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Physics or Computer Science?

  1. Jun 5, 2008 #1
    Physics or Computer Science? [Urgent]


    I just received my ranks in IITJEE and AIEEE (Indian entrance exams for technical education). As it stands, I have the option of pursuing an Integrated M.Sc. in Physics from an IIT (Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur probably) or B.Tech. in Computer Science and Engineering from an NIT (national Institute of Technology). Which option would you suggest?

    If you don't know anything about these institutes, then let me ask you this general question: can a physics graduate (or even a doctorate) hope earn at the level of a computer graduate? What options are available to a physics doctorate other than teaching?

    This is extremely important for me, thanks a lot for your help. The counsellings are due shortly, so I need to decide quickly.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 5, 2008 #2
    Don't take this as gospel by any means but in the west I'd say that an engineering or computer science degree will start with a much higher salary but top out lower (i.e. in the end a physics grad could potentially make more) but I doubt the slightly higher later life salary of a physics major would result in a greater, overall, life time earnings. However, I don't know what the game's like in India
  4. Jun 5, 2008 #3


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    What would you enjoy doing more?

    I ask, becaiuse, while there is potential to make more money in engineerng, if you spend the rest of your life wishing you went into physics, is it really worth it. Of course, engineering is a great field to go into, but, just like physics, you have to enjoy doing it if you really want to be successful and happy in the field.

    So, I ask again. What would you enjoy more, Physics or CS/Engineering?
  5. Jun 6, 2008 #4
    I'm really not sure that that's true... I tend to think that engineering and computer science will dominate at all levels, but if you have any information otherwise, I'd like to see it.

    That said, both fields will give you a decent living, so I completely agree that the decision should be based on what you think you'd prefer to do. You'll be working for a *long* time, so you had better like what you are doing!
  6. Jun 6, 2008 #5
    "I'd say that an engineering or computer science degree will start with a much higher salary but top out lower (i.e. in the end a physics grad could potentially make more)"

    Well often tenured professors can make more than an engineer.
  7. Jun 6, 2008 #6
    Oh, I'll agree that *some* professors are paid more than *some* engineers. But comparing two data points isn't really the way to compare two distributions.

    Maybe I'm biased here, since I'm in the computer industry in Silicon Valley, which is a particularly well-paid group of engineers. But it seems to me that an average computer engineer is paid more than almost all tenured professors (with the possible exception of the true superstars of physics).
  8. Jun 6, 2008 #7


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    Remember you can do computer science in industry with a physics degree but you are unlikely to do physics with a CS degree.
    The salary scales are always a bit distorted, they tend to only include people with 9-5 jobs at companies large enough to bother with these surveys. They don't include people making a lot of money as consultants / contractors or people with their own company.

    Ironically, the highest paid computer jobs tend to be on Wall st - and these have always been dominated by physics grads!
  9. Jun 6, 2008 #8
    Actually, I don't like the engineering way of thinking (ie, throwing rigor and abstraction out of the window). But CS is more theoretically oriented than other engineering branches, where you can actually prove theorems. I also like programming, so I think I would enjoy CS.

    In fundamental physics (the part I'm interested in, no condensed matter please), it's insanely difficult to do anything worthwhile. The idea of making a career out of writing obscure papers on highly specialized topics only my colleagues give a damn about does not appeal to me very much.

    So I *think* I would enjoy both similarly, in which case it comes down to a question of the pay packet. You say a physics grad can work in computer? Could you explain? Also, do you expect a significant recession in the information industry in 6 years? I know forecasts seldom come true, but still I will like your opinions.

    Thanks a lot.

  10. Jun 6, 2008 #9
    You don’t need to major in CS to computer science. Straight out of school, it will be difficult to get a CS job without a CS major. If you apply for a job as an experienced candidate all they will want is experience in the specific area (not your major).

    Computers are the future! From computational science to AI to algo trading. If anything takes your job away, its globalization or computers themselves!
  11. Jun 6, 2008 #10
    What's wrong with condensed matter?
  12. Jun 6, 2008 #11


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    I find it a little dense
  13. Jun 7, 2008 #12
    :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:
  14. Jun 7, 2008 #13


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    This sounds to me like you've made the decision already.

