I was curious as to the ability to move between different academic disciplines with an advanced degree in TCS. So would I be able to move, with a little bit of elbow grease, between physics and biology and mathematics? I am looking to be flexible and able to apply my TCS studies to several disciplines and wondering if this is the correct avenue to do so. Or do I go for an advanced degree in math and just leverage my CS background?

I've tried perusing the site for an answer and haven't quite found what I'm looking for. So I apologize if there is a similar post.



1 Answer 1


Short answer: it depends.

Long answer: a degree in TCS can help you a lot in areas like biology (bioinformatics, computational biology, Dick Karp!) and physics (quantum computing, for example). But it almost entirely depends on the area of TCS you focus on. Obviously, a specialty in scheduling theory won't help much with quantum cryptography.

An advanced degree in math can also help you in these disciplines: ultimately though, it depends on what kind of work you want to do. For modeling, math background is great. For computational aspects, a TCS degree might be more helpful.

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    $\begingroup$ TCS is also good for modelling, depending on the kinds of modelling one does. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 20:20
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    $\begingroup$ for example ? I'm not disputing, just curious. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ One can use logic via tools/languages such as prolog, Alloy, Maude etc for modelling systems at a higher level of abstraction than code. There's all the work on the pi-calculus and other process algebras for distributed systems and, more recently, for modelling biological systems. The field of Knowledge Representation (heavily based in logic) is solely about modelling, in the sense of representing and reasoning about real world systems. Computer science has devoted a lot of energy to developing tools for modelling, ranging from UML to automata and beyond. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 20:47
  • $\begingroup$ ah excellent. good point. once again I need to take off my theory A hat. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 21:12
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    $\begingroup$ @lilott: Quantum computing is as much a TCS subject as a physics one, and for foundations of QM, TCS is probably a reasonable background, but it will be less useful for things like nuclear physics which is much more dependent on path integrals, etc., for which a physics degree provides a better background. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 30, 2011 at 23:25

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