I've been considering a career change for awhile and recently discovered the Two-Slit Experiment, which, to put it frankly, blew my mind. I then started some hefty reading and investigation into all things Quantum (Bell, entanglement, QIT), which has led me here.

I have 20 years experience in IT working as a programmer, having graduated with a Bachelor in Computer Science back in the early 90s. As mentioned, I have been considering a career change for some time (having become quite burned out in this industry), and have found something that has piqued my interest more than anything else. I am not yet sure which area of "Quantum" I will be most drawn to, possibly Quantum Information Theory/Science.

I am aware that there is a significant amount of Maths and Physics pre-requisites involved. It seems likely, given that I have not done any Maths or Physics study probably since I was doing my CS undergrad, that I will need to start over with an undergrad in Science/Physics in order to get the fundamentals.

So my questions are:

  1. What is the ideal path of education to get to QIT/QIS or QM?
  2. Is the path to QIT/QIS also via the Physics route? Can I leverage my CS background?
  3. Resources (books, online courses, etc) that would help with the transition from CS-type thinking to Physics/Maths-type thinking.
  4. I'm considering Astrophysics as a minor (due to interest), but wondering whether it would be useful and complementary to Quantum Theory.

Apologies if this encompasses elements too broad or off-topic, I'm trying to get a better understanding on what is to come following this path. Thanks in advance.

  • 3
    This is a very interesting question; I'm looking forward to the answers as I feel part of the advice you will get may be applicable to other mid-career field changes.
    – biohazard
    Mar 18, 2014 at 9:24
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    I would point out that most people are switching out of physics to fields like CS these days, simply due to the lack of jobs available doing physics research. And young people who have been dedicated to physics their entire lives probably have a distinct advantage in getting those jobs. So I would advise against pinning your hopes on physics as a career. If you just want to learn physics at least up to the level of quantum mechanics, that's another matter. So which is it: are you looking to move into a career in physics, or just to learn about it?
    – David Z
    Mar 18, 2014 at 17:41
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    @DavidZ True, but QIT is arguably just as much computer science as it is physics.
    – JeffE
    Mar 18, 2014 at 22:06
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    You say you're "considering a career change." Physics is not a career. There are various careers you can have with a degree in physics. You can work on petroleum exploration, or teach physics at a community college, or work as an experimentalist at a national lab, or various other things. A degree in physics is not like a degree in engineering or law that qualifies you to do one specific job. Can you pin down what it is you really want to do?
    – user1482
    Mar 19, 2014 at 5:54
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    @mbyrr just curious, as you posed this question 5 years ago, what happened? How far have you taken the switch to (Astro)physics ? It would be great if you can kindly share your experience?
    – despot
    Feb 9, 2020 at 12:49

3 Answers 3

  1. Yes you can leverage. At my university, these people work in the EECS department. You could just apply to be a graduate student.

  2. Study vector calculus and linear algebra.

  3. Not really. However, "big data" is quite popular in astro/astrophysics currently, so maybe you could get hired as a programmer.

  • Thanks. From my understanding (and the folks over in physics.se) I would need to know QM and that is built on classic mechanics, and since I currently have neither it is not likely I could do directly into a graduate program in this area. Investigations into said programs seems to support this, pre-req-wise.
    – mbyrr
    Mar 19, 2014 at 12:35
  • On point 3: software.ac.uk/blog/… Mar 19, 2014 at 20:13

I first posted this as a comment but feel it deserves to be an answer. If you want to contribute to science, and still love coding but want to develop software for scientific purposes, check out this blog: http://www.software.ac.uk/blog/2013-08-23-ten-reasons-be-research-software-engineer

All I could add would be needless repeating of what you can read in the blog :)


If you can prove you are sufficiently 'self-taught' you maybe able to go direct into a graduate program. If not you will need an undergraduate degree in Physics. The first year often follows a single text book, so could be quite easily self taught, latter years tend to diverge a bit but generally follow fairly closely to the Feynman lectures (freely available online) - these would be great recommended reading if you wanted to start 'thinking' like a physicist, but other text books would be required for content.

Addressing point 4: I spent half my undergraduate degree doing Astrophysics and then went on to a PhD centred around quantum mechanics. Astrophysics wasn't of great use to me following the degree but it was really interesting! If I was to do another PhD it would be in astro-(planetary) physics.

As someone else mentioned: I left physics (as the vast majority of people do) for a job not in 'physics'. Most of the jobs which will be open to you with a physics degree you could probably walk straight into as an experienced programmer...

  • Comment: If you are interested in reading the Feynman lectures I would recommend getting a copy from your local library / buying the set. Not the easiest thing to read online, despite being free.
    – FChm
    Apr 30, 2019 at 7:30

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