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27year old math major going into physics

  1. Jul 22, 2009 #1
    Hello all,

    I want to know your opinions on my situation.

    I am 27 years old. I graduated from Cal State Long Beach in 2005 with a B.S. in pure mathematics. My gpa was not that great (3.0) and started the masters in applied math program the following year but got an F and then a C in a course (complex analysis and pde, resp). I think I just wasn’t passionate about math anymore. My passion has always been astronomy and physics, and I wanted to get a good foundation in math so that is why I majored in math. I keep up to date with physics news as well as study it on my own. I took undergraduate mechanics my freshman year and got a B in the course, but I have not taken anymore physics since then.

    I would like to be able to study physics/astronomy at the PHD level but given the standards of admission for any school in California, and given the sh$%ty economy here, I think I might have to go out of state to get into a program.

    Before and since I graduated, I have worked as a civil engineer and currently work in the accounting field. I know that these are not my passions and ultimately I want to become a physics professor/researcher. I have a 1 year old daughter with my wife, and I feel that I want to show her that anything is possible and not to settle for the sure thing career like medicine, law, etc. But to follow your passions instead.

    What does everyone think? Given my 3.0 gpa and my limited physics, are there any programs in the US that would take a chance on me? I do plan in the next year to take at least 2 graduate physics courses at a local university here in CA.

    Thank you all in advance!!!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 22, 2009 #2
    I believe some programs will have a 3.0 gpa as either an official cut off, or unofficial cut off for acceptance. If you were at or above that Mendoza line, that's probably good.
    If you went back and took 12-18 credits or so in physics and did very well, I'd have to think a program would give you a shot.

    I'm in a similar situation. I have a degree in Kinesiology from 2001. I'm currently back in an undergraduate program in Applied Mathematics with a Physics minor. I've spoken with the graduate advisor at a school I'm hoping to apply to for a PhD program in physics and he has said my course of action is fine. He said I may have to take a 400 level physics course or two once I enter the program, but said that is actually fairly common.

    If you wanted to do theoretical physics, the math background would definitely help you.

    Keep in mind that this is not from personal experience, I haven't been accepted into a graduate program, so perhaps someone else could offer some better advice.
  4. Jul 22, 2009 #3


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    Complex analysis and PDE are a big part of physics
  5. Jul 22, 2009 #4
    Rarely on the level of a pure math graduate course in them though.
  6. Jul 22, 2009 #5
    If all you have is a freshman course in physics, then that won't be enough, because your GPA in math isn't quite high enough to compensate. I'm not for sure a program would accept you, as you would have to spend at least a year taking undergraduate physics courses, maybe more. Some programs do this, but you're missing 3 years of courses compared to their other applicants, plus many applicants have good math backgrounds too with high GPAs.

    Depending on your situation, I would try and go back to school to get a second bachelor's in physics. I don't know how schools handle this, but I would think you wouldn't have to take all the core courses again if you attend a Cal State school again, since you graduated fairly recently. This would allow you to take around a year or two to get your bachelors in physics, make sure your GPA this time around stays up, and then you will have much better qualifications.

    j93 is right that complex analysis and PDEs are important to physics, so those grades won't look good at all, especially since they were at the graduate level. This is all my point of view, so be sure to listen to others' advice as well. Of course, you could always contact a potential program and ask them what they might recommend to bolster your credentials.
  7. Jul 23, 2009 #6


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    Just curious, which courses are these? I can't think of any grad level physics courses that would be accessible to you given that you've only done freshman mechanics.
  8. Jul 23, 2009 #7
    I also made the foolish mistake of taking maths courses when I was really interested in physics and ended up doing courses in complex analysis and pdes that were not related to the (basic) physics courses I was doing at the time. I ground them out and got reasonable grades, but it felt like chewing sawdust!

    Be *really* sure what you are interested in. If you are interested in physics do physics (single honours)! You will be directed to the appropriate mathematics courses to take, and at the appreopriate time.
  9. Jul 23, 2009 #8

    Whoops...I read that wrong. I thought he said he was taking the next year to take at least 2 undergraduate physics courses.
    I'd be interested in what program is letting him take graduate courses.
    In my experience, physics departments seem to be particularly insistent on a student having the appropriate pre-requisites for a course.
  10. Jul 23, 2009 #9
    Thank you all for the EXCELLENT advice. Pretty much any Cal State will let you take a grad physics course through open university as long as the professor allows you to. I have talked to the professors and they say that as long as you can keep up, you are welcome to take the course. The 2 courses I was planning on taking in the next year would be Mathematical Methods