a strong background in math, so it wouldn't be entirely wrong to study physics and math and compliment it with the right AI and CS courses, to then be able to get into the right PhD-program afterwards. But it's up to you.

I would probably do as the others have suggested and not focus entirely on getting into the right program in the start. Try a few things put and see what you like the most. You wil porbbaly not choose wrong whichever choice you make.
 
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  • #17
papercace said:
just took my masters degree in physics last year
Congrats! You should update your "Profile, About" page since it still says you are in undergrad. :smile:
 
  • #18
berkeman said:
Congrats! You should update your "Profile, About" page since it still says you are in undergrad. :smile:
Oh yeah, I had forgotten about that. And thank you. 😄
 
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Related to Is physics, computer science, or engineering the right path for me?

1. Is physics, computer science, or engineering the right path for me?

Deciding on a career path can be a difficult decision. It ultimately depends on your interests and strengths. Physics, computer science, and engineering are all highly technical and mathematical fields, but they have different focuses. Physics deals with the study of matter and energy, computer science involves the creation and use of technology, and engineering applies scientific and mathematical principles to design and build structures, machines, and systems.

2. What skills do I need for each of these fields?

All three fields require strong analytical and problem-solving skills. However, physics requires a deep understanding of mathematical concepts and the ability to conduct experiments and analyze data. Computer science requires programming skills and the ability to work with software and hardware. Engineering requires a combination of mathematical, scientific, and technical skills to design and build practical solutions to real-world problems.

3. Which field has better career prospects?

All three fields have excellent career prospects, but the demand for each may vary depending on your location and the specific industry. Physics graduates can find opportunities in research, teaching, and a variety of industries such as aerospace, defense, and energy. Computer science graduates can work in software development, data science, cybersecurity, and many other fields. Engineering graduates can find jobs in various industries, including construction, manufacturing, and technology.

4. Can I switch between these fields later in my career?

Yes, it is possible to switch between these fields later in your career, but it may require additional education or training. For example, you may need to take some computer science courses if you want to switch from physics to software development. However, many skills are transferable between these fields, so it may not be as difficult as you think.

5. What are the biggest challenges in these fields?

The biggest challenge in physics is understanding complex mathematical concepts and theories. In computer science, staying updated with rapidly evolving technologies can be a challenge. For engineering, the biggest challenge is applying theoretical knowledge to practical problems and finding solutions that are both functional and cost-effective. All three fields also require a lot of hard work, dedication, and continuous learning to stay competitive in the job market.

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