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Need help picking university course -- Physics vs Comp Sci

  1. Aug 21, 2015 #1
    so yeah, as the title suggests, I am stuck regarding which uni course to apply to. It is between computer science, and physics (with astrophysics if possible), and was wondering what you guys think, as I genuinely cannot make my mind up.
    So I'll give you a quick run-down of why i'm stuck.
    Computer science:
    -Interesting subject, when coding its often like a puzzle, it involves a lot of problem solving skills, so it's very rewarding to finally get a program to work correctly or function a certain way.
    -I would love to go into software development, or more specifically game programming, (I usually hear sighs at this point), but it's not because is video games, but because the work place environment seem incredibly comfortable and I'd get to work with some really, really great people. Being honest it would be a dream job of mine.
    -One of the highest paid jobs for those graduating
    -Actually get an end product, some jobs e.g. the checkout job I have now, often feel endless, I come in scan things go home, do it all again, for a programmer, you will work hard on something different everyday, gradually progressing to a finished product which you made. I dunno, to me that seems really, really cool and rewarding.
    -Could possibly get boring after 20 years, sitting at a computer screen typing away, although I don't think that would be the case in games programming, as its an exciting, new thing every year or two, permitted I get the job I want.
    -Narrow field compared to physics, there are a lot of jobs in programming, however, of course they're all the same. Problem being that if I don't like it, I'm stuck with it, I'll be typing away at code for a while
    -Some companies are brutal, they force you to work overtime with no pay, come in weekends etc. This is known as crunch time, not sure if it's named that because thats the sound my mental stability would make during that heavy workload and high pressure time.
    -Doesnt have the aura of a physics degree, you say you want to do physics people act shocked, "wow", I say computer science, "oh, that's cool".

    -I really enjoy physics and find myself naturally understanding a lot of it! I got 280/300 ums on my AS physics, not what I was aiming for, but I fluffed up my mechanics paper a bit, 75/90 but pulled it back by getting 150/150 on my second paper. The second paper (G482 if you want to look it up), for me always had the much more interesting topics, quantum mechanics, waves, electricity, all of it I understood and thought was really cool.
    -Really fascinated with physics & space stuff (astrophysics). Not like star trek or star wars, but black holes, white holes, neutron stars, dark matter etc. how the things around us work and interact. It just all seems so crazy and fascinating as to how these things come to exist and how they work.
    -More field to go into, with a physics degree I have been told I can jump from field to field easier, so e.g. I got into finance, dont enjoy it, I can go into research, don't enjoy that I could go into another field etc.
    -Not really sure I'd enjoy being a physicist, I want to do physics at uni just because I want to learn more, because it fascinates me, but I'm really not sure how much time I'd be spending in a lab or doing theoretical physics, of course I would have to choose whether I would be theoretical or experimental.
    -Not going to lead me to my favourite/dream job, not sure how much computer science is within physics, apparently there's a bit.
    -Don't really want to go into the field unless I make a contribution to it, like have some sort of impact regarding our knowledge of the universe etc. But that would be very unlikely, and besides, those people who do discover things often, have already gone to university at the age of 16, they're geniuses and I'm just above average.
    So run down:
    Interest in course:
    Physics 10/10
    Computer science 8/10
    Interest in jobs attainable when leaving:
    Physics 7.5/10
    Computer science 9/10 (bearing in mind I can get into the industry I want)
    Some advice would really, really help me out!
    Hopefully you can see why I'm torn between the two, but I really do need some help!
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 21, 2015 #2
    Computer science =/= programming. Computer science is as much about computers as astronomy is about telescopes. It's really concerned with the nature of computation, and the theoretical aspects are really subsets of mathematics. That said, many computer science majors end up as programmers, but programming jobs can be wildly different, and some can be interesting, and some can be boring. Most should work 40-45 hours a week (except probably during the final stages of developing some software). If you're working overtime and weekends every week, you need a higher salary or a new job.

