The field of math being more competitive than the field of physics?by R.P.F. Tags: competitive, field, math, physics 

#19
Jul1711, 02:37 AM

P: 4

My experience has been the exact opposite. I've taken quite a few math classes and have never received less than an A in any of them; however, in the one introductory physics course I took, I was lucky to scrape by with a C+. I think physics requires some knowledge about how things work in addition to purely abstract mathematical knowledge; moreover, some physics problems are Putnamlike, in that they require a clever insight, whereas a brute force approach works for many mathematical proofs. Also, quantitatively speaking, physics graduate students have a higher GRE score, on average, than math graduate students.




#20
Jul1911, 03:25 PM

P: 210





#21
Jul1911, 03:33 PM

P: 210

Of course physics also requires a whole lot of intuition. It is quite different from mathematical intuition though. 



#22
Jul1911, 03:59 PM

Mentor
P: 6,040

I took a topology class that used Munkres as its text. There were two (and only two) physics students in the class, and they got the two highest marks on the final exam. 



#23
Jul1911, 04:26 PM

P: 210

I definitely believe the situation varies a lot. Those two students must have already taken a bunch of advanced math classes before topology so they had the mathematical sophistication required. I believe that mathematical sophistication played an important role in their careers. 



#24
Jul1911, 09:27 PM

P: 412

I think the heart of what I am saying is that mathematical intuition seems simply more systematic. Which means when the ideas presented are relatively manageable, which is generally true at the undergrad level, the major to those who are not opposed to thinking the math way requires a lot less work than many other technical ones. Of course, when you get to higher level mathematics, quickly the students who can do it drop in number, because the pace at which you are expected to learn grows very rapid, and the level of mastery you are expected to have also deepens. A combo of greater technicality and deeper ideas makes mathematics infinitely more challenging  it is the depth of the ideas and translating them in technical detail that makes higher level math tough, not the leaps of intuition so much, at least as far as I can tell  I think the sort of intuition you employ changes very little as you go. The thing is you can do a lot at the undergrad level with just fairly decent mathematical intuition. 



#25
Jul2011, 01:37 PM

P: 4





#26
Jul2011, 07:27 PM

P: 322

looks like this thread is turning into another "math vs. physics" debate. In regards to the OP's question, there are some areas of physics that are more competitive than some areas of mathematics, and there are some areas of mathematics that are more competitive than some areas of physics. They are both very, very difficult areas of study and shouldn't be compared because they ARE different.




#27
Jul2011, 10:57 PM

P: 1

I disagree when it comes to undergrad. I am also a double major physics and math and to me linear algebra was my hardest class (b/c I didn't know how to do proofs then) and it just gets easier from there. Whereas in physics it only gets harder. Quantum mechanics and electronics are one of the hardest while classical mechanics and thermodynamics are not as difficult. I agree with you a grad PhD. student in physics probably has it easier than one in mathematics (because they have to originate their own proofs while in physics you can run experiments), but undergrad is definitely not the case.




#28
Jul2011, 11:21 PM

P: 412

In advanced mathematics, the level of converting is stepped up significantly, but it's usually from one kind of theoretical to another kind  it's equally hard, but different. 



#29
Jul2111, 01:01 AM

P: 1,089





#30
Jul2111, 11:25 AM

P: 714

Yup, math is so easy that I just head some of the psychology students say "Hey man, lets take this measure theory course, I hear it is an easy A!"
:P On a more serious note, I think Physics has much more romanticism associated with it. Some evidence is the existence of this forum, rather than an equivalent math forum. There are probably 20 physics documentaries made and 10 popular books written for every one about mathematics. Perhaps the expectations of people lured into physics are different than those who choose mathematics. I agree with the assessment of 'different' rather than 'harder.' However, the sociology of teaching comes into play. Universities in the early part of the century had a mandate to get engineers (and later, physicists) trained up for the emerging industrial economy. Courses had to be functional and you didn't want to crush too many of your students. Mathematics, on the other hand, has always struggled with its elitist past and many courses used to be just plain grueling. This wasn't because the subject was harder, just that profs taught it much faster and without as much allowance for people who didn't get it right away. I like to think that this has been changing... 



#31
Jul2111, 11:37 PM

P: 496





#32
Jul2211, 12:03 AM

P: 1,089





#33
Jul2211, 12:36 AM

P: 714

This does not invalidate your general point about obsession with genius, however. It is unhealthy and surfaces far too much in these forums... 



#34
Jul2211, 02:50 PM

P: 496

Anyway, I was generalizing to some degree, but I think everyone recognizes the whole spiel I was trying to describe. 



#35
Jul2211, 03:24 PM

P: 1,089

Yeah, can't comment on that, since I don't know today's big names and how the field of mathematics research actually works. I have a suspicion a lot of what you described is also just false public perception. I can't back it up, though.




#36
Jul2211, 10:07 PM

P: 172

Notice how few people in modern day get mentioned. And yet we have to keep in mind that the world population is larger than ever, and education's penetration only increases over time. It's possible in the early 1900s that the greatest minds didn't even get educated, but today that's far less likely to occur for obvious reasons.



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