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I am currently entering my third year of undergraduate. When I entered college I was torn between physics and computer science and ultimately chose computer science. I like cs, but I'd like to apply it towards physics applications. I've spent the past two summers working at software companies as an intern, so I have no research experience as of now. I need to start applying for research positions soon if I am to get into graduate school I've heard.

I am wondering if it is possible to get into a masters program for physics with my undergraduate in cs? My school offers a minor program for physics which covers mechanics, E & M, light/waves/heat, and quantum which I am currently working towards as well. For the research, is it even worth applying to physics labs if my major is computer science or should I stick to applying to cs labs? In a physics lab maybe I could aid in preparing apparatus that involve programming or electronics?

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    I can post a full answer tomorrow if you like, but as someone with a fairly fresh Ph.D in physics, you will flounder in Masters coursework without the proper physics prep. Aug 12 '17 at 1:44
  • @user1717828 Even if it is, say, computational physics? Aug 12 '17 at 6:03
  • There is a concept in some fields of a research programmer or research software engineer, where you work in an interdisciplinary team using your computing skills for non-CS applications. I am not sure if this is true in physics, but you may want to find some physics labs and see if they have computing staff and then talk to those staff about their job to see if it's what you want.
    – JenB
    Aug 12 '17 at 9:27
  • By the way, which region of the world are you asking about? Aug 12 '17 at 13:08
  • @MarkoKarbevski Midwest United States of America
    – user67123
    Aug 12 '17 at 13:09
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I would say you would absolutely be able to get in to a physics masters program as long as you have taken the pre-requisites for the specific program. Most programs have a list of courses that must be taken to be considered for admission.

I got my undergraduate degree in Geology and Geophysics, but I became more interested in engineering towards the later part of my undergraduate. So I was sure to take all of the requisite engineering courses that I needed to get into an engineering masters program. Now I'm actually working on a PhD in Civil Engineering.

Moral of the story... It is absolutely possible, but be sure to check out the program requirements for the physics programs you are interested in applying.

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A few years ago I hired a post-doc with a non-traditional background. They had gone to one of the 'great books' colleges and did well, but eventually decided they wanted to go into physics. That is pretty hard to do at a great books institute in a fashion amenable to grad school applications. So, after graduation he went to a physics masters program (I won't name it since that would be a shopping question) specifically aimed at being a bridge from not-physics-enough undergraduate degrees to a PhD program. Clearly, since I hired them as a post-doc they succeeded.

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  • I've never heard of the "great books" designation, and the list I found at Wikipedia seems quite eclectic and probably not what you had in mind: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_books#Universities Everything from Michigan to Baylor to Iona.
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 2 '20 at 22:59
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    The canonical (US) one is St John's College (sjc.edu), but there are others. The paragraph in your Wiki link starting with "There are only a few true "Great Books Programs" still in operation." is the shorter, more realistic set of them.
    – Jon Custer
    Oct 2 '20 at 23:16
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is possible to get into a masters program for physics with my undergraduate in cs?

In principle yes, but it will depend on the University and program. Also, you might be obliged to take some additional classes to catch up with the basics in physics. The best way is to directly ask their respective program administrator attaching your undergrad syllabus.

For the research, is it even worth applying to physics labs if my major is computer science or should I stick to applying to cs labs?

For research it should not matter very much at all which degree you have as long as you manage to convince the person in charge of the research group (group leader / professor) that you will be of value for his research. From my point of view this will certainly be the case with CS (e.g. I did my undergrad in CS and then worked at a medical university for many years including doing a PhD there and eventually becoming assistant professor there as well).

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I am wondering if it is possible to get into a masters program for physics with my undergraduate in cs?

Absolutely! Especially if it's for quantum computing, computational physics, or physics of information.

My school offers a minor program for physics which covers mechanics, E & M, light/waves/heat, and quantum which I am currently working towards as well.

Good idea. This will not hurt!

For the research, is it even worth applying to physics labs if my major is computer science or should I stick to applying to cs labs?

Yes it is absolutely worth it! You may wish to contact some professors in the physics department where you're applying (especially ones who you might wish to work with as a research student), to get a feel for the situation, because while I say it's in general absolutely worth it to apply, specific universities/departments can have their own unique quirks.

In a physics lab maybe I could aid in preparing apparatus that involve programming or electronics?

That is completely true, especially if you're going into computational physics, theoretical physics, or mathematical physics (which tend to involve a lot of programming), or experimental physics involving a lot of electronics (assuming you took some electronics or hardware courses in your CS degree).

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