Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

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jfarquhar
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Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby jfarquhar » Sun Jun 08, 2008 6:00 am UTC

First of all, sincere apologies if I am in the wrong forum for this topic. My reasoning was that the readers of this section would be most suited to answering my question.

I am a third year CompSci student at the University of Wollongong in Australia. I am about to graduate (1 semester to go!) and recently I have been quite confused about where I should go afterwards.

I have a keen interest in physics, and although the maths is quite difficult at a glance, I know I have the capability to learn it. My university also offers a 3 year Bachelor of Science (Physics) degree, which is one of the options I have been considering. The upside is that after these 3 years I will have 2 degrees under my belt. The downside, I'll be 3 years older and have twice the amount of student loans I have now.

My question, I guess, is whether the additional time and money spent will be worth it in the end. I would love to get into a job combining the fields of physics and computer science, but is the extra degree worth it? Does anyone here have any first-hand knowledge of this?

If it turns out the degree isn't worth it at all, I would still love to learn it in some other way. I have heard the educational material exists online for free, but my Google-fu probably isn't as good as yours, and I cannot find any actual structured courses to complete in my own time.

I understand the decision is mine to make in the end, but some real-life stories, experience and advice would be very helpful :)

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Turambar
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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby Turambar » Sun Jun 08, 2008 7:26 am UTC

My suspicion is that you could probably get a job doing physics applications of computer science (i.e. creating physics engines and software and computer modeling techniques). You might even get every nerd's dream job, video game design, since god knows a lot of video games desperately need better physics engines (cough*everythingEAhaseverproduced*cough). You shouldn't need a bachelor in physics for this, just a good working knowledge of kinetics. You could get a few textbooks and, if you were dedicated, could probably teach yourself a good deal of physics, for orders of magnitude less money than another 3 years of college would cost.

Most all current physics research and applications (barring theoretical physics) require computer modeling and such. From complicated sensors to astrophysical models of supernova collapse, there are computers everywhere. And it's a pretty well-paid field, I should imagine (most computer jobs seem to be).

Cheers on the love of physics :D
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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby masher » Sun Jun 08, 2008 7:49 am UTC

Have you thought about doing a GradDip(Physics)? or some other version of postgrad, rather than a full BSc?

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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby jfarquhar » Sun Jun 08, 2008 2:38 pm UTC

Turambar: Dedicated isn't a word I'd use to describe myself usually, but you are definitely right about the money issue! Thanks for the advice.

masher: I hadn't even considered it! I just looked it up then, it might just be the thing I'm after. Only 1 year extra of uni, I may just need a bridging course or two to bring me up to speed :P Thanks!

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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby Gelsamel » Mon Jun 09, 2008 1:51 am UTC

This is totally unrelated, but I'm doing the Bachelor of Science (Physics) at RMIT (2nd year now). It's a really really fun course. Right now one of my friends who knows how to throw his weight around is working the system so that we can stay (at maximum) 1 extra year (only 1 semester if we're lucky) and get a Math degree as well, two degrees, not just a double major or something. And I'm pretty sure it's going to happen. This is going to be awesome!
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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby Klotz » Mon Jun 09, 2008 1:56 am UTC

I have a bachelor of science in physics. I got a job. A guy in my class got an even better job. Remember: doing physics doesn't mean you have to go into research.

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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby ZLVT » Mon Jun 09, 2008 5:36 am UTC

I'm 2nd yr at ANU (I have a freind in wollongong doing psych) and there was an article in a journal that it seems science degrees at ANU are focused towards amking researchers (it's what the ANU lives off) personally, I intend to teach at high school for a bit (there is a HUGE lack of physics teachers so much so that they're dumbing down phys so that chem and bio teachers can teach physics now. So it shoudl be easy to get a job) then mebe do research or whatever takes my fancy (somethign with languages would be nice) but research is a good back up fro me. so yeah, that's my thing. But I know some ocmpanies hire people with science degrees and train them into engineers.
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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby Gelsamel » Mon Jun 09, 2008 7:10 am UTC

Actually at my school we had a phys teacher but not a chem teacher so one of the phys teachers who was only qualified to teach phys taught chem instead, he was really cool though :-).
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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby ZLVT » Mon Jun 09, 2008 7:41 am UTC

Ja, we had all sorts of swaps, see till recently it turns out, in NSW all science ppl coudl teach any science so ou have bio teachers doing phys which they clearly are no good at. but now that's canged so all of a sudden there was this phys void. But we had the best phys teacher ever. he also did chem for a bit wit us. good times, good times.
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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby jfarquhar » Mon Jun 09, 2008 11:09 am UTC

Klotz: If you wouldn't mind divulging... what is your current occupation?

