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Math Help - Stuck between majors

  1. #1
    Senior Member Paze's Avatar
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    Stuck between majors

    I have a HUGE dilemma. So most people don't know what they'd like to study. Lucky sons of b....I'm stuck between three majors. I am extremely interested in Mathematics, Physics AND Programming (computer science).

    Currently I am studying Discrete Mathematics (a mathematics-CS joint degree) but I am moving out of the country and have applied for a maths major and physics minor.

    I still want the programming, though. So I want to know...Those of you who majored in maths but somehow know programming...Did it follow your studies or did you learn it by yourself? Will I learn programming in a maths degree regardless? Is it easy to program with a maths major under your belt?

    I am just way too interested in physics to just drop it from my studies but the same applies to CS.

    Stuck between a rock and a hard place here. Any guidance appreciated!
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  2. #2
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    Re: Stuck between majors

    In virtually all jobs in industry or academia technical work requires programming of some sort.

    Unless you plan on programming or doing research on operations systems or perhaps artificial intelligence I wouldn't go into computer science. Learning CS to learn to program is not an efficient way to go.

    Perhaps not in math but certainly in engineering and physics you learn to program somehow. We had a semester on it and that was 30 years ago. I imagine it's become more important over the years.

    I learned the programming I needed for work the hard way, self study and practice. There are a zillion books out there to teach yourself the language of your choice. I'm a bit out of date so I won't recommend one. I learned C and assembly and then C++, learning a bunch of others, pascal, fortran, forth, lisp, etc. along the way. I was an electrical/systems engineer and was programming or at least designing programs constantly.

    I'd stick with the physics. You can pick up all the important CS on your own and if you end up wanting to go down a more advanced CS path you can probably get someone to pay you to do that.

    I'd even consider making physics your major with math as your minor. In physics you'll have to pick up a ton of math anyway. Pretty advanced math these days. You could probably even double major and have a bunch of overlap. Physics is an extremely exciting field at the moment.

    Just my opinion.
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  3. #3
    Senior Member Paze's Avatar
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    Re: Stuck between majors

    Thank you, but I really need you to elaborate on why you believe that a physics major would be more interesting than a maths major these days.

    Physics to me seems to be simply a research-degree. If you major in physics and want to work physics, you will be teaching (if you're lucky and you do REALLY well (university teaching that is)). If I was sure I could work video games for example with a physics major (huge video game enthusiast here) I'd do it in a heart-beat but it seems a maths degree opens more doors.

    Any thoughts on this?
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  4. #4
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    Re: Stuck between majors

    Virtually any math you can apply to the real world in the present day you will learn as a physicist. Any math you might use in a present day video game is remedial to today's physicists.

    Physicists program simulations of the Big Bang, of complicated hydrodynamics, of proton-proton collisions. etc etc etc

    You just don't get anymore real world math intensive than physics.

    Don't get me wrong, there are things that mathematicians are studying now that will ultimately prove very useful in physics, but my point is that just about any math you might like to have to apply to real world current day problems you will pick up one way or another in your physics studies.
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  5. #5
    Senior Member Paze's Avatar
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    Re: Stuck between majors

    Quote Originally Posted by romsek View Post
    Virtually any math you can apply to the real world in the present day you will learn as a physicist. Any math you might use in a present day video game is remedial to today's physicists.

    Physicists program simulations of the Big Bang, of complicated hydrodynamics, of proton-proton collisions. etc etc etc

    You just don't get anymore real world math intensive than physics.

    Don't get me wrong, there are things that mathematicians are studying now that will ultimately prove very useful in physics, but my point is that just about any math you might like to have to apply to real world current day problems you will pick up one way or another in your physics studies.
    If what you say is true, then there would be no such thing as applied mathematics...?

    Why would we need applied mathematics if physics takes care of that?

    Not to be disrespectful, but I'd like to remain critical of your assertion at this point.
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  6. #6
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    Re: Stuck between majors

    My advice: major in what you love to do THE MOST.

    Reality check: you will have to eat and have shelter to live. So you will eventually have to support yourself with employment, unless you happen to inherit or strike it rich gambling. Most jobs consist of trading time doing something for someone else in exchange for currency. Since you'll be putting in the time ANYWAY, you might as well spend it doing something you find bearable.

    I cannot say you should choose your career based on what "looks like is an attractive field to go into". Things change over time, but your career choice will have decades-long consequences. Do what you love to do, this may not necessarily be the "most money you could have made" but you will be HAPPY. All the financial success in the world cannot alleviate the stress of doing something you hate to do, to maintain it.

    There ARE careers for applied mathematicians who specialize in programming applications (for example: designing a wireless network for a corporate headquarters can use topological notions such as a "covering" to determine optimum placement of transmission nodes). Encoding physical systems into simulations to test astronomical, meteorological or economic systems will continue to be a vital field. Make sure your advisors know: "Hey, I like math, but I want to focus on computational methods, with physical applications". Areas that will probably particularly interest you:

    Differential equations
    Fourier analysis
    Chaos/catastrophe theory
    Mathematical logic (there is a one-to-one correspondence here with computational circuitry)
    Operator algebras (particularly relevant for quantum mechanics)

    You may get a kick out of category theory, which has applications to both "pure" maths AND computer science. Or, you may find it "too abstract".

    Most "pure" (abstract) math degrees don't "necessarily" have a large CS component....but YOURS can. Refuse to be "cookie-cut": be the "atypical" degree candidate with a firm inter-disciplinary approach. Your course-load might be a bit full, but you'll have more options to choose from when you need to sell your talents for cash.

    (P.S: a lot of math positions are research (i.e. teaching, too). Sorry about that).
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  7. #7
    Senior Member Paze's Avatar
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    Re: Stuck between majors

    You're striking a chord with "Chaos Theory". Now it may not be the most optimistic field of play but I am interested in it as it has applications in modern physics.

    But I know nothing about chaos theory other than watching documentaries. What kind of mathematics is it? Where does the line between physics and mathematics appear and does a mathematician specialized in chaos theory do physics too?

    What kind of major should I choose if I find out I am interested in chaos theory?
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