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Major help.

  1. Nov 12, 2012 #1


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    Although I asked a similar question two days ago, i'm still seeking an (biased would be nice) answer.
    So far Physics major seems like the right choice, Physics is still my passion. But, there are always "buts", I would like a major more applicable in the real world. My major choices are: Physics, CS, EE, Econ. Don't really like the idea of being a Engineer( maybe my idea of being one is misconstrued) seems way to practical and day to day life would have no theory or abstractness. I have a tenacious interest in Econ, well rounded major, interdisciplinary, involves math, etc. Comp Sci appears to be the most applyable, you can do almost anything with a degree in CS, apply it to math, any science, business, etc. But I would really like the possibility of a PhD, but the way I see it a PhD in CS seems obscure , since i's not that pure(although it is developing at an outstanding rate).
    What I would really want to do is R&D but with the possibility of starting my own business/lab relating to my major, specifically research in Quantum computing, AI, Energy, photonics, and Nanotech.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 12, 2012 #2
    Out of all the majors you have listed, the *most* well-rounded is EE, since it involves classes in all the other subjects and yet has its own classes not (and will probably never be) covered by them. As a EE you take some math, some programming, some physics, some econ, and combine them all to design products (or do research for manufacturers) that will actually help people. It seems most geared to your goals.

    Also, PhD in CS is certainly not obscure. Also, pure CS does exist. There are fields in CS that are more pure/abstract than physics. Examples are computational complexity theory and quantum computing.

  4. Nov 12, 2012 #3


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    Which major would be the best choice with the possibility of going into Quantum Computing?
  5. Nov 12, 2012 #4


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    Maybe this can help. Can you tell me the generalized personality a person taking each of the majors, maybe this will help me relate more since I enjoy all of them.
  6. Nov 12, 2012 #5
    No I can't tell you this because there are more students majoring in these subjects every year than how many days I will (probably) live.

    There is a free online course in quantum computing offered on:

    IMO the ideal route for quantum computing is double major in math and CS with some courses in quantum mechanics. But if you want AI, then EECS is the way. This is what I have heard from computer scientists in the fields whom I know personally, it's not my own experience, just saying.

  7. Nov 12, 2012 #6
    What do you mean with "generalized personality"?? I don't think such a thing exists. Not everybody who does EE has the same personality. You shouldn't be looking for a personality, you should be looking for what interests you the most.

    Anyway, the most directly applicable degree is probably EE. That degree really trains you to for a job, so it teaches you what you need to know and how it is applicable. Don't expect your courses to go really deep. They will probably gloss over most of the math and physics and just teach you what you need to know. The goal is in becoming an electrical engineer, and not a physicist.

    A CS degree is also quite applicable, but you're going to do a lot of abstract things which are likelygoing to be useless to a later job (doesn't mean that they're not interesting or fun though!!). Do not think that a CS degree mainly is about programming, that is a common mistake. A CS degree tries to teach you theoretical stuff on how a computer works. You are going to have fun with automata and Turing machines and you're going to learn about sorting algorithms and efficiency and such. If you want a degree mainly about programming, then software engineering is much better. If you're interesting in how and why the computer works, then CS is better.

    A physics degree is less applicable than CS or EE (this is relative of course, the vast majority of physics majors find a job very easily, but it usually has little to do with the physics they learned about). It is quite abstract and tries to teach you how the world works. If you always wanted to know what quantum mechanics and relativity is, then a physics degree is the best way to find out. A physics degree mainly prepares you for physics grad school and not for another job.

    And I don't know anything about Economy.

    I probably made quite some errors in these descriptions of the majors, so feel free to correct me!
  8. Nov 12, 2012 #7


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    The thing is, I want to major in Physics but i'm also interested in other things, how do you co-op with that?
  9. Nov 12, 2012 #8
    You can double major. Or you can take a minor in something else.
  10. Nov 12, 2012 #9


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    Which is the only major I wouldn't be able to learn as a hobby. For example, i'm guessing you can learn EE without actually going to school for 4 years same for CS, but I could be wrong.
  11. Nov 12, 2012 #10


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    I can minor in CS, and Econ?
  12. Nov 12, 2012 #11


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    Can I double major in Physics and CS and minor in Econ? Would that make sense? Also is CS as a major even challenging, many say it's easy.
  13. Nov 12, 2012 #12
    Well, you could probably learn all majors as a hobby. But if you learn something as a hobby, you will have several problems:

    • You won't have an actual degree in the subject, so you won't be able to get a job in it or go to grad school in it.
    • You won't be able to do labs, which is rather essential in EE and physics (I assume).
    • You won't be able to gauge your knowledge: there won't be professionals who tell you how well you know the material.
  14. Nov 12, 2012 #13
    You might want to ask an academic advisor. But I don't know if it's wise. Physics, CS and Econ are things which don't really overlap much. So you're going to have to do quite a lot of work. If you don't mind working hard, then I guess you can do it.
  15. Nov 12, 2012 #14
    Err what are your goals in life?