    Besides, anyone who does astrophysics is going to spend hours in front of a computer running simulations and analyzing data too.
  4. Aug 21, 2015 #3
    This can be true of any job. The opposite is also true.

    That's not quite true.

    The "aura" any degree has depends on the particular audience.

    You won't know what industry you really want to be in until you are exposed to all the different areas in your chosen field.
  5. Aug 21, 2015 #4
    Game development does not have a high starting salary. Until you have a few completed projects under your belt at a studio you probably won't be making > 40,000. Once you finish projects (at least 2 years) you end up more in line with more "standard" programming jobs but on average make a good amount less than non game dev computer science majors.
  6. Aug 21, 2015 #5


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    How does the starting salaries for game developers compare with those in other software development jobs? Are there statistics to demonstrate the difference?
  7. Aug 21, 2015 #6
    This is a tough thing to put into statistics since it varies depending on the level you are working for. If you're making solo games then likely you won't be able to salary yourself and will make not very much money at all (depending on success of course). If you are working in a smaller indie studio then you will make a more reasonable salary (35k - 60k depending on experience) and if you are at a big studio then you will be making good money. The problem with starting out is you most likely won't be hired by EA or Bethesda or Valve, you'll need to work at a smaller company at first. Even when you do get experience the spots at big companies are limited. My source for this is my cousin who works in game dev and has talked to people from bigger companies, so numbers will vary depending on location and might be a few years outdated.

    For software engineering I didn't look at too many places but after nosing around on google it seems that around 60k - 70k is the reported average for entry level, and that transitions into 100k+ after 20 years experience or so (these are averages remember so companies like google and facebook inflate the average from what you should expect). I would try researching what companies in your area pay if possible and make comparisons based on that.
  8. Aug 21, 2015 #7
    I do understand that physics has some computer science in it, which is also muddling things up for me, do you have any idea as to which languages the physicists normally learn?
    The thing is, I am looking at university courses now, and what I am doing is simply seeing if they offer C++, if not I move on, and also seeing if they do graphics etc. To be honest, some of the modules look very boring and I wouldn't enjoy, others, more focused on the practical side like programming etc. I would.
    My dilema is, should I go into a computer science course to learn code for the job I want, if I could possibly just learn it on the side of a physics course?
  9. Aug 21, 2015 #8
    Like I said, computer science is more than just programming. You learn about data structures, algorithm analysis, compiler design, programming language design, and there are wildly different research areas, ranging from computer vision, artificial intelligence, cryptography, etc. to things that look like pure mathematics. Physicists don't do "computer science"--they do programming. And they do a lot of it. A lot of older code is written in fortran, but I believe in recent years a lot of physicists work in C++ and even Python, and often use Mathematica or MATLAB, but it depends on the particular problem (C++ is much faster than Python generally, for instance). Physicists will be concerned with modeling physical phenomenon using computers.

    I will say that video game design has, anecdotally, a culture of higher work hours and more layoffs.
  10. Aug 21, 2015 #9
    do you have a link to those figures?
  11. Aug 21, 2015 #10
    hmm, that is food for thought, considering the only real thing I am interested in is programming and AI design. Would you however know if the C++/code learned could be extrapolated into another job, e.g. software engineering?
  12. Aug 21, 2015 #11
    From what I have heard (so take this with a grain of salt), employers are generally more concerned about whether you know how to program than whether you have a CS degree or not, as long as you have evidence that you know how to program, i.e. contributions to open source projects. It just so happens that it seems easier to prove you know programming as a CS major, because you have more opportunities to show it. Most physics majors will only take 1, maybe 2 actual programming courses (at least at my university, and that's not counting computational physics courses). It's often encouraged to use programming to find numerical solutions to some problems, though.

    Another drawback of not taking those courses is that it's easy to learn the syntax of a programming language, but things like data structures come into play in real programming projects, so it's more than just knowing the words, you have to know what you're doing.
  13. Aug 21, 2015 #12
    This is especially true for smaller companies.

