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Switching from Computer Engineering to (quantum)Physics

  1. Dec 2, 2006 #1
    Ok... here I am thinking of my career. Every night that I am outside I look up into the sky and just look with awe and curiosity of the stars and the universe. I wonder how it exists, how it became what it is, etc... I also have a very deep interest in the subatomic world. Though not knowledgable in the field, I have a basic understanding. I am a freshman in college and major in Computer Engineering(hardware). I love computers, specifically cpu's. But I really can't see myself loving the math and designing complex circuits and stuff. But I can see myself loving the study of subatomic particles and the universe. I thought of Astronomy, but I don't want to stare at the sky and stare at research all day long. I want to figure out how everything works down to the smallest part. I constantly catch myself looking at physics book in the library just being my curious self. I am a VERY logical thinker and have a very visual mind. I just want to hear your opinions on my switch and what I should expect. I plan on making the switch this Monday. Many thanks!
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  3. Dec 2, 2006 #2


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    How did you get to be in Computer Engineering? What led you to this position?
  4. Dec 2, 2006 #3
    you say that you an't see yourself loing the math of circuti analysis, can you see yourself loving the math of quantum mechanics and the rest? physics requires far more math than engineering does.
  5. Dec 2, 2006 #4
    I got into computer engineering because I like computers and technology. I have always built and fixed computers. I am sure physics has more math but I seem to be more interested in it. I am going to fail my calc II class since I stopped studying for it 1/2 way through so now my final is a couply days away and I have to pull of a 85% to pass with a 70% C. Cramming doesn't help since I will forget it. I am a visual learner and just reading the math doesn't explain it the way I perfer. So I decided to just take it my spring semester and study at a good pace and actually learn the material and not be lazy. Anyways, I love thinking about physics and how everything works. I don't know what else to say really...
  6. Dec 2, 2006 #5
    the fronteir of theory that doesn't seem like it would require much math actually requires more math than any other field
  7. Dec 2, 2006 #6


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    Ultimately you must live or die by your own choices. I or anyone else pretty much don't have any right to tell you what to do. If you think physics is for you then that is what you must do.

    Now let me pick your brain for just a second. You say that you want to know how the world works, but does that include understanding society or understanding people? You want to know how and why apples fall out of trees, but do you want to know how and why the market fluctuates, why young men don't want to be virgins, etc?

    Now I don't mean to suggest that you should care about these other things. I'm just wondering how broad your interests are.
  8. Dec 2, 2006 #7
    Hmm... I typed up a post, but I guess I never hit "post reply".

    Anyway, quantum stuff is all math. You can't understand it conceptually. You have to know the math. I don't enjoy math for the sake of math, but when it's applied to something, then I see the benefits and it becomes fun. You're going to have to start liking math if you want to do physics. It's just how it is.
  9. Dec 2, 2006 #8
    hmmm I know physics is mostly math and honestly that does scare me. Mostly because I have a hard time learning math since no one explains the details. Teachers and books are just like here, this formula does this and you must use it for this. Also they include proofs which i sometimes understand but do't remember. I UNDERSTAND math very easily, but I don't REMEMBER it well at all, it kind of fades away and can get very condensed and mixed up in my head. That is why I don't want to cram for my calc II final and just retake it.

    In reference to understanding the universe. I meant through physics, not how people act socially or anything like that. I do want to know why apples fall from trees, but not why people pick them up. Like I said before, I am VERY visual, it isn't even funny. Just a minute ago i was mentally zooming into my wooden table with a scratch in it. I went down into the subatomic view in my head and pictured everything and how the scratch is outlined. I also knocked on the table wondering how that pressure affects the subatomic particles. I am just really curious how the universe can exist. The universe seems to be infinite, and somehow in an infinite space matter can exist with no possible origin. Though, it is there and it boggles my mind.

    I believe with the right teaching that I could do great. To be honest, I think I am smart as hell. That may or may not be true, but I like to think that anyways. I base that on my ability to understand everything presented to me, even though I usually don't remember it. I always loved arguing with my AP Physics teacher in highschool. I would question everything. I hate how she would just feed us the theories and problems but not explain in great detail how everything really works. Even with my questions, she was unable to answer most of them.

    I am going ot die one day, so do I want to die as a computer engineer or to die a a physicist looking for the worldly answers? I choose the 2nd one.
  10. Dec 3, 2006 #9
    If all you have is a memory problem then the solution is to practice solving more problems. That's it, really.

    I'd have a long talk with the physics department advisor if I were you. It seems like you're buying into the hype without really understanding what you're in for.
  11. Dec 3, 2006 #10
    yeah i agree with poop-loops. you seem to be intrigued by the philosophical side of physics more so than doing physics itself. the fact is, unless you love doing physics you won't be a successful physicist. and you will never love doing physics if you try to avoid the math in it. i know a few kids who came in as physics majors thinking they would be learning about the origins of the universe and those other deep questions and instead found themselves using fourier analysis to solve for electric potentials and that sort of stuff, and hated it. if you're going to be good at physics there's really no way around the math
  12. Dec 3, 2006 #11
    it should be noted however that if you work at it and make it through the math and all th basic stuff you will be talking about hte origin of the universe, its just that it won't be nearly as romantic.
  13. Dec 3, 2006 #12
    not that I'm trying to quelch you're decision to switch to physics, but the physics community in general is in need of talented engineers. for example, whoever discovers the higgs boson in a few years (pretty much a guaranteed nobel prize) is going to be severly indebted to the people who helped design the recognition electronics (I went to a talk by the guy behind the recent discovery of the sigma b particle and he was emphatic about the importance of the recognition electronics). Basically my point is that if you are a good comp engineer you will get oppurtunities to work on cutting edge physics research without having to go through the "pith balls and incline planes" of a physics education.
  14. Dec 3, 2006 #13
    You also need to think about your future. Many here will disagree with me, so take that into account, but in my opinion high energy physics is a very poor career choice right now. You have a lot more HEP guys out there looking for jobs than there are jobs to have, and there is every indication the job market will be shrinking instead of growing. Because universities need loads of cheap labor they continue to recruit grad students long after there will be few or no jobs for them once they finish.

    Of course, you'll have a powerful educational background and there are other things you can do, but what's the point of switching if you'll end up back (and less qualified) in the same job area?
  15. Dec 3, 2006 #14
    I understand exactly how you feel physicscrap!
    I too am so deeply interested in that whole idea of the universe and such. I always have been from a young age. And just like yourself, i too am able to understand what is being presented to me right at the moment, but afterwards, if i don't review what was just taught, then it will slip away and i'll have to get back to it again.

    I find it very fascinating, but i guess part of me wants a job that is more out there and secure you know...so engineering would be my second choice. And also i agree with the other members here, because it seems you, like myself, have been caught up in the hype of it all (maybe you haven't, just assuming here)...and i thought about doing something related with philosophy, but again, i want a job that is more out there and guaranteed...i'm not familiar with jobs to do with philosophy, only a university lecturer? I guess people like us who enjoy questioning a lot of things in the world, wondering how and why, would be better of living in a advanced future where inter-planetary and -stellar travel is possible and there are much more resources to these type of interests, starting from elementary school or even high school with subjects that would relate to those areas...like teaching a child how to tie its shoelace or manners, something that has to be known.

    Anyway, my advice would be to visit a careers adviser, particularly a physics/science adviser if your college has one. If you're still unsure...then take a subject from quantam physics and see how it goes. Or continue your engineering degree, and upon graduation, try and find a job that will somehow relate to other interest??
  16. Dec 3, 2006 #15


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    Take what these people say with a pinch of salt. I don't think there's a well defined boundary between philosophy and science, or even philosophy and life.

    I'm interested to know: how do you visualise rational numbers and real numbers, that there are more real numbers than rational numbers? If I chop a finite number into an infinite number of pieces, any finite multiple of that small piece will be "between" 0 and any finite number greater than 0. Can you visualise that?
  17. Dec 3, 2006 #16
    Before you make the switch I want to also recommend that you visit a career advisor. As a freshman you haven't really gotten a feel for much yet. You still have time to make a choice about what you want to do. Once you've taken the prereqs, take a upper level physics course to see if thats something you would really want to do. Actually, you might even be able to ask the professor teaching it if you can just sit in and not actually take the course.

    If I had to guess, you're probably just frustrated with your current courses. The end of the semester is coming up and you realize that you haven't been doing as well as you had hoped. This is pretty normal I think... I know I went through it a few times. In fact, I also went from computer engineering to physics. My move was by force though as I didn't have the GPA to get into the College of Engineering at my school. I was lucky that I was able to find a graduate school to accept me and now I'm doing work in condensed matter theory, which can be somewhat close to electrical engineering.

    Anyway, I guess I just want to emphasize that you don't want to make a quick decision just based on a poor semester. Being that you're a freshman student you should take the time and explore what there is to do a little bit more, in my opinion.

    Good luck!
  18. Dec 3, 2006 #17
    Well I can certainly say you all make solid points. I guess I did get caught up in the "hype" of physics. I looked at the type of research being conducted and published, but not what it takes to get there and all the other details. In reference to the picturing of a finite number being broken down into infinite. I can somewhat picture it but the infinite part seems impossible and I have never understood that in math. Like how a number could get smaller and smaller infinite times... Does that mean mathematically it break down to like .000000000...001 but keeps going?

    I guess I will stick with Computer Engineering. I also have a meeting with a academic advisor tomorrow.
  19. Dec 3, 2006 #18


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    It just means that if you zoom in 'close enough', you see between the rationals like you might see electrons or electron fields if you zoom close enough to the table. And if you zoom in closer, you can see between the reals. Of course, you'd need to zoom in infinitely far...

    There's a similar problem in physics. Imagine you are driving a motorbike and a car in front of you is going slower than you. So let's say the car is 10m ahead. By the time you travel those 10m, the car will have moved forward. And by the time you travel that distance that the car had moved, it will have moved again. This sequence has no end. Each time you cover the gap, the car has formed a new gap. Does that mean you never reach the car?

    Well good luck with whatever you choose.
  20. Dec 3, 2006 #19
    You said you were interested in computers (processors)...you built them etc, but computer engineering has very little hands on building of that type. Infact, I had no idea what computer engineering was all about and yet I majored in it until my jr. year. Pipelining processors, cache, etc, coding these things really was painful to me. So i switched to Computer Science, realising I enjoy programming in high level languages alot better such as C++ or java. Even if I put myself more at risk to not find a job after graduation, i'll take that risk.

    Building circuits bored me as well, and the programming was hardware description, meaning vhdl which I also disliked alot so I made the switch. So I would highly recommend if you could, sit in on some upper level classes to see if thats what you really want to do or not. When I was a freshman Computer ENgineering sounded fun and exciting but not until you actually sit in on the class will you know what you might be doing once you graduate.

    Same thing goes for Quantum PHyiscs, see if you can really find out if you'll be able to handle the classes or if the thought of it interests you but actually doing the work will not.
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2006
  21. Dec 3, 2006 #20
    I also like to see it in another way, if you have a passion for something, and if it's difficult in the beginning, i guess that passion and interest will force you to learn it even more.
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