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Starting at CompSci first instead of Astro good path?

  1. Feb 7, 2012 #1
    I am 18 years old, going to a 2 year college to get my diploma and transfer to a University that does Computer Science, but I do not know if that is the right path..? I do not mind programming and Computer Science, but I have had more of a passion with Astronomy since I was a kid. I do not see myself programming + doing computer stuff for more than decade, but I would love to push the boundaries of our knowledge in the cosmos for however long, that would make me content with my life.

    Upon researching, Astronomy does not have good job prospects and requires Physics and Ph.D, whereas Comp Sci only requires a Bachelors and has better job prospects. Both of them seem to have their respective downsides..

    I don't know what I should do, my initial thought was to go through the "safe" route of getting a Bsc CompSci, working for a while, then going back for Bsc Physics and Phd Astrophysics/Astronomy, but is that a waste of time? Or killing myself with a Double Major in both of them? thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 7, 2012 #2
    Astronomy is very heavily computational. If you go into most fields of astronomy, you will be doing computer stuff and heavy programming.

    Looking at what people with astronomy degrees do, I don't think that the job prospects are that bad. For certain types of scientific programming, you are more likely to get relevant experience with an astronomy degree than with a CS degree.

    Once you get a job, it's *very* difficult to go back to do your Ph.D. There are fields in which Ph.D.'s are set up with people with full time jobs in might, but astronomy is not one of them.

    One good thing about computers is that employers don't care if you have a CS major or not, and it's possible to teach yourself enough computer programming to be employable while you are getting a physics/astronomy degree, which is what I did.

    One way of thinking about programming is that it's a lot like writing, and people that hire writers don't restrict themselves to English majors. Lots of people who don't major in English write well. Lots of people who major in English, can't write at all. And if you are looking for someone to write a textbook on astronomy, you are more likely to look for an astronomy major than an English major.

    CS works the same way.

    Or major in astronomy and take a few CS courses on the side.
  4. Feb 7, 2012 #3
    Sounds like a good plan - it's what I did, and I easily found programming jobs, when jobs in astronomy were impossible to find. The few courses were *essential* though, you need some programming on your CV to get programming jobs. (To state the obvious! Less obvious is that you don't need that much... just a few courses will do. Just make sure they are *practical* and *in demand* - like programming in C/Python...

    I ended up doing "computer stuff" for much more than a decade, and it was fine. At 18 I don't think you really decide that a decade of "computer stuff" is too much... you'll only find that out if you try it.

    If astronomy is *really* your *one and only* passion then pursue it! You only live once, and for a very short time, might as well enjoy it as much as possible. I never regretted pursuing it until the "chances to do it" and the money dried up. Then again, there is some really interesting CS stuff out there to become passionate about... read a biography of Turing, or explore a *really* interesting language like Smalltalk... and what about quantum computing?

    In summary, astronomy *does* have good job prospects, just not in astronomy! So if it's your passion there is not even a worldly/practical reason not to do it.
  5. Feb 9, 2012 #4
    So during that time, I should get some programming experience and a CS Minor? That seems reasonable but I don't know if right now is going to be a smooth transition.

    Ie. I am going to a Polytechnic Institution in first semester, so I would either complete the diploma (mostly programming), or quit that and go to University to start a Bachelor's? The college I'm going to now does not really transfer into a place that has Physics & Astronomy Department because its CS stuff, so no credits would transfer. I already have a spot in a University, therefore would that be wiser? Given that I would be a year behind though.
  6. Feb 9, 2012 #5
    "Quitting" doesn't look good on the CV.

    Why not focus on getting a really good diploma, take that extra year, and then (maybe) do Physics & Astronomy?

    Can you handle that financially?

    If you do stick at CS for the two years, you need to make sure to have the right attitude - you can't afford to do it grudgingly, thinking all the time "I'd rather be looking at stars"... Focus really hard on the CS diploma, try putting your passion for science into it. You might, eventually, find you like it just as much as astronomy! Then no need for all the moving around...

    I've read quite a lot of scientific biographies and books looking at what motivates scientists (even did a project on it way back in College!) I have no doubt that Computer scientists like Turing or Babbage had just as much fun/passion as Einstein or Feynman.