I think teaching physics would be pretty good, as you're all right, the science teachers at my high school were mixed up between areas. Most weren't really too great at it either: one teacher I had looked as though he had given up all hope in everything, handed out photocopied pages of a textbook every class and we just answered the questions on our own!

Also, I found an awesome set of video lectures online of a 1st year Physics course from MIT. Granted, it is a bit outdated, but I am sure most of the content wouldn't have changed since 1999. The lecturer is heaps cool too.

The course website actually contains assignments, lecture transcripts and exams.

Does anyone know of a good, relatively cheap textbook I could start myself off with? (Online or physical). Thanks for all the discussion so far :D

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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby hipp5 » Mon Jun 09, 2008 11:57 pm UTC

My feeling is that those 3 extra years would be better spent doing actual work or research. A degree plus practical use of your knowledge or ability to learn is going to look better than 2 degrees. A masters would also be good.

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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby Klotz » Tue Jun 10, 2008 1:24 am UTC

Klotz: If you wouldn't mind divulging... what is your current occupation?


I work in a medical physics type lab at a hospital studying tiny bubbles. Fluid mechanics, nonlinear dynamics, numerical simulations. Cool stuff.

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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby Mettra » Tue Jun 10, 2008 8:45 pm UTC

@ the OP: I would say it depends on how keen your interest in physics is. I can think of a dozen people that would love you and be your best friend if you helped them write programs for their various physical modelling purposes. But that's more of a 'I'm a problem-solver, just give me the relevant equations and I'll work up a solution' kind of thing. That's not really physics at its heart - but it is something very valuable. I suspect most CS guys are like this - they enjoy the act of solving problems whatever form they come in.

If you have a deeper interest in physics, however, I would suggest a full course-load! Put down the laptop, pull out some paper, and draw some free body diagrams. Unfortunately this route probably isn't practical for you (the fun things never are fully practical). A good compromise might be to take one or two courses in the summer/your free time and find a project to work on with a physics department. A math-heavy intro course (and perhaps a follow-up course) can put you in a good enough position to teach yourself any physics subject. Physics (as a theoretical exercise) is fundamentally a problem-solving subject. Once you get coursed in fundamental aspects, you can branch out at will into any area given enough homework.

I saw that someone suggested Walter Lewin's lecture series. He is a very exciting and engaging (fun to watch) lecturer, but for a more 'complete' and rigorous treatment (and more concise), I would suggest Shankar ( http://oyc.yale.edu/physics/fundamental ... s-sessions ). Lewin is very heavily focused on proving things to students using experiments. While this is a very fundamental idea in physics, you might appreciate mathematical proofs a bit more. Shankar is far more devoted to problem solving using the simplest possible method and then branching out into more complexity. A physics course of this nature will never involve going into nitty-gritty full-scale numerical solutions, but as a CS guy you won't be able to avoid thinking of ways to solve practical problems using the methods presented here.

Best of luck.
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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby Velifer » Thu Jun 12, 2008 2:11 pm UTC

Scott Adams puts forward two strategies for being more or less successful in life. The first is being really really good at one thing (which is hard), the other is being pretty good at two different things (decidedly easier). Of course, that's only if you want to take advice from the dubious types of people who write comics for a living.

Never underestimate the value of being able to walk between two worlds. Being able to speak and translate two sets of jargon is a valuable skill, and being able to apply an alien way of thinking to a problem has helped me many many times. Think about the niches you could fill, and if those places are where you could be content.

My wandering path, with a B.S. Natural Resources and a M.S. in Public Health:
Outreach/education-->fisheries biology-->lake conservation/restoration-->public health vector control-->public health policy.

Now that I'm getting comfortable, I might work on that doctorate. Biostats? Economics? Music?

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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby hobbesmaster » Thu Jun 12, 2008 5:33 pm UTC

Klotz wrote:
Klotz: If you wouldn't mind divulging... what is your current occupation?


I work in a medical physics type lab at a hospital studying tiny bubbles. Fluid mechanics, nonlinear dynamics, numerical simulations. Cool stuff.


See if you can get into a graduate physics program. CS + physics work will probably get you in. You'll probably have to take "remedial" undergrad physics classes in things like quantum mechanics, but from what I've seen of people doing similar things it won't be too bad. (assuming your CS degree included a full calculus sequence and basic physics/chemistry. the one at my school does)

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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby Klotz » Thu Jun 12, 2008 9:19 pm UTC

hobbesmaster wrote:
Klotz wrote:
Klotz: If you wouldn't mind divulging... what is your current occupation?


