Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Should I major in Physics, Computer Science, or Economics?

  1. Nov 10, 2012 #1


    User Avatar

    Generally, people hate these kind of posts and will automatically assume the one writing such a thing could be a pretentious 13 year old, I can assure you this is 100% serious, but I digress. I'll make this rather short, I want to choose/narrow down my major choices which can be found in the title. Yes, I know, they're very contrasting fields that have little to do with each other but for some reason I find an interest in all of them. I'll cover my interaction on each of them: Physics, been interested from a very young age( first with the superficial side i.e space,universe,etc), then I decided to get into the true physics(calc based), I self-taught myself calculus and real analysis( this was in the 9th grade) now i'm a junior actually taking AP calc, I also have quite few Physics text books ranging from Freedmans,University physics to Elementary Particles, Griffths. Now for Comp Science, taught myself to program when I was 12 started with C++ decided it was a little too difficult for a beginner, went on to python but then once I got the basics back to c++, i'm the head programmer in my robotics team. The curriculum in comp sci seems interesting, Algorithms( I have this strange obsession with patterns and solving them, so it would be will fulfilled with this class), Discrete math seems interesting. But what I really like about computer science is the potential/possibilities, you can apply it to every field, you can do anything, it's a virtual blank canvas. Now onto Economics, it's my newest interest, It involves math, helps society, requires critical thinking, and has earning potential(so do the 2 other fields I mentioned), but that's not that important to me as long as what i'm doing makes me happy. I self-taught myself intro econ along with 2nd year macro so far i'm still satisfied.
    Sorry for any grammatical errors, this was typed really fast and I don't feel like proof reading.
    So,what would you recommend(based on personal experiences with the majors/fields)?
    Thank you all in advance. :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 10, 2012 #2
    Computer Science is so young that you can learn most of it pretty quickly unless it is something very theoretical so that it is actually maths like general complexity theory. Your brain will be challenged the most in physics I think. I have studied with people who took economics or computer science in parallel to physics, and they were only ever worried about their physics homework. Economics if you like to talk and write essays, computer science if you really just want to program, Physics if you just want a challenge and play with the big boys and money is not a priority. (of course I am completely impartial here ;-)
  4. Nov 10, 2012 #3


    User Avatar

    Thank you for your reply 0xDeadBeef, but the thing is, the fact comp sci is so young makes it all the more interesting, imagine in 100 years it could be what physics was like in the 1900's. Also, why would I have to write essays for Econ? Just to add, If I went into Econ I would plan on getting a PhD same for physics(maybe not straight out of undergrad).
  5. Nov 10, 2012 #4

    Economists use models and equations taken from physics. I know people who have transitioned from physics to economics and reported that it is laughably easy on the quant side. There is a lot of theory on how to use the right models and what to include, however, and that takes time. Additionally, there are a lot of quants and people in academia in economics who have physics background, usually at bachelors or masters level.

    No physicist's bio I have ever ever read has a background in economics. But, thats anecdotal, and I've only read the CV's /bio's of very successful people. So, possibly there are physicists out there who started in econ, but its less likely.

    What do you expect out of a Comp Sci Bachelors? You will get a highly highly employable degree, and there are things you wont know beforehand, but if you can teach yourself various programming languages then you might not encounter a lot of things you can't learn on your own. Or for free, with online courses, to get at the theory of it. Also, you'll find lots of people on this forum who studied physics and now work in comp sci fields. So, there is still that option afterwards.

    Physics seems to offer routes to either other field later down the line. Comp Sci could go back to physics or econ, but with difficulty as you only have the methods and not the theory. Econ would be less likely to go back to physics, or comp sci.

    Then again, you could take intro courses in all these subjects first year before deciding. You seem like an autodidact, so think about which courses teach you the most you wouldn't learn or couldn't learn by yourself. Also, do you want the safest job, highest income, best chances for academia, or what, out of your Bachelors?

    Then again, your posting on a physics forum. Post the same on an econ and a comp sci forum and compare.
  6. Nov 10, 2012 #5


    User Avatar

    Thank you so much, H2Bro, for this thought out/thorough reply(and for the new word "autodidact" :P). What about each field at the career level, you gave me the major side of it and how applicable it is to the other fields; But what would the day to day life of a non-academic Physicist be like, same for Comp Sci and Econ? Almost forgot, I'm looking for a Bachelors which can correlate to a PhD, so I don't want to end up with an Econ B.A trying to get into a PhD in Physics.
  7. Nov 10, 2012 #6
    Oh man.