    Speaking personally, I did physics/astronomy and then moved into computer science and the CS was more fun than the physics/astronomy... not saying that CS is more fun than physics/astronomy - they are equally fun, just that I was older and had learned better how to have fun doing hard stuff...
  7. Feb 9, 2012 #6
    Also remember that "computer science" is not necessarily a sign of a good programmer. I know great programmers that don't have CS degrees. I also know CS Ph.D.'s (and even a few CS professors) that are incompetent programmers. They are great CS researchers, but lousy programmers.

    The best analogy I can think of is writing novels. Yes, getting a degree in English literature might help you write novels, but you can be a great novelist with no degree, and you could also be a renowned professor of English Literature and still be lousy at writing.

    Conversely, I've found that writing classes help my programming. Writing a great program is a lot like writing great poetry. Good code rhymes.
  8. Feb 10, 2012 #7
    Looking at the biographies of Turing and Babbage, the term "tortured genius" comes to mind and neither of the two seem like they had much "fun." Einstein also had a throughly messy personal life, so he doesn't seem like he had much fun either.

    One thing that I wonder is where did this idea that "science should be fun" or "life should be fun" come from? I think that Feynman was part of it. There's also a generational thing. My parents really didn't seem to believe that "life should be fun."
  9. Feb 10, 2012 #8
    having a bad day, pal? :tongue:
  10. Feb 13, 2012 #9
    Sorry guys, one thing I forgot to mention is that even though I have a passion for Astronomy, I HATE Physics, so I guess I can only be an Amateur Astronomer. :(
    Yeah I think I will complete it and figure out what to do next, since it branches into many possibilities. Hopefully after a CS Degree or something it leads to a career that has something to do with Astronomy, although that would be unlikely unless it is NASA or something..I'm just not seeing how both fields can be merged, though I would like that. I've heard about Quantum Computing and Computational Physics, but nothing like Astrocomputing :cry:
  11. Feb 14, 2012 #10
    After reading Hodges' biography of Turing I agree that he was tortured - tortured by the British establishment, and that, at least partly, led to his tortured personal life. But he seemed to have fun doing his computing work. I can't see he had any less fun doing computer science than Feynman had doing physics.

    By fun I don't mean "what comes with bongo playing and dancing girls", I guess I'm really using it as a synonym for "intellectual pleasure", which is pleasure, and pleasure is fun! You might have some pain along the way doing intellectual things - when you get stuck doing a physics problem, say. But you can quickly get round that (do another problem... sleep on it...) and get back to having fun...
  12. Feb 14, 2012 #11
    You have to do a lot of physics to do astronomy at a professional level.

    What do you like about astronomy? What do you hate about physics? I got into 'the superficial' aspects of astronomy as a kid - watching the moon landings, pointing a telescope at some stars, listening to Patrick Moore and Carl Sagan on the TV, reading science fiction. That gave me the passion for astronomy, and as a side effect a passion for physics.

    I find it difficult to see how you could get such a passion for astronomy and not have it transferred into physics! Did you have a really nasty physics teacher at school? Was he always sarcastic, setting impossible problems? I had a math teacher like that... almost killed my interest in math... only my passion for physics got me thorough :)

    I think it's rather sad you HATE physics - try reading a biography of Feynman, might get you to a love/hate position...
  13. Feb 15, 2012 #12
    Well, for Astronomy I read a lot of books when I was a kid and got fascinated in it, more so than the other Sciences (I also have like an amalgamation of other science books for children). I also realize now I love watching scifi shows and movies, just so compelling..

    The reason I hate physics is because when I was in high school, I didn't realize that I needed a Physics Bachelor's for Astronomy, so I shrugged Physics 12 off like it was not going to benefit me from the future. I did reasonably well in Physics 11 (~80) but it dropped to barely passing in Physics 12. That helped me develop a hatred for all those Kinematics, Magnetism, Torque, Tension etc questions. I'm assuming that is Classical Mechanics, so I have not explored the other parts of Physics. The teacher I had for both years also bored me to death :P Had I known about the prerequisite I would have tried my best!

    Embarrassing I know, but I was more focused on thinking about a Computer-related career at that time. Thx for the advice, I'll check out Feynman .
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