    Jobs in the information technology industry aren't as tightly regulated as professional positions (such as engineering). You don't necessarily need formal academic training to get your foot in the door. I know several people who work in IT who came from non-computing science backgrounds.

    As part of a physics undergraduate education you should pick up some programming skills on top of a solid foundation in modeling and quantitatively analyzing real-world problems, which would make you an asset in the IT industry.
  15. Jun 7, 2008 #14
    That's true if you look at salaries, but anyone who is even close to superstar status is pulling 30,000-500,000 per year in research grants. Of course a lot of this goes towards buying equipment, but that is for you the scientist to manage.
  16. Jun 7, 2008 #15
    You can pocket grant money as compensation for your work and not just expenses? Wow, I can see how that would make a difference...
  17. Jun 8, 2008 #16
    I'm close to going mad here! I just can't decide. What to do? What to do? (ignore confused rantings)
  18. Jun 8, 2008 #17
    Dont you feel the desire to follow the footsteps of Bose and Chandrasekhar ?
  19. Jun 14, 2008 #18
    I'm about to begin my Sophomore year of college and I'm facing the same decision. I'm currently a physics major, and this summer decided that I was going to minor in computer science. However, as I continue to think about it I'm contemplating changing to computer science.

    I love learning physics, it's very interesting to me, however I'm not sure if I'll enjoy actually working as a physicist. I think this doubt stems from a lack of knowledge of the options available to me as a graduate with a physics degree. I've taken CompSci classes in high school, as well as a required programming course from when I was thinking about going into Engineering, and I know for a fact that I enjoy programming and problem solving, so that would be my focus if I were to go the CompSci route (software engineering or some such).

    The option is there for me to double major, however that would require an extra semester or two. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but it seems like somewhat of a waste since there are few fields in which both degrees could come in handy, especially since it's a result of me being indecisive. I think I need to do more research on possible careers after physics, since that seems to be my main problem - lack of knowledge. If I decide I only like learning physics for pure understanding and don't want to make a career out of it, I can major in CompSci and just take classes in physics, perhaps minoring in it.

    As of right now, I'm thinking I'll stay as a physics major with CompSci as my minor, do that for a semester or two and see how I feel about the two.

    (Sorry for the somewhat irrelevant post. I just needed to get my thoughts down to help with the decision making, and perhaps stir up some more discussion on this topic that may help me decide.)

    *Edit* As to minoring in CompSci with a physics major, the classes I'd be taking (and am currently signed up for) would be mostly theory/algorithmic-based with a few basic programming classes, as I can see how the latter would be helpful in certain fields such as quantum computing, while the latter will give me skills usable in any kind of research.
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2008
  20. Jun 14, 2008 #19
    Which one has prettier girls?
  21. Jun 14, 2008 #20
    Haha, probably computer science.
  22. Jun 20, 2008 #21
    A question I've also dwelt on :redface: I gave up after learning that none of the fields I'm interested in has a significant number of girls, let alone pretty ones. For example in IIT Kharagpur, the B.Tech in CS has a total of one girl in its four years!
  23. Jun 20, 2008 #22
    How I wish I could do that! In India there is no option to double major (heck, very very few institutes allow you to minor, and not many allow for electives). A double major, even at the cost of an extra year, would be very desirable because of the greater variety of options available, including unique and promising fields like quantum computing and computational physics.

  24. Jun 20, 2008 #23
    If you decide to do integrated MSc from IIT and maintain good grades then you will get into one of the top US university for PhD. And a CS degree would help you find a great job just after your undergrad studies. Although both the fields could lead you to research, I would like to pinpoint that opportunities for a physicist are comparatively less in India than for an engineer. It really depends on what you like to do. I suggest that you do some reading about advanced physics and computer science, look at the subjects being taught and job profiles of both the fields and then decide.
  25. Jun 21, 2008 #24
    If I study CS, what I would like to do is do my Masters from somewhere like MIT, Berkley, CalTech, ETH Zurich etc and then take a R&D oriented private sector job that will require theoretical work.

  26. Jun 21, 2008 #25
    Thats perfectly possible. in fact you can directly get into a PhD program without doing masters first. the same is the case for physics.
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