Take AI; Wait 1 Year; Add Physics; Stir.

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boXd
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Take AI; Wait 1 Year; Add Physics; Stir.

Postby boXd » Thu Dec 06, 2012 1:49 am UTC

Hi fellow xkcd-people, I have a question about majors in college. Here's the situation:

I'm currently an AI student in my first year (in the Netherlands we pick majors immediately at the university, there's no general courses or any such thing either), and enjoying it. Sort of. However, I've always been fascinated by physics, and by fascinated I mean that every time I see/hear something about it it stings that I'm doing something else in college. So, even though I'm finding AI and CS very interesting, I'm often worried that I didn't choose the right major. On the other hand, I've already wasted the previous year because I was unable to really make a decision on what to major in, and I'm afraid that if I were to switch, the same thing might happen again. As I see it, I have three options:

1. Just keep doing what I'm doing now: AI.

This is the 'default' approach, so to speak. If I can't figure anything out, I'm simply going to finish the AI degree, because I obviously have to do *something*. As I'm enjoying AI, this isn't such a bad option. On the other hand, I may not have the opportunity to study physics again, and this option effectively makes it impossible ever to get a job in that field, which is something I may well regret.

2. Switch to physics.

Unfortunately, I can't switch to physics this year, because I'd be missing too many courses, most of it is cumulative, and I'd get in trouble with the BSA. Thus, switching to physics means finishing this year in AI, and then focusing all my efforts on getting a physics degree. This has three downsides: a.) if it turns out I don't like studying physics as much as I thought, I have to start over again with something else, b.) I like AI, so it seems like a bit of a waste to just let that year 'not count' (yes, I know that's essentially a sunk cost fallacy), and c.) if I already decide to switch to physics next year, I may not be very motivated to continue with AI this year, and my results would suffer. If I were to change my mind, I'd be in trouble with my current major.

3. Add a physics major next year, but also keep doing AI.

This option avoids some of the downsides of the first two. For example, if I end up not liking physics so much, I can just drop it again and continue studying AI. On the other hand, if I were to do this, I'd have to juggle double the courseload until I graduate (there practically no overlap between those degrees), or graduate multiple years later. (Even if I could handle both majors at once, I'd still graduate a year later than if I were to do only AI, but that applies to option 2 as well.)

---

Now, I'm not at all sure what to do, most of all because I'm ultimately uncertain about my commitment to physics. I *know* that I'm totally fascinated, perhaps even obsessed by it at times, but I'm not sure it's always all that healthy. For example, while I know I like physics in itself, I sometimes worry that I may just be in it because a tiny irrational part of me just wants to work on making muon-catalyzed fusion a practical source of energy, and another part of me knows that I just can't stand the fact that physics is so damn *hard* and stops at nothing to really understand it (or figures that if I understand physics, that means I can understand *everything* else). These don't seem like healthy motivations to me.

I'm really looking for some advice here, so if any of you've got some tips, I'd very much appreciate it. There's probably more to say, but at this point I'm not really sure what to add. If anything's unclear, feel free to ask me a question. :)

quetzal1234
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Re: Take AI; Wait 1 Year; Add Physics; Stir.

Postby quetzal1234 » Thu Dec 06, 2012 3:48 am UTC

Could you add the physics major next year and then drop it if you don't like it/it gets to be too much? Or do you have to follow through?

3 is probably what I would want to do. But that could be a lot of work.

This sounds stupid, but have you tried writing out a pro and con list for each choice? Usually, if I have a tough decision to make and the list isn't enough, I go through and rank each factor I listed on a scale of 1-10 in importance to me and then add up a completely arbitrary score for each choice. Something about actually looking at a number helps me decide, even if I disregard it. Of course, you've probably tried this.
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boXd
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Re: Take AI; Wait 1 Year; Add Physics; Stir.

Postby boXd » Thu Dec 06, 2012 10:09 am UTC

quetzal1234 wrote:Could you add the physics major next year and then drop it if you don't like it/it gets to be too much? Or do you have to follow through?


Yes, I could drop it again if it turns out to be too hard/I don't like it.

quetzal1234 wrote:This sounds stupid, but have you tried writing out a pro and con list for each choice? Usually, if I have a tough decision to make and the list isn't enough, I go through and rank each factor I listed on a scale of 1-10 in importance to me and then add up a completely arbitrary score for each choice. Something about actually looking at a number helps me decide, even if I disregard it. Of course, you've probably tried this.


I don't think that sounds stupid. :wink: I've already tried a pro/con list, but never with a scale of how important each factor is to me. I'm not entirely sure how accurate this would be, though.

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Re: Take AI; Wait 1 Year; Add Physics; Stir.

Postby Chen » Thu Dec 06, 2012 12:42 pm UTC

Before making any decision go audit (if allowed) a physics course or two. It'll at least give you a feel for what the courses are actually like, compared to just reading things about physics.

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Re: Take AI; Wait 1 Year; Add Physics; Stir.

Postby Snark » Thu Dec 06, 2012 12:56 pm UTC

Do you have such thing as a minor over there? Have you considered a physics minor, if so?
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boXd
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Re: Take AI; Wait 1 Year; Add Physics; Stir.

Postby boXd » Thu Dec 06, 2012 1:38 pm UTC

Chen wrote:Before making any decision go audit (if allowed) a physics course or two. It'll at least give you a feel for what the courses are actually like, compared to just reading things about physics.


Yes, I think we're allowed to take courses in other departments for fun. Also, I'm pretty sure no one notices if you're going to a lecture at another department, provided the classes aren't extremely small. This is a good idea, I'll try this. :D

Snark wrote:Do you have such thing as a minor over there? Have you considered a physics minor, if so?