    I don't think there is a "typical" day in the life of someone with a physics bachelors. You might find the median case someone doing software developing, science communication, research assistant, high school teacher, CC teacher, business owner, startup entrepreneur... I mean, really, its tough to nail that one down.

    If your at the PhD level then there are lots here who can give better info than me. I would guess, from a non academic side, you would be using very advanced mathematical models to analyze, predict, or address particular industry problems. Thats a vague response on purpose, I'm afraid.

    Econ phD is narrower I think. You'd likely be doing policy analysis for a think tank, or research consortium, policy analysis for a government committee, strategy and scenario analysis for a business consulting group, you could work at high levels in an NGO like IMF, WB, those these hire academics mostly. Also careers in finance could be an option. At the phD level I'd think your topic matters most, e.g. risk assessment specialist could work in securities markets, insurance companies, etc, while someone doing strategic forecasting would be business consulting, thinktank research, or alternatively a focus on labor markets could go into government agencies.

    Comp sci PhD is, I think, much easier. You'd be a professor teaching computer science at a university. Or, you would be a hired consultant advising industries or governments on whatever micro-focus specialization you had for your PhD. I know someone who did a PhD related to securitizing network protocol (or something like that, dont ask), and is in hugely hot demand from companies that want secure server networks.

    I'll condense that into this:
    Physics: Interpreting some vague objectives to construct a model the employers will never understand.
    Econ: Explaining that some vague objectives are unrealistic because of the model you constructed that your employers will never understand.
    CompSci: Convincing your potential clients that their vague fears and hopes will be safe if they buy your model which they will never understand.

    If I'm off the mark on these, its because I simply am not speaking from direct experience. Take it with a pinch of salt.
  8. Nov 10, 2012 #7


    User Avatar

    Economics seems like an interesting path. To be competitive for a PhD in Econ would it be better getting Econ B.A, or would a B.S in Physics be fine? So if I decided not to go into that field I could easily go for the PhD in Physics.
  9. Nov 10, 2012 #8


    User Avatar

    Also, i'm interested in the field of A.I/Robotics, but I really don't like the idea of being an engineer(it's not me, at least I think)
  10. Nov 11, 2012 #9


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Hey Tri and welcome to the forums.

    I suggest that if you want to get into computer science (especially for AI/Robotics amongst other things), you take a double degree in computer science and mathematics.

    The thing about computer science is that it is mathematics, but its not quite the same as the mathematics where limits and continuity is involved: it uses mathematics based on non-continuous objects.

    But never the less, the mathematics is the most important aspect because you will need to look at the problem in a way that both (seemingly paradoxically, but not really so) generalizes and specializes at the same time.

    Generalizing requires abstraction and mathematics is really the best thing we have at studying abstractions in a general setting. Mathematics also provides a way of systematically dealing with specializations and this way is through what is known as constraints: the more constrained something is, the more specific it is and the less constrained, the broader and less specific it is.

    The other reason why you should study mathematics is that it looks at what is called decomposition which is just a way of saying how you break something up into its parts.

    Computer science and programming also looks at this not so much in the context of mathematics with data structures, algorithms, and other computer science specific subjects that don't really need much mathematics but what I am getting at with this post is that both are needed to be able to solve interdisciplinary problems that plague computer scientists like AI/Robotics, Pattern Recognition, and so on.

    Computer science is a very young field that is expanding very rapidly, but be aware that it is becoming (like a lot of other sciences) highly interdisciplinary which means having those extra perspectives of other fields like mathematics, statistics, engineering, the hard sciences, psychology, linguistics and so on is crucial to solving problems that span many areas.

    If you end up pursuing this, I'm sure you'll learn quite a bit.
  11. Nov 11, 2012 #10


    User Avatar

    @chiro Seems great, I wouldn't mind double majoring in mathematics(or minoring). What if I wanted to get into the field of Nanotechnology, this subject is what really got me to learning more of the hard sciences, because for a while(still kinda do) I wanted to be a Nano-scientist/Nano-technologist. One last thing, can you give me some info on the career of an Economist?
  12. Nov 11, 2012 #11
    You need to do some research on what economists do.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook