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(Theoretical) Particle Astrophyiscs? (Degree?)

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  1. Apr 3, 2014 #1
    Hello, forum.

    So, I'm going to be starting my first year at the University of British Columbia next year and, although I might be seriously ahead of myself, I am very much stressing over what degree and courses I am going to be taking for the next four years.

    Being at the education level at which I currently am, I obviously do not know everything there is to know about particle astrophysics, but it's something that has fascinated me for a very, very long time, meaning that although it's possible I might redirect what in physics I want to study, that is my goal (as weird as it may be for a 17-year-old). The DRAGON experiment at the UBC TRIUMF and the likes really interest me. Essentially, my eventual career goal is a research professor of physics (surprise!). My goal after my BSc. is graduate school at a top institution like Oxford or Princeton, but that's for the future. Basically, although my guidance counsellor has been helpful, I don't really have any connections to "real physicists" (that is, not engineers), so I thought I might ask the Internet. :tongue:

    I am looking at honours degrees, though applications only start after the first year. My obvious major is physics, but I don't know if I should look for a combined major or a minor in something like computer science, astronomy, or mathematics. Mathematics is very obviously something I should have, but computer science in the Information Age is almost a must (especially at places as high tech as particle accelerators, I would imagine). And then there's astronomy because, well, particle astrophysics (but then again, it's a branch of particle physics, not really of astronomy). (Just a note: I'm aiming to be researching at particle accelerators. Though observatories really excite me and get me all giddy, that's not my career goal, for a variety of personal reasons)

    I'm leaning towards UBC's Combined Honours in Physics and Mathematics program, because of all the theory I'd be getting out of it (and unlike most of the population, I love math!). I asked my brother (over social media; he is on campus most of the time), who is currently a student of computer science and cognitive systems at UBC, and his response:
    "Hmm, personally I'd recommend pure math.
    You will be forced to pick up computer science anyway, but math is something that should be drummed into you from an early stage. If you can get the math down, computer science should come quite easily.
    Either math or statistics. Might actually be better to do statistics because you'll undoubtedly do some programming there anyway and get hands-on experience."
    Thoughts?

    PS: Though honours does look intimidating to me, I have the will to try it (heck, the rigour excites me). My current average in high school is 97% (which includes calculus, physics, programming, etc.), so although I know there is effectively 0% chance of having that in university, I think I'll be able to handle an honours degree. However, how necessary is an honours? Is it better to have an honours with lower marks or a regular major with higher marks?
    Also, I do intend on also doing at least one semester of co-op, preferably at TRIUMF.

    Cheers,
    Phlippie
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 3, 2014 #2
    First of all, it's great that you already have an idea of what you want to do. As far as picking up a minor, you might want to look at what your computer science degree program can really offer you. At some institutions, it's mainly programming classes which are greatly applicable to another field like physics. At other schools (like mine, regrettably), most of the computer science courses are geared toward teaching things like how to more effectively run a business. Check out what your comp sci program has to offer you. Even if you don't pursue a minor, feel free to take some classes. You're not restricted to ONLY taking the classes in your major/minor. You're paying to get an education, and you should get whatever kind of education you want.

    I am not familiar with how the honours program works at a university such as UBC, as it seems quite different from the honors programs here in the states. My theory is that if you don't challenge yourself, you aren't really going to get anything you really want. It's better to take more difficult classes and risk not getting a 100% than just "glide" through college only taking what's necessary. But, of course, it's up to you.

    How did you do in maths in high school? Did you enjoy it? What were your strengths and weaknesses? Your overall grades don't matter as much as how challenging a course load you took and how you performed.
     
  4. Apr 3, 2014 #3
    Hey, samnorris. Thanks for the reply.

    Sorry, it looks like I missed out an important part to the point that I might have seemed pretentious. My school switched from AP to IB the year I entered grade 11, and not only was I sceptical of the new system, but from what I read (and this I maintain), I despise the IB philosophy, frankly. However, I did take IB English, though purely to bypass my communications requirements at uni. My grade 12 classes:
    Programming (technically, Information Technology, but we have only been doing Java all year) 12
    Calculus 12
    Pre-calculus 12
    Physics 12
    Chemistry 12
    Biology 12
    English 12IB HL

    I am inclined to agree with you about challenging oneself. I know it's my education and all that, but those around me don't seem to concur, which of course does something to the confidence of my opinion. Not like I'm going to be studying classical mechanics in order to get a PhD/MPhil in particle physics.

    I'll (hopefully) be taking computer science and astronomy courses regardless, as they are subjects of deep interest. I have spoken to my programming/calculus teacher (as well as my aforementioned brother), who has a computer science major from UBC, about the courses at UBC and from what I know they do indeed offer programming classes as part of the comp sci (woo!).

    My math classes are two of my highest grades (alongside programming), at 99 and 100. Pre-calculus is honestly a bit dull, but I quite like my calculus, especially related rates and the like (however, my pre-calculus mark is higher, though probably just because it's much easier to check my work). My physics and English classes were probably most interesting to me, though (but that's mostly due to the teachers, I think). I have confidence in my ability to do an honours degree. My worry is mostly if I'll come out of it thinking all I did was delay my graduate studies.

    Cheers,
    Phlippie

    Edit: Oh, and I don't know if it helps, but my next biggest interest is nuclear physics, which is also particle physics, hence I didn't mention it before. So closely related anyway.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2014
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