I work in a medical physics type lab at a hospital studying tiny bubbles. Fluid mechanics, nonlinear dynamics, numerical simulations. Cool stuff.


See if you can get into a graduate physics program. CS + physics work will probably get you in. You'll probably have to take "remedial" undergrad physics classes in things like quantum mechanics, but from what I've seen of people doing similar things it won't be too bad. (assuming your CS degree included a full calculus sequence and basic physics/chemistry. the one at my school does)


Klotz wrote:I have a bachelor of science in physics.

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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby jfarquhar » Fri Jun 13, 2008 9:12 am UTC

Mettra: Thanks for the info and the link, I'll check out Shankar's lectures too :)

hobbesmaster: I'll assume you were talking to me ;). Sounds good, but my CS course doesn't include remedial classes in physics or chemistry. Not too hard to add in on the tail end of my degree however, as I've nearly satisfied the course requirements already.


At the moment I think I might do a Graduate Diploma of Science (Physics). It will only add a year to my studies and I can do some of the basic introductory subjects before I graduate from CompSci.

Thanks for the help, guys.

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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby ikkleste » Fri Jun 13, 2008 11:17 am UTC

Doing a second degreee is a pretty heavy commitment off the bat. Might it be an option to go out, get a few years experience under your belt and go back and do a second degree later? While funding and such may be different there are probably still options, and you'll have a chance to try to get some of your current debts paid. You can use the chance to get a feel for whether the field is what you really want to do. You can make some contacts that might even help you with funding.

This is where i am now, I get a bachelor degree in physics, finally got into the research field, and am now contemplating what to do next, whether to go back and try to get a PhD, or continue here gaining experience.

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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby Jorpho » Sun Jun 15, 2008 4:00 am UTC

jfarquhar wrote:I have a keen interest in physics, and although the maths is quite difficult at a glance, I know I have the capability to learn it.


I wouldn't be too sure about that. In my experience the math at the higher levels is rather difficult and differs greatly from the math you may know. Or maybe it's just that said math is more specialized and that the relevant courses may not be as refined. Or maybe my experience is too narrow to be of much value. ;)

Frankly, I'm not so sure the job market for physicists is very large, per se, compared to that of chemistry, biology, or engineering.

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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby Klotz » Sun Jun 15, 2008 4:13 am UTC

That's true but there are lots of other things you can do with a physics background (finance, computing, etc).

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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby danpilon54 » Mon Jun 16, 2008 3:28 pm UTC

jorpho wrote:Frankly, I'm not so sure the job market for physicists is very large, per se, compared to that of chemistry, biology, or engineering.


There are fewer jobs, yes, but equally fewer physicists. Im an undergrad physics major at Boston University. Let's put it this way: there are now 12 physics majors in my year. There are about 20,000 undergrads. The job market may look small, but compared to the number of people with physics degrees it's huge. Also, like klotz stated, a physics degree shows you can handle math and problem solving etc, and therefore opens up a variety of jobs that are not in the field of physics.
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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby ks_physicist » Tue Jun 17, 2008 9:39 am UTC

I sure wish we had the equivalent of a "graduate diploma" as a recognized and supported academic goal.

In the US, if it isn't a degree program, a lot of the options normally available to a student (loans, existing loan deferment, financial aid, etc.) are not available to you. AND, any post-baccalaureate degree work must be a higher degree (master's+) or you don't get the benefits of being in a degree program.

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Re: Value of a Bachelor of Science (Physics)

Postby eternalfrost » Tue Jun 17, 2008 8:11 pm UTC

I am a 3rd year physics major.

you say you are interested in 'physics'. well do you mean just mechanics, kinetics, electricity etc? I ask because really what the average person would describe as "physics" is fully covered in the first year alone. most of the topics in the upperclassman levels are focused on madern physics, things like relativity, quantum, etc.

if you wish to simply brush up on something you find interesting or supplement your CS knowledge, just taking the 'principles of physics' type courses would be good and much cheaper.

i would say going for the full degree would only be worth it if you plan on going itno research in a physics related field or high tech hardware type applications where knowlwdge of quantum becomes important.

that said. physics is very heavily dependent on computers nowadays. most projects need to build thier hardware and software from scratch, litterally from the resistor and code level on up. so there is always a demand for CS people in the field


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