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My plan for the rest of my undergrad - good?

  1. Dec 7, 2009 #1
    I'm currently a sophomore with a major in math/cs (single major, not a double major) and I have a plan of what I'm taking for the rest of my time here apart from my degree. I ran it by the general adviser guy and he said it was good, but we really didn't discuss the pros and cons of it, more just saying that I'd be able to do it without problem. What I would like to know is, is this an ok thing to do?

    My major does not require any physics classes at all, so I thought it would probably be beneficial to take mechanics, e and m, and quantum. I also want to take Chinese classes. All of this equates to 30 extra hours of coursework, which I am able to fit in to my schedules just fine. The problem is that I'm afraid that by doing this, I'm just setting myself up for not looking very good to people in the future. I couldn't find any better way to put that :P

    Here's why I think this: taking those physics classes and Chinese will not really count for anything. I won't get any minor out of it. It will just be extra classes. I don't know if I should be feeling this way, but a lot of my friends who are in engineering are getting minors (typically in physics or math) and I'm not. I know I shouldn't feel this way, because they usually only need 9 or so more hours added to their degree to get one of these minors and I would need at least 15 for the easiest one, but it kind of makes me feel like an underachiever. And what makes it worse is that I know some engineer friends who are double-majoring in math and it makes me feel like my degree isn't going to be very important if people are able to major in both mechanical engineering and math and I'm just doing one that's about half math and half computer science. So many people are doing math with their other degrees that it kind of makes me feel like it's not going to be anything special at all saying I majored in math (as a component) and that in order to be seen as having done better in school, I need to have done at least a math minor plus another major.

    So basically, my question is this: should I keep the current plan I have now or would it be better for me to drop it and instead at least minor in something (which would be either chemistry, atmospheric sciences, linguistics, or, if I'm really ambitious and want to stay for a fifth year, materials science and engineering)?
    Thanks a lot for reading all this and helping me :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 7, 2009 #2
    At some point in your life, you are going to find out that it really doesn't matter how good you look to people, because you'll find that it totally useless anyway. The purpose of an education is to give you the tools that you need to survive even if you look very, very bad to people.

    You'll learn stuff. That counts for something.

    Let's step back for a second. What do you want to do with your life?
  4. Dec 7, 2009 #3
    Haha there's another problem. I'm not completely sure.
    I'm pretty sure I'll go to graduate school because to me an undergraduate degree does not seem like enough. It's kind of selfish really but I think I'll want more :P. I don't know whether I'll go to graduate school immediately after undergraduate or if I'll work for a few years first, but when/if I go to graduate school I'd say there's just under a two-thirds probability it will be in computer science, a little less than one-third that it will be math, and whatever's remaining is the probability it will be something else that's related. But see, I'm not 100 percent sure what I want to do before that or after. I like computer science a lot but coding isn't my favorite thing (weird right?). I'm learning data structures right now, just finishing it up with graphs, and I love it, everything but the actual implementations :P but I'm sure that with more practice I won't dislike coding so much. Still, I like theoretical stuff more. But even though right now being someone who isn't a fan of coding, I think that in a couple of years I might not see it as so bad and I wouldn't mind taking a job with a medium amount of coding for a few years.
  5. Dec 7, 2009 #4
    It might be a good use of time to get involved in something related to your field like research, internships or co-ops. That way you can find out what you want to do with your life.
  6. Dec 7, 2009 #5
    Seconding JD88 about doing some research and the like. I was totally not into coding for most of my degree, then picked up some projects where I had to code and it became fun again. You get to actually apply and use all that theory stuff (in a way you don't get to in many of the entry level compsci jobs out there.)

    Stay away from minors and other coursework you don't have much interest in, because it's a surefire way to lead to burn out, which in turn may lead to grades that will look far worse then lack of 14 minors. (And most places really don't care how much you did above and beyond your scope; they care that you did well in your coursework, any extra material related to your field, and stuff outside your field -basically that you're not a flake. It doesn't matter if you took a minor in art or picked up some extra physics courses-it's all in how you sell it on the statement of purpose/interview. The Chinese is gonna look great if you work for a company with a strong business relationship with China (that's most of the big ones and quite a few of the smaller ones). Your GPA gets you weeded out long before anyone sees your coursework.

    Math major and math minor are totally different ballgames, and I say this being 6 credits away from a minor due being in an engineering major. I've taken all the math I need for my courses and I can get at the tip of the ice berg of some field in math (most of the engineers I know do the probability/stats route 'cause it's practical) but that's nothing compared to my friend who's gotten all the nitty gritty theoretical math and applied math and proofs and crazy geometry and everything else I'm never gonna get near 'cause of pre-reqs. Be proud of your major 'cause you've probably taken way more of the scary math courses most engineers don't even want to touch. ('cause all that graph theory needed for theoretical compsci breaks many engineers' brains.) Maybe go even further in the math major, pick up some more courses, find more of the stuff you already like. Another option is to take more compsci courses above your requirements, 'cause you might have fun and it'll show that you have a passion for your field.
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2009
  7. Dec 7, 2009 #6
    Like twofish-quant said, you'll learn stuff and that counts for something. I've recently been in the same position, and there's a lot of good advice on these forums. If you like Chinese and physics, take Chinese and physics. If you wind up needing some engineering class or chemistry knowledge some time down the road, then at that point you'll find a way to learn it. It's not too hard to take an class as a non-matriculated student after you graduate or to self-study a topic. Better to know well what you love than to spread yourself out in order to look good to everyone. At some point you need to make the decision to do what's best for yourself and not worry so much about how it compares to others.

