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Physics vs Computer Science

  1. Mar 10, 2014 #1
    Hi, I am a high school senior and I am really having a hard time deciding what I should major in. I absolutely love Physics and Computer Science, but I am worried about majoring in Physics, because many people tell me that it is only worth getting if you attend one of the big ivy league schools. In Physics you have to get your PHD to be employable for most research jobs. On the other hand Computer science is more marketable with just a Bachelors degree. I also don't want to double major, because both majors are difficult and require complete time and focus. Any suggestions?

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 10, 2014 #2


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    Physics does not require that you attend an ivy league university to be worth anything, that's silly. However, a PhD is generally required for physics research positions. And is more generally employable than just a BS in physics.

    Computer Science seems to be much more marketable with just a BS.

    High school physics isn't really a good indicator of what an actual physics curricula entails. Or of what physics even is. You won't know until you take the year of calculus based physics required for both physics and usually computer science majors.
  4. Mar 10, 2014 #3
    I can't give too much experience from life as I'm in my third year of undergraduate studies. What I can say is that I'm from a small school and I know of several past graduates who have gone into work they love, and others who have gone into graduate programs for engineering and physics PhDs. Also, again in my experience, small schools give you a bit more of nurturing; I've seen people start basic research second semester freshman year and I have taken part in several interesting projects myself; I don't know if I would have the same experience at a large school.

    I entered wanting to do engineering and later switched to physics, adding in math down the road. My suggestion would be just to take into courses in both when you get to college. You'll likely need some courses away from your major if you attend a liberal arts school, so it won't necessarily be time wasted. I will also say that my perception of physics has changed as I've gone through my undergraduate, you may find you like it more in more or that it just isn't for you.
  5. Mar 11, 2014 #4
    If you like both, why not choose the more employable one?

    I think physics requires a back-up plan. If you are great at job-searching type stuff, that could give you more of an option to choose physics without getting into trouble. You can at least get a minor in the other subject.
  6. Mar 11, 2014 #5


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    I think that a physics BS alone is a decent degree for people who want to graduate and then do basically anything BUT actual physics work. Train to become and actuary, go to law school, go to med school, lab technician, maybe even land a programming job, etc. It's all up to you to learn what you need to learn and be able to adapt to get the type of job you want.
  7. Mar 11, 2014 #6


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    Since many physics and computer science programs require students to take the same or similar courses (particularly math courses), I don't particularly think double-majoring should be THAT much more difficult than pursuing either major on its own. It will require focus, organization, good study habits and hard work, but that is true of practically all STEM degrees (and to most other degree programs as well).
  8. Mar 17, 2014 #7
    I mostly agree with Esuna and Jared. I can relate some experiences as a physicist working with several programmers on the same project. Some of this can require a background but you will get the idea. This was all done without an advanced physics degree.

    I found programmers were using matrix inverse routines to invert an orthogonal matrix. I used my background in physics to tell them the routines were unnecessary and they merely had to transpose the matrix to get the inverse. This allowed them to simplify the code.

    I used my background to find an error. After coding I noticed the even Legendre polynomials had odd terms in them. I told the programmers there had to be an error. This escaped the attention of the programmers.

    These are two easy examples. I can recount more serious ones as well. Many times my physics background helped programmers and engineers on the same team to uncover errors and/or simplify or eliminate unneeded code.

    I can only hope prospective employers are far-sighted and occasionally hire at least one physicist for a team instead of just another programmer or perhaps another engineer. At the same time, physics graduates may benefit from relating these and other similar experiences they hear to potential employers.
  9. Apr 2, 2014 #8
    First I think you need to ask yourself what major you are truly interested in more. I'm sure you're leaning one way or another but this of course can change in a semester. I'm actually double majoring in physics and computer science and there is some overlap between the two majors. For my computer science major I have to take two lab sciences and for the physics I believe you have to at least take the intro course to CS. This is nice because if you were more interested in, lets say computer science, you can take the physics 1 course + lab and still be in line with your CS major. Then if you're still unsure(like me) you can take the physics II course + lab next semester. So it's nice because you have some flexibility and room to experiment the first couple of semesters. Just be sure to talk to your advisor :)
  10. Apr 2, 2014 #9
    Major in "engineerig physics" and make cs your concentration.
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