    Sure it would. Just don't get too attached to one specific language. And as mentioned a couple times already, there's more to software development (and definitely computer science) than just learning a language.
  14. Aug 21, 2015 #13
    Agreed, I suppose I'm just being narrow minded at the moment as I am trying to self teach C++ and not doing too bad, but just want to make sure that all my hard work now wouldn't be wasted if I realise I wont be needing it or using it on my course. But I do understand what you mean.
  15. Aug 21, 2015 #14
    I work at a game development company, and the programmers have a variety of different degrees: typically, computer science, physics, engineering, or mathematics. So I'd say any STEM degree is fine.

    If you opt not to do a CS degree then you'll just have to learn about data structures, algorithms and compilers by yourself, which is perfectly possible if you put in the time and effort.

    The important thing is to learn how to program well in your spare time and try to get some practical programming experience that you can put on your CV; whether that is a vacation job or internship working as a programmer, some undergraduate research involving computational physics, or a personal programming project that demonstrates your ability.

    C++ is the language generally used for AAA game development on consoles and PC. In any case being able to programme in C++ is a very marketable skill, even if you should eventually decide not to become a games programmer.

    Most programmers learn half a dozen different languages over the course of their career, so it's not that big a deal if the language you learn during the degree is different from C++.
  16. Aug 21, 2015 #15
    Is that in £ or $?
  17. Aug 21, 2015 #16
    Game development or astrophysics, two dream jobs of a teenager.

    You say you have 10/10 interest in the course astrophysics but only 7.5/10 in a job in phyics? And kind of the opposite for compsci?

    That doesn't make sense. They are one and the same. You decide your education based on the jobs you aim for. You do courses you don't like to get jobs you do like.
    You don't do courses you do like to get jobs that you don't.

    You are probably going to end up in some much moe mundane field.
  18. Aug 21, 2015 #17
    Well here's the deal. I really think i'd enjoy learning the complex physics which dictates our everyday lives, however I am not so sure I'd enjoy a job in research, e.g. looking for exo-planets or somehow trying to unify quantum physics and relativity etc. I could imagine once everything that I could know about physics I know, and I start research to look for something more, it would become quite bland and dull.
    Whereas I enjoy the problem solving aspects of code, but I don't care for networking or cryptology. But I feel if I could get a job as a software engineer for a good company, I would thoroughly enjoy the work.
    What do you mean by:
    "You are probably going to end up in some much more mundane field"
    Besides, I have been told the EXACT opposite by unis and teachers, dont look at the job, look at the course....
  19. Aug 21, 2015 #18
    I don't know about that advice. I mean, the courses last 4-5 months each. Jobs can last decades. A better idea is to find out what work you like to do and tailor your skills to be able to do that work. The major is really less relevant in the long run. No one cares about your major after your first post-university job really.
  20. Aug 21, 2015 #19
    The courses tell you something about the job, but only about the technical/scientific aspect of said job. The courses tell you how much you connect with whatever scientific or technical subject. But you take courses to get a job, not the other way around. Your education is only a fraction of your professional life.

    As what I mean by that quote; exactly what it says.

    Game development, astrophysics, discovering exoplanets, unifying quantum physics and relativity, that's the dream world that sits on top of the real world.
  21. Aug 21, 2015 #20
    That makes sense. Most students and some teachers have no idea what the "job" entails. Just look at all the career-related questions posed by students in this very forum. Job details and responsibilities tend to vary widely for the same position at different companies.

    I wouldn't put game development in that category.
  22. Aug 23, 2015 #21
    True, I know many ppl who work in gamedev but most physics graduates don't work in their field.

    There is no "easy" field in this world. If something is easy to get into it means it doesn't pay very well and is boring.

    It all depends on perspective through. Maybe US job market offers much better alternatives so gamedev doesn't seem to be that attractive.
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