    Do you want to be a physisict, an economist, comp scientist or electrical engineer for your career? I recommend you major in the topic for the one profession you hope to get into and take the optional supplementary coursework in your second choice of a profession. If it's just out of interest, just take few courses in that subject. It doesn't really have to be a second major or an extra minor but it's really up to you.

    You get to make a similar choice (though more restricted) when getting into grad school if you plan to go there. (I.E. physics to EE, economics to economics, etc).

    Not taking those interesting classes/taking too many diverse classes both have consequences (I.E. end up loving EE while a senior in economics, too many electives to fit in physics electives for your physics major)
  16. Nov 12, 2012 #15
    Your interests seem to be pretty close to my own, so I'm just going to go ahead and give a long, boring exposition on my experiences with the subjects you've mentioned:

    Based on what you've said thus far, I would stay away from Econ. I felt the same way coming into my freshman year and actually started out as an Econ. major. I'm fairly certain that you'll be disappointed with the level of rigor. At least at my school, it acts as a sort of "business major for kids who didn't get into business school," and many "serious" economics students double major... commonly in math/econ. I do happen to know a student who's a physics/econ double major, though I don't know him well enough to say how he feels about economics compared to physics. As for me, I'm a physics (and possibly astronomy) major, and am also doing a certificate in scientific computation which involves 4 programming/application courses and a research project (likely something in computational physics/astro for me).
    ** One caveat here is that opinions about economics seem to vary, and my comments pertain only to my particular university/program, since other programs may involve more mathematical rigor. With that said, and given your other interests, I would still bet that you would regret majoring in econ.

    I couldn't be happier with my choice to pursue physics. I mention that simply because I felt largely the same way you do about engineering. It seems to be geared to people who really enjoy building and knowing how machines work. For me, engineering just doesn't have anywhere near the appeal that exploring physics purely out of curiosity does. Physics, IMHO, just goes "deeper" than most fields of engineering do.***

    It's not really possible to say whether CS is an "easy" major. From my observations, aptitude in CS seems to vary wildly from person to person. It all has to do with the kind of thinking a person is good at, as CS is very structured and logical. To write a program that does some complicated task, you have to be able to break the task down into it's simplest components, and put each step together in the right order so that the program can execute the steps on any possible input, etc. Basically, you need to have a knack for coming up with algorithms. Some people are naturally very good at this, and even enjoy it, and so CS is very easy for them; others can do it but find it a bit dull and use it mostly to achieve other ends, like recording/analyzing experimental data; and still others find it confusing and frustrating. I'd put myself in the 2nd category, and I think a lot of people in physics/other sciences would feel the same way: that computers are extremely useful tools, but we don't really love programming, at least not for its own sake (even if we do get enjoyment from seeing the end results as they pertain to experiments, etc).

    On the subject of quantum computing, check out this thread, particularly the 4th post: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=515186
    I would stress that at this early stage in your academic career though, you shouldn't be worrying about such a specific field. Just study whatever interests you the most and narrow your options down as you learn about more career paths and research areas.

    ***I hope I don't offend any engineers here, as I will happily concede that learning about and building machines/structures/computers can, without a doubt, be interesting and rewarding. As a physics lover, I just think nature is in some sense the "ultimate machine," and find studying man-made objects to be less exciting by comparison.
  17. Nov 12, 2012 #16
    I'm not offended at all bossman, however I should attempt to "qualify" your definition of "deeper".

    Engineering itself might not be as fundamental as say, physics or economics. You won't deal with analyzing the fundamental properties of matter or of money. However, it doesn't mean that engineering problems lack mathematical abstraction.

    Some engineering problems can go into fields of math that haven't even been studied yet.
    There are problems within engineering that are so complex they require the skills of a mathematician. Engineers (and sometimes physicists/chemists) are often not trained to solve the most difficult problems which are founded in mathematics. They are however trained to come up with a fast solution that uses simulations/experiments, and communicate and justify their methods to the team (and to the public), which is an art of its own. But the actual elegant solution to these problems: this is where mathematicians usually come in. Once an applied mathematician sees such problems, he (or she) usually introduces it to the pure mathematicians, who then attempt to solve it and make generalizations about it, and create analogies of other areas where the problem might be applied, even though the engineer's urgent need to solve the original problem may have expired.

    I will give an example. In engineering, there is a problem of designing a traffic lighting system that minimizes the total time that drivers must spend waiting at junctions. An unwanted phenomena in busy cities is gridlock, where a bad traffic jam can causally prevent movement in an entire block. This is already a very difficult math problem, but which mathematicians might not notice immediately since they are not the ones designing the traffic lights. An engineer might consider some variables, play with them, and run some simulations and see what types of timing for the traffic lights minimizes this possbility. Yet this will never be an elegant solution. It will be fast, it will play to the needs of the public, but it will still not be *the* ideal solution to the problem.
    Only mathematicians can find the best solutions, though their results take much longer than that of engineers. It is a tradeoff between elegance and efficiency that must not be overlooked in the spectrum of scientific careers.

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