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Which majors for my interests/criteria?

  1. Nov 2, 2012 #1
    I am looking at colleges/universities in the US. I have narrowed down my interests to STEM which I know is extremely broad.

    The main question is what undergrad majors (and later careers) would suit my interests:
    • I am analytical and enjoy problem solving.
    • Not interested in mechanical engineering (don’t like building & fabrication aspects)
    • Even though I consider myself more analytical, I like coming up with needed applications of & solutions for things
    • Of physics disciplines, I’m intrigued by Quantum, Computational, E&M, Plasma and Theoretical
    • The areas of Economics, Space, and Alternative Energy pique my attention (like I said, relevant applications)
    • Favorite subjects are Math and Physics (almost equally), also Computer programming
    • Mathematics proofs (geometry, basic calculus) are something I’m really good at and like
    • Is there any career that comes to mind that uses proofs or proof-like problems (not a pure mathematician)?

    I know it’s a lot but maybe focus on the fact that I’m analytical and want to pursue needed, relevant applications.
    Any ideas would be appreciated!
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 2, 2012 #2


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    Education Advisor

    Welcome to the wonderful world of statistics! (I might be a bit bias here.) A double major with Stats and physics/biology/economy/computer science/chemistry/public health/taco making/myriad of stuff, wil provide you with a great base, a lot of application, and plently of opportunity. You'll prove stuff in your math classes, learn application in your other major, and eventually learn how to combine both.
  4. Nov 2, 2012 #3
    Have you considered theoretical computer science? It is heavy on proofs, heavy on analytical thinking and problem solving, and is an application of mathematics to the fundamental questions of computer science. It also pays quite well assuming you have a PhD.

    Cryptography, automata, quantum computing and complexity theory are all part of theoretical computer science.

  5. Nov 3, 2012 #4
    Thanks for those suggestions.

    Can I go into theoretical CS after undergraduate Math? I'm drawn to the broad base of Liberal arts colleges, which don't always offer CS.

    Also, do employers ever take into account a double major, one being Statistics? (with the other being related)
  6. Nov 3, 2012 #5
    Yes, many people in theoretical CS do their major in math. However, the ideal route is that you double major in math and CS. If you are able only to major in math, my suggestion is to read books outside of class that are about computing, cryptography and complexity theory.

  7. Nov 3, 2012 #6
    What about scientific computing (computational science)?

    What about computational mathematics?
  8. Nov 3, 2012 #7


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    Hey unsure and welcome to the forums.

    From what you have said, I think working on protocols and design for reliability in a variety of areas might be up your alley.

    Electrical components need to be designed for reliability (i.e the physical components).

    Telecommunications protocols need to also be designed for reliable communications which involves doing math with stochastic techniques to make sure that if you have a channel with certain properties (like noise, capacity and so on) that the message under this model will get through and get through reliably. This involves designing codes and constructing information in a way that facilitates this (look at error correcting codes).

    This kind of thing was used for example when images needed to be transmitted from the satellites and other devices in space back to earth so that the message would get reliably and to do this you needed to design error correcting codes to take account for all the unreliability of the channel.

    There are also areas in hardware design which deal with fault tolerance and simulating said characteristics for designing things that are fault tolerent (not just computer chips but general electrical components).

    There are also areas in theoretical computer science that deal with analysis of programs for finding crashes, memory leaks, freezing (like when you are stuck in an infinite loop) and other things that rely on using proof algorithms to check for this things.

    ProLog and other non-procedural programming environments allow you to implement a lot of the theoretical logic on a computer and you can in fact use these to prove things under certain axiomatic systems like the statement of 2+2=4.

    There really is a lot more than this, but these should give you a few ideas.
  9. Nov 3, 2012 #8
    I would suggest electrical engineering based on your interests. It uses both math and physics as you want, and applications for the discipline are abound. It would allow you to work in the energy industry or space industry, check SpaceX's website and you will see that they need electrical engineers. You could work with quantum computing or E&M as well as possibly working to develop computers if you like that.
  10. Nov 3, 2012 #9
    So far all of these mentioned seem great:

    -Theoretical Computer Science
    -Electrical Engineering (also Computer? see below)

    From a degree stanpoint, EE can go into telecommunications, signal processing, energy, Components, or computer parts. (what I think)

    CS gives little or no hardware experience.

    What about Comp. Engineering? I've heard it is building & designing computer chips and interfacing with software. Much anything else?

