I have a strong background in programming and I'm interested in solving computational problems in other areas like physics or economics. During my bachelor studies I have been involved in several research projects. However, my contribution was mostly limited to solving computational problems. The theoretical side of our research was done by others and I'm far away from really understanding it.

Is there a possibility for someone like me to find a suitable job in academics? Someone, who likes to apply computer science, but not just as a tool for solving simple problems. I'm thinking more in terms of developing algorithms or methods for other sciences, which can be reused and published.

Or is it the fate of computer scientists, who work interdisciplinarily, to only be "used" for programming purposes and not contribute to their group's research any further?

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    @sfat I've had a lot of good experiences working in interdisciplinary fields, and would be happy to offer information about doing so. I'm afraid, however, that I cannot figure out what the answerable question is within what you have written. What is is about interdisciplinary work that you are wondering? – jakebeal Oct 25 '15 at 11:16
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    @sfat If the computer component is just IT, it's not really interdisciplinary research. Computer science is about a lot more than just coding. Can I suggest you attempt to focus your question on this issue? It will then likely draw a number of useful answers for you. – jakebeal Oct 25 '15 at 12:40
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    "I wanted to do research, but I noticed that I just wasn't good enough to do research in computer science." 1. How much time have you spent trying to do research before noticing you are not good enough? Do you know that many famous scientists were not appreciated for years and even were told that they won't do any good in research (i.e., Einstein)? 2. Do you realize that, even if you've observed yourself for quite some time trying to do research, your conclusion that you aren't good enough for it might just be an indication of your low self-esteem, which is by definition subjective? – Aleksandr Blekh Oct 25 '15 at 13:59
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    This is an interesting question, and seeing interesting answer would be nice. Upvote from me. – user42055 Oct 25 '15 at 14:42
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    @AleksandrBlekh 1. The time I have spent with research in computer science is limited. The thing is, when I am around computer scientists, I am nobody and everybody else seems to have a better understanding of all the topics I am interested in. When I am around scientists from other areas, they actively ask for my advice with their problems and value my expertise. 2. That's a good point. Thanks for bringing this up. – sfat Oct 25 '15 at 15:41

There is a concept of a research programmer, but it's pretty rare. My primary degrees are in maths and social sciences. While my PhD is in computer science, I use programming as a tool to do social science and am not really a great programmer. However, there is a lot of programming in the research projects that I tend to be involved in. For some projects, we would include a research programmer - someone with excellent programming skills who is doing methods development research. That is, the person would be developing new algorithms to solve some social science problem and implementing it. It sounds like this is what you are trying to find.

If so, such jobs do exist. However, they do not lead to a stable academic job since there's not a clear set of subjects that such a person can teach. Furthermore, the jobs are fairly rare.

Nevertheless, if you want this sort of job, you really need to work out what you ARE interested in. That is, economics or physics or whatever else. After that, you can think about what sort of problems are amenable to computational methods for their solutions. For example, look at computational social sciences (I do network science and agent-based modelling) and computational economics.

  • Good to hear that this is an actual job. However, I am actually looking for a more stable position in academics. My previous research topic also included agent-based modeling. What do you think of the future of this area? I hear it is not doing too good in central Europe, but currently rising in southeast Asia. – sfat Oct 25 '15 at 15:56
  • It is hard to tell what will happen in Asia in 5-10 years, however support positions like this tend to be rather weak for two reason: these are generally staff positions payed from grants, i.e money with fixed terms, also they are project oriented ie no long term direction that would easily justify long term contracts. – Greg Oct 26 '15 at 17:08

I would think you have a phenomenal career in store as an informaticist or data scientist/analyst. Perhaps look into such programs -- they will typically be newer. If you're not keen on another degree, you might even be able to secure a job doing data science now, for that matter.

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