Yep. We choose a minor in our third (= final) year, and there's a 'physics' minor, which consists of the following courses:

- The Evolving Universe
- Radioactivity
- 'Science topics' (whatever that is)
- Astrobiology
- Philosophy of Natural Sciences
- Relativity

While these are all undoubtedly interesting courses, to me this doesn't really count as physics because a.) many of them simply aren't about physics, and b.) when it's a physics subject, given the course description I'd bet they're extremely watered down version.

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Re: Take AI; Wait 1 Year; Add Physics; Stir.

Postby Jplus » Thu Dec 06, 2012 2:11 pm UTC

boXd wrote:
Chen wrote:Before making any decision go audit (if allowed) a physics course or two. It'll at least give you a feel for what the courses are actually like, compared to just reading things about physics.


Yes, I think we're allowed to take courses in other departments for fun. Also, I'm pretty sure no one notices if you're going to a lecture at another department, provided the classes aren't extremely small. This is a good idea, I'll try this. :D

I also think this is a really good idea. Note that you can probably just subscribe to the course so you'll be "officially welcome" in class.
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Re: Take AI; Wait 1 Year; Add Physics; Stir.

Postby boXd » Sat Dec 08, 2012 9:19 pm UTC

Uhm, I have one final question, though. Given that I've already 'wasted' my previous year because I couldn't figure out what major to choose, does anyone think it's weird/unwise/stupid to change majors again the next year? Not that I've actually made a decision yet, but this is somewhat of a major concern of mine - especially what other people think of me if I were to do this.

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Re: Take AI; Wait 1 Year; Add Physics; Stir.

Postby Jplus » Sat Dec 08, 2012 9:34 pm UTC

I wouldn't find it weird, but some other people probably will.

I'd say you just have to decide for yourself; ultimately you have more important things to do than worrying about what some other people might think. If it really matters to you then maybe you should specifically ask the few people that you care most about.

Amusing detail about myself:
Spoiler:
I collect leftover water from my kettle in a bucket. When the bucket is full I use the water to flush the toilet. My housemates think I'm crazy, but I do it anyway.
"There are only two hard problems in computer science: cache coherence, naming things, and off-by-one errors." (Phil Karlton and Leon Bambrick)

coding and xkcd combined

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Re: Take AI; Wait 1 Year; Add Physics; Stir.

Postby boXd » Sat Dec 08, 2012 10:59 pm UTC

Jplus wrote:I'd say you just have to decide for yourself; ultimately you have more important things to do than worrying about what some other people might think. If it really matters to you then maybe you should specifically ask the few people that you care most about.

Yeah, I mostly care about these two things:

1. My parents. Although I did drop out after only a few months the previous year, and thus didn't have to pay a full year's of tuition, fact is that this is the one part of my education my parents pay for. I feel that it would seem ungrateful to then seemingly waste their money (even though I'm paying most of it myself by getting into debt, of course).
2. While I enjoy the 'student life', my goal is to get into research, or, well, do something productive. Adding another year to my education wherein I don't really do much would I'd be old by the time I finish college. -_-

Jplus wrote:Amusing detail about myself:
Spoiler:
I collect leftover water from my kettle in a bucket. When the bucket is full I use the water to flush the toilet. My housemates think I'm crazy, but I do it anyway.


Well, that is... A curious thing to do. :wink:

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Re: Take AI; Wait 1 Year; Add Physics; Stir.

Postby Jplus » Mon Dec 10, 2012 8:18 am UTC

Your study time is for your personal development. I believe most parents would prefer to pay a bit more so you can fully develop in the way that suits you, rather than have you finish studying as soon as possible. But you should probably make your concerns explicit to them.

Also, you can consider it a job. You're investing in yourself so you'll be a better researcher later. It may be advantageous to take a bit more time if that helps you to do a better job at developing yourself.

I'm not saying that you should take longer... just pointing out that study is an investment rather than a consumption.
"There are only two hard problems in computer science: cache coherence, naming things, and off-by-one errors." (Phil Karlton and Leon Bambrick)

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Re: Take AI; Wait 1 Year; Add Physics; Stir.

Postby Bakemaster » Thu Dec 13, 2012 1:23 am UTC

boXd wrote:Uhm, I have one final question, though. Given that I've already 'wasted' my previous year because I couldn't figure out what major to choose, does anyone think it's weird/unwise/stupid to change majors again the next year? Not that I've actually made a decision yet, but this is somewhat of a major concern of mine - especially what other people think of me if I were to do this.

I don't think it would be weird, unwise, or stupid. I especially don't think you should concern yourself with what other people would think of you. What's really important is, what will you accomplish? Motivation is a very important indicator there.

I think you are questioning your motivation too much. It's not at all unhealthy to be motivated by the difficulty of a problem. It would be much worse if you found yourself completely unmotivated by an especially difficult problem. I also think it's wonderful to be motivated by an "impossible" dream, particularly as a college student. We don't truly know what in the world is impossible, and if nobody ever challenged what we believe to be impossible, we would live in a very dull world. They key is having some balance.

I would advise exploring the physics major without dropping the AI major altogether. When you decide that you really don't like one or the other, you can stop doing it. And if you keep liking them both, go ahead and finish them both. Don't worry about graduating later than you expected unless you can't afford the financial cost. People do things at their own pace and one year is nothing in the long run.
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Re: Take AI; Wait 1 Year; Add Physics; Stir.

Postby Jorpho » Sat Dec 15, 2012 5:16 am UTC

boXd wrote:On the other hand, I may not have the opportunity to study physics again, and this option effectively makes it impossible ever to get a job in that field, which is something I may well regret.
Most people will tell you that there are very few jobs in physics and that people with physics degrees tend to end up in careers that have nothing to do with physics. In fact, AI might very well bring you something closer to what you envision as a "physics job" than an actual physics degree would. How's that for motivation?


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