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Should I change my major?

  1. Apr 12, 2008 #1
    I'm supposed to go for Computer Engineering undergrad at UIUC this fall. BUt now I feel like I'd rather learn about the fundamentals of the universe, elementary particles, etc. instead of a routine set of instructional stuff in CE.

    I know I want to learn that stuff. But what can I do with a degree in Physics? What exactly is research like anyways?

    BTW, I'm pretty good with math and physics. So academically, I feel I'm qualified.

    I want to do stuff with theoretical physics/collidors/string theory/etc....one day, hopefully.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 12, 2008 #2


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    The best advice I here can offer you as to your major choice would be to go with what interests you most. You don't want to end up working in a field that bores you or end up regretting not studying something else. Remember, this is what you hopefully be doing for your career, so make sure you pick what interests you.

    As to your questions about research, the best way to learn about what research is like is to get some first-hand experience. I suggest trying to ask a professor if he or anyone in his group needs any help. You may not get paid, and you may need to wait until your at least a sophomore, but you'll get there.

    And if research ends up not being for you, it is not that hard for a physics major to get a job in industry, at least not in the experience of those around me. I know several physics majors who graduated with B.S. 's in Physics and are now Lockheed engineers.
  4. Apr 13, 2008 #3
    ResMonkey, see from my thread below I am in a similar situation go with the physics thats what I am doing I think it will be much more satisfying in the longer run. It might seem morbid but I think if I was on my death bed I would rather tell stories of exploring the fundamental laws of the universe rather than designing hardware/software.
  5. Apr 13, 2008 #4


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    Are you still in high school (and about to graduate this spring)? If so, you should be able to take the intro physics sequence along with whatever courses you need to start your CE major. Also, you can get an idea of what the upper-level courses are going to be like, by talking to other physics and CE majors. About this time next year, you'll then have a better idea of which field you really feel more comfortable in. University-level physics is a lot different from high-school physics, especially after you get past the freshman-level courses.
  6. Apr 13, 2008 #5
    I feel like I should encourage you and discourage you at the same time... :smile:

    I'll start with the encouragement: you will probably be working for 40-50 years. If you aren't really passionate about the field, you'll end up hating it long before that. That's the situation I'm in... I studied computer science, and if I never see another line of code, I'll be a happy man. It's possible to change your career later on... but it's much harder than getting it right to begin with. (Trust me on this!)

    Now for the discouragement: theoretical physics/string theory is a tough line of work. In addition to just the academic challenge, there are relatively few positions available, none of them outside of academia. As for colliders... that's a pretty limited field too. Perhaps someone with more information than I could tell you if there was something planned beyond the LHC... but the LHC is pretty much done, and purely economic considerations will probably limit anything bigger than that from being built for a while.
  7. Apr 13, 2008 #6
    Follow your heart, first. I graduated in Physics, went to work at Savannah River Plant in 1972, a year where PhDs wound up driving taxis. I started as a Reactor Supervisor and 4 years later was a Reactor Physicist. I also Picked up an MBA along the way.
    Moved out to Hanford and started writing Procedures for the restart of the Old Plutonium Uranium Extraction Plant (PUREX).
    After 9 months, I became the Senior System Designer and was writing Corporate Departmental and Emergency Procedures. At this time, I became involved with starting a Procedures Group within the American Nuclear Society, this evolved into The Human Factors Group of the ANS. I chaired the Group as Organizing, Chartering, and first elected Chairman. I also began my studies with Don Farr and Alan Swain of Sandia Labs in ergonomics. I left Hanford after being offered an consulting job with NUS Corp. supposedly to set up a Human Factors consulting group. Instead, I got caught in an internal turf war and the position lasted 3 weeks.
    Setting out on my own as a Human Factors Consultant, I eked out a living for about a year, when I was offered a Position as Safeguards Inspector with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Interestingly, here it was not my physics, But my MBA that proved of most use. Yes, I did Gama Spectrography, Isotopic analysis, and a lot of quantitative and qualitative analysis. But my major activity was accountancy, something all the PhD physicists and engineers were ill equipped to accomplish. So I let them do their thing and I balanced the books! During Safeguards Inspections in Japan and Taiwan, The facilities were shocked when some one actually audited their books and pointed out systematic accounting errors in their books! I filed 312 accounting discrepancies and 3 anomalies. A discrepancy is an official report of an error or failure. An anomaly is reported to the UN Security council and must be answered in that forum. My fifth year was spent writing a major statistical computer program to analyze variations in the amounts reported as shipped and received between Plants and countries.
    When I returned to the states, I worked for the Navy for a time refueling submarines.

    Think you can make a living with a physics degree?
  8. Apr 15, 2008 #7

    I'll let time decide; I'm going to learn more about both over the summer before I make any decisions.

    Thanks for the inputs guys.
  9. Apr 15, 2008 #8
    Depending on the university, the difference between majoring in CE and majoring in Physics may well be... err... academic for the first couple of years anyway. I.e., you're just going to be taking introductory physics and math and general education courses anyway, so it's not as if this is a decision you need to make right away. You can probably decide 2 years from now, and it won't be a big deal. So, I recommend taking a look at what exactly the recommended cirriculum is for each major, and plan out your coursework so that you won't be too far off from either major once you decide down the road. That way you get a chance to take lower-division courses and see how much you really enjoy the different areas. Who knows? You may decide you should be studying linguistics or performing arts.
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