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Odd one out

  1. Mar 14, 2010 #1
    hi all,

    A little bit about myself: I am a sophomore at a small private university. I am about to finish my last quarter. My major is Physics and Mathematics.

    I plan on moving back home: Florida, to pursue a Computer Engineering degree. I am 25 years old. I graduated from a good High School with an IB Diploma and GCSEs.

    I tested highly on the IQ test (I have a fancy membership to prove it) but I had always been apathetic towards Academia, until I discovered the wonderful world of physics and abstract mathematics. (Thank you, Herman Weyl).

    When I graduated High School I wasn't very sure of what I wanted to do, I travelled for a while, went to community college, then transferred to a four year institution were I read my first book on group theory and its applications to QM. I'm about to finish Physics II - Electricity and Magnetism and I've decided to transfer for the following reasons:

    1. Many people have told me that a physics BS is not very useful upon graduation since it doesn't really make you employable per se.
    2. I want to become a Computer Engineer because I want to work with microprocessors, hardware, O/S and A.I. I love fiddling around with gadgets and electronics; And I also have great love for the theoretical aspects of both physics and mathematics.

    I have a great passion for Physics, I've completed cal I, II and Linear Algebra. But I've studied Real Analysis, Complex Analysis, Multivariable Calculus, Diff. Eqs, Group Theory on my own. I have begun an independent study on Differential Geometry. I can't say I understand everything, but I am pretty much a very independent person who has always been known for being intellectually curious.

    Now, a lot of you say that 25 is not old, but it sort of is. One of the reasons why I decided no to go the physics route was mainly because I was afraid that at the end of the journey I would find myself unemployed at 28 or so? Not too practical, and trust me, I've made a fair share of mistakes in my life. In addition, If I were interested in a field of physics it would be theoretical physics. At the moment, I am teaching myself the Principle of Least Action, Euler/Lagrange, etc. Along with classical electrodynamics and some General Relativity (tensors), etc.

    My grades are decent, but I still have time to recoup. I was contemplating on doing a double major with physics, but I might want to opt to double major in EE, since the latter will be more practical in my situation. The big question is: Does one need to do undergrad in physics in order to study theoretical physics at the grad level? I am also interested in condensed matter and high energy physics - I've heard a master would suffice for these. Any thoughts?

    In addition, I have found ample time to do alot of independent research and wish to one day publish my own work. I've found great interest in Riemman metrics and other fields of modern algebra and differential geometry. How do I start this process of publishing and peer reviews, etc.

    Please tell me how I can improve my curriculum and what things I should do when arriving (eventually) to the Engineering program I've opted for.
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 15, 2010 #2


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    Your second point for transferring into computer engineering is valid and should, on its own be strong enough to warrant your decision. With respect to point number one, however, you should probably look up some actual data rather than relying on word of mouth to make sure that you're making an informed choice.

    You can get into graduate study in physics having done your undergraduate work in other, related fields. The drawbacks are that: (1) you may end up having to do some remedial course work, and (2) you may not be as competative as other students who are coming directly from a physics undergraduate program, (3) every school has its own set of rules for what qualifies as "or equivalent" and not all of them may accept computer engineering.
  4. Mar 15, 2010 #3
    If you are looking for a career as a computer engineer, there is no certain formal level of training you need to study physics on the side. I believe the average starting salary for CEs is over $60k/yr now, so it's not a bad career move if you're into it and can do decently well in school, find an internship, etc.

    As long as you have an ABET accredited engineering degree, the double major probably won't play too much of a practical role. If you choose EE or CE, as long as you just aren't sure which you prefer, double majoring in the other vs double majoring in physics probably won't help you any.

    One suggestion I'd make is that you might want to look at the education benefits of the companies you apply to with an engineering degree. UTC, for example, (Pratt & Whitney, Sikorsky, etc) will pay 100% for classes you take toward a degree part-time while working. You can study any field, and they'll give you a $10k bonus when you finish the degree. Other companies offer similar benefits, but UTC is probably the most generous. I don't know what options exist for part-time physics study though.
  5. Mar 15, 2010 #4
    You'll need the basic background in physics. It's not technically necessary that the degree be in physics, but you will have to show that you've done the course work.

    Physics is not mathematics, the two fields are *VERY* different when it comes to what constitutes publishable material. Probably the easiest thing to do is to try to get yourself in with an undergraduate research project with some professor that does research that interests you.

    Also as far as CS/EE and physics there are areas where there is a lot of overlap. Look for something with a lot of numerical programming, or semiconductor physics. One thing that is really interesting and an active area of research is using field theory methods in condensed matter physics, and if you push your CS major to be more semiconductor oriented, you could get into that.
  6. Mar 19, 2010 #5
    Thanks so much, I am currently visiting my parents. And have felt a bit nostalgic, I read over my teacher reviews and got depresssed (my senior year was the worst), I have no idea how I got an IB Diploma. I was a terrible student. One of my professors (Chemistry PhD from Cambridge) said: 'it is a pity that you wasted so many opportunities in school, hopefully you will make better use of your future opportunities'. I almost shed a tear. It seems that over the past six or seven years, although enrolled in academic pursuits, I never felt any interest in thriving academically. It wasn't until I discovered Modern Physics, while blindly enrolled as a finance major, that I discovered that mathematics was so much more than just 'numbers'. With physics, I've found an academic playground, and it is so hard for others to understand how my apathetic approach towards school has become an obsession. Seven years later I'm setting sail for a career that will unify my ability for abstract thought and my capacity to 'build' and 'make'. Although, I ask myself why wasn't I smarter before, perhaps I wasn't ready to understand my talents. Since a young kid, I've been known to be playful, curious, and very creative. Music (piano/violin) has been a recurring passion of mine, aswell as other artistic/musical pursuits, I've also had recognition for these efforts.

    It seems as if all the dots connected, but I hope it's not too late.

    I love PF and you are some of the brightest people on the internet, I've already found answers to many of my questions on Lie Algebra and Differential Geometry, all the professors at my school shunned me off, a professor even told me "I don't know anything about Differential Geometry". I am glad I have found a place to share my views, studies, dreams, opinions, etc. I hope we can foster a good friendship. ;)
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2010
  7. Mar 20, 2010 #6
    Hey I thought I'd chime in since I have a pretty similar story and maybe I can add something(I hope?). I did pretty terrible in high school, besides a few science classes, and ended up in a small state college with no major and no ambition, after spending 3 semesters drinking and partying I dropped out with something like 3 transferable classes. Spent the next few years working and taking some classes part time in CS, which began to spark further an interest in math and eventually physics.

    I've still made a good deal of academic mistakes but I've now transfered to the best public University in my state and am going for an Astronomy/Physics dual major. Hoping that even with my shady background(F's,W's,etc) I can spend the next 2 years proving myself academically and end up in graduate school in physics.

    At the same time I'm 24 now and could get out in one year if I switch my major to applied maths or mathematical computing. This would probably be better career wise at least in the sort term, since I'll be well qualified to go into software jobs, which are very numerous in my area but at the same time the I find the prospect depressing.

    Personally, I am leaning toward finishing the physics degree as I'd like to for once push myself academically and see how far I can go.

    From the looks of thing you have even more motivation than I do for studying and unless you have pressing needs financially I'd say its definitely not too late to see how far you can go in physics.
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