    To go into quantum computing, what would be ideal: CS, EE, or CE? (if EE can, like SpaceDreamer said, I suppose CE would be better for it?)
  11. Nov 3, 2012 #10
    Just out of curiosity, what about theoretical CS with a Physics B.S. with Scientific Computation Certification (at a top 10-20 University)? I'm in the middle of that undergrad path and I doubt that I'll go to CS grad school, but it's something I might consider, if possible. My sci. comp. coursework is just 3-4 programming courses (C, C++, FORTRAN, advanced elective options, etc.), an application course (computational physics for me), and an independent research project. I also know Python, though I'm sure that's largely irrelevant. I guess my question is, how much of a CS background would someone with a physics degree need to have to be considered for a theoretical, or other, CS grad program?
  12. Nov 4, 2012 #11
    Those are my favs too and I must say that EE has so far (this is my Junior year) has not fulfilled my expectations. There's barely any physics, the math is tedious algebra and there's too many circuits/digital classes. If I were you I would take some kind of intro to EE or CompE if your school has it. My school does but since I was a transfer student I wasn't required to take it, but if I did I would have ran for the hills. I know it will eventually get better because I've looked ahead at my upcoming classes like E&M, optics, DSP, etc. But these last 3 semesters have been rough for someone that was eager to learn the physics of EE and not the circuit theory of it. Maybe your school will be different for EE if that's what you choose.

    I said this before in another thread but if I could do it over I would double major in CS/Physics, that way I could learn more advanced programming and physics then combine them to make awesome physics simulations. Please try to find out early which major you like the most because my first semester I took a programming class and loved it but for some reason didn't pursue CS now I'm in EE too deep to change my major without staying longer/paying more. Good luck with whatever you decide.
  13. Nov 4, 2012 #12
    Since you mentioned STEM fields I probably don't have to say this, but based on everything else you said, I would stay away from Econ. I actually started out as an Econ. major my freshman year because it seemed intriguing and I had (and still do have) some interest in philosophy/political theory. I soon realized my mistake when I took a couple of upper division econ. courses and realized that it's not just the intro courses, economics really is more or less a pseudoscience pretending to be something else. I'm sure there are some cool applications for CS/Econ. people, and decent job opportunities for them, but on the whole it's really not much like science. I'm infinitely more satisfied and fulfilled doing Physics and Scientific Comp. than I would have been if I stuck with Econ.

    Edit: Also, as economics has at many schools become "business for kids who couldn't get into the business school," I found that the level of mathematics used in econ. classes is severely dumbed down and uninteresting.
  14. Nov 4, 2012 #13
    Your question probably deserves a thread of its own, but I will try to address it in one post. I must first point out that I am an undergrad in EE, not in CS or in math, but have read some books on their theoretical aspects.

    Just like in physics, there are many focuses of research in CS: artificial intelligence, computability, informatics and information theory, programming language theory, CG theory, HCI, theory of networks, database theory, complexity theory, cryptography, quantum computing, automata, computing on the nanoscale, software engineering, biocomputing, nanobiotechnology.

    All of these can in some situations be considered graduate programs in CS. I don't know about your specific situation, but I must point out that CS graduate school isn't really about programming. It's either about explaining the fundamental limitations or abilities of computers, or it's about showing how computers can be applied to other fields, with the computers being the focus of the research (rather than the applications). Computational math for example is usually a math PhD not CS, if you use the computer to estimate some things, but if you happen to prove that a certain significant math problem cannot be solved with any computing means, it would turn into a CS PhD.

    So if you are doing physics, do take some CS courses, not just intro programming, take cryptography, theory of computation, networks etc.
    Programming is just a tool for scientists and engineers, it's not the equivalent of CS. Or read some books if you don't have the opportunity to take courses. CS is something that, unlike engineering, can be self-studied with proper time investment and guidance.

    Much of what I say is not from experience, but from discussions with computer scientists whom I know personally.

    Also, I am sad to hear about your rather disappointing ventures in economics. Perhaps the courses you took in econ were weak in mathematics, causing you to doubt the scientific value of the subject? Econometrics, operations research, game theory are all economics courses, fairly scientific and fairly math intensive so I would qualify them as a science. I don't see why not. Correct me if I misunderstood you.

    Last edited: Nov 4, 2012
  15. Nov 6, 2012 #14
    If I wanted an engineering degree and to later pursue theoretical CS, would I be better in a Comp. Engineering track? I'm thinking so because theoretical CS seems like it would be more low level which is what computer engineers deal with anyway.

    In other words, which would be better preparation for theoretical CS: Comp.E or EE? (and why)
  16. Nov 6, 2012 #15
    I've heard the math intensity in undergraduate economics degrees varies from school to school.

    Operations research can be taught in math/stats, business, engineering departments, and sometimes in CS departments.
  17. Nov 6, 2012 #16
    Economics (more heavily math-oriented) is still an option for me (hence liberal arts colleges!)
    FYI feel free to continue this thread but any future questions I have will be in new topics. thanks for the ideas :smile:
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