    A great mathematician who can program equations for physics problems in Chinese will eventually be just what someone needs. A math/comp sci major who's pissed off cause he has 6 minors and isn't particularly great or interested in any of them will never look good.
  8. Dec 8, 2009 #7


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    I second this, the opportunities available for people with a wide range of skills. My cousin got a law degree but he knows a few languages and ended up getting a position in hiring because of language skills. You never know what is around the corner in terms of opportunities available to meet your skillset
  9. Dec 8, 2009 #8
    Thanks a lot everyone :)

    Yeah physics isn't really something I'm interested in. I just thought it would be beneficial because computer science majors (without math) have to take it as a college requirement and I kind of felt it strange to not have to take any, especially last semester in calculus 3 when the professor made a lot of electricity and magnetism connections to what we were doing and saying stuff like "this is how you calculate flux". I still don't know what flux is but give me 2 minutes with my notebook from that class and I'll be able to calculate it. :P Honestly though, from what I've seen, physics is a lot of formulas and just plugging numbers into your calculator without really justifying any of the formulas you use. What's the fun in that? I can write programs to figure that stuff out and then it's done but I can't write programs to help me with the epsilon-proofs dealing with the convergence of sequences (which I still really need to review before my final exam next week!)

    However, Chinese I really have developed an interest in, mostly because of a lot of new friends I've made here at school, and unless it's just impossible or I lose interest, I'll probably do all 4 semesters of it. But if I drop physics I can take classes that I'd actually prefer to take (geometry or topology, neither of which is required by my major; a graph theory class; or some cool CS class) :) Still though it doesn't feel right not taking at least a mechanics class . . .

    As for research etc., I am taking the class that is writing a senior undergraduate thesis in computer science when I'm a senior, but I should probably find at least one other thing before that. Hopefully I will! Once again, thanks a lot for helping me!
  10. Dec 8, 2009 #9
    How can you judge something when you yourself said you've never taken a class on it before? I can assure you physics is not about "plugging in numbers". Maybe you can get by by just using formula's in your first intro physics class (doubt it) but just mindlessly using equations doesn't actually tell you anything.

    Quite frankly I'm a little insulted that you'd claim that physicists just sit around all day plugging numbers into calculators.

    I'm not saying that you should take physics but you're completely wrong in what you think it is.
  11. Dec 8, 2009 #10
    You'll get a lot of mechanics through math. Partial differential equations play a large role in mechanical engineering courses and geometry is an important component of civil engineering. If you want to just build something, join one of the engineering clubs in your school (or start one). The robotics club at my school always needs programmers. Don't take a class 'cause you think you should unless you really should (it'll be helpful for your major or research.)
  12. Dec 8, 2009 #11
    You know what you'd prefer, so go ahead and do it. Before you drop a class you want in order to take mech, make sure you really know why you want to take that mech class. Why doesn't it feel right? Don't try to talk yourself into something that you really don't want or need.
  13. Dec 8, 2009 #12
    I don't see much point in having a minor for the sake of having a minor. If your minor is relevant to a job you are applying for, then you might get some brownie points. I think it's highly unlikely that an employer will look at your resume and conclude that you must have worked harder if you have a minor. Depending on a bunch of factors, minors are often basically given away. Without more information, it's hard to tell if, for example, a math minor came free with the physics major.

    One way to have a similar effect is just to include an "additional coursework" line on your resume. Listing off courses in numerical analysis, advanced probability, and advanced statistics may count for more with an employer interested in such things than actually having a math minor.

    Having the minor can make it easier to briefly explain that you have some minimal experience, but there are other ways to get the point across.
  14. Dec 8, 2009 #13
    Yeah I should probably clarify that -- I'm judging by the classes that my friends are taking. They aren't physics majors and they are only taking the classes that feed them formulas (at least what I've gathered from talking to them, asking them about the class and seeing what kind of work they do). Granted, I haven't seen the labs and demonstrations and those would be the fun part but I'd say it's similar to the chemistry lab I took -- the labs are fun but writing the lab reports isn't. The reason I called it number crunching is because I'd be taking those same classes if I decided to add some physics to that. 400 level classes are probably the real fun ones but I wouldn't be able to take those.
  15. Dec 8, 2009 #14
    What you do in freshman Physics is up to you. You can memorize the pertinent formulas before each exam and plug the numbers in your calculator, or you can learn how to derive the formulas and how they all relate to each other through F=ma...and formulate on your own what you need during the exam.
    Either way will get you the answers, I suppose.

    For me, I took great joy in learning theory in Newtonian Mechanics. I took much time to make sure I could derive everything we learned in the course from Newton's laws. I had more fun going into exams not having a clue what "formulas" we were supposed to have memorized and deriving what I needed to for each question than just about any other class' exams.

    To be honest, I was so obsessive about it in Physics that when we're moving quickly through an "applied" math course...I sometimes feel like I end up just "plugging in" the formulas I'm fed.

    You can treat the beginning Physics courses how you want. If you have a good math background, I would say you can actually have a lot of "fun" making sure you DON'T just memorize the formulas.
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