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Should I do a minor with a physics major or specialize in just physics

  1. Sep 18, 2014 #1
    I have to decide whether to major in physics and minor in something else or to do a specialization degree in physics for undergrad. Now a specialization degree (SSP) is basically a major degree on steroids; it's a major honours degree with some graduate courses stacked on top of it so that more than two thirds of the courses I'll take will be physics. Oh, and you have to write a thesis in 4th year.

    I'm worried that if I take the SSP I'll be too specialized and have a too narrow skill set after I graduate. But then again, if I major in physics and minor in something else, how useful will that minor really be? I always hear that a minor is essentially useless when it comes to finding a job. I really want to have a successful startup or at least join a tech startup and I don't know if having a SSP physics degree will help or hinder me. Do employers or graduate schools even care/know what an SSP is? If I do a minor it would be in either economics or math.

    So what option would make me more attractive to potential employers? I'm really on the fence on this one so don't tell me "Do what you like more" I could do both.

    Thank you
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 18, 2014 #2
    In the US a minor isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

    I'd be interested to know if this was different anywhere else.
  4. Sep 19, 2014 #3
    It's not worth much. It could be that it doesn't add any value more than just taking courses X, Y, and Z. I'd glad I did my computer science minor, though. The actual material that I learned is very relevant to a large number of jobs, especially when it comes to getting through the technical interviews.

    How about computer science? I'm surprised you don't include that if you are interested in tech start-ups. To side-step the issue of getting a minor, taking a few economics classes could help for financial or actuarial type jobs.
  5. Sep 19, 2014 #4


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    To the OP:

    It would help to know where you are currently located, since in the US as far as I'm aware of, there is no SSP degree. Here in Canada, students at the University of Toronto (my former alma mater) have the ability to choose to pursue an honours Bachelor's Specialist degree in various programs, including physics, but this system is as far as I know, unique to that school. It sounds to me like your program is similar to the Specialist program I'm familiar with. So whether it is worth pursuing such a specialist program will depend on whether you have intentions of pursuing further graduate studies in physics.

    Now as far as a minor is concerned, whether it is worth it or not will really depend on the nature of the minor. A minor in math will probably not help you much to potential employers (since a physics degree typically is already math-intensive). An economics degree could be useful, in the sense that it could open up the possibility of pursuing a graduate program in economics or fields like operations research.

    I concur with homeomorphic that if you do decide to pursue a minor, a computer science minor may be especially useful, since computing is an important part of physics research, as well as providing a marketable skill in programming or software development.
  6. Sep 20, 2014 #5
    This all depends on your intentions with your degree. If it is to:
    I don't see how studying physics will help you in gaining a job at a tech startup. A physics major prepares one to "do" physics which typically means graduate school in physics. (or closely related field)

    If your future interests lie in computer science/engineering, why not study that? You could always minor in physics. If you want a career in physics then I would definitely do the "SSP" degree. Now if you are still on the fence on whether you want a tech job or a physics job, that is where the minor business comes in to play.

    As a general note that Locrian pointed out, minors typically aren't worth the paper they are printed on; however, if there were one exception to be made, it would be for computer science related jobs. Us nerds are lucky that there have been very successful nerds that have created the "I dropped out of college but am still a billionaire" or "the only class I took was calligraphy" mentality that is prevalent in the "tech startup" area.

    As far as that goes, future employers will be more interested in concrete things other than specified major. You will need a portfolio of programs you made or contributed to and/or the ability to answer technical questions. All of that is at the interview process, but to get the interview you will need either proven related coursework or an extensive program profile.
  7. Sep 20, 2014 #6


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    We have a specialist degree here at U of T as well (I'm in it) and it does not have much to do with the name. It doesn't make you more specialized than the major (regular BS). Here, it just means you take all honors courses and more advanced courses in your fourth year. Won't have much negative impact in terms of employment. I'd advise you to go with the specialist degree.
  8. Sep 22, 2014 #7
    Quite a few of the people I know who studied physics ended up in banking, economics, finance, etc. I was a maths student, so we were obviously quite close to the physics guys. One of my friends did a Masters in Astrophysics and now has a job in banking where he earns a lot. One of my cousins has a PhD in statistical physics and he went straight into banking, and is now a high-level manager (he's in his mid thirties). Some guys went into applied maths of finance or industrial mathematics, etc. and are all successful. If you do a Masters or PhD, then solid-state physics is a common field to go into, and that is also highly in demand in the engineering industry.

    It seems to me physics is one of the more flexible and in-demand degrees. If you can show you are competent in stats and/or programming you probably won't have any trouble walking into a high-paying job in banking or economics. In your physics degree you'll already do a bit of stats and programming, so if you can take extra courses in one or both of those, as well as a few in economics/finance if you can, then you should be in a very good position; but you don't necessarily need a minor in one of them. None of the people I know had a minor.
  9. Sep 22, 2014 #8


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    Graduate schools tend to care more about the actual courses that you've taken than the name on the degree.

    Employers won't even care so much about the courses that you've taken as the skills that you bring to the position. A minor in this respect may offer a slight advantage in being able to sell yourself - probably moreso in an interview context than simply on paper. The point with the minor isn't so much that you've attained a threshold of certification that will qualify you for certain jobs. It's more that you've had a theme to the elective courses that you've taken with your degree and as a result have a rudimentary understanding of a particular field. At minimum should allow you to talk intelligently about it.

    Of course the same would be true if you didn't have your minor recognized in any way - you simply took the courses. So again, it comes down to the writing on the paper not being so important what you've taken and, perhaps more importantly, what you've learned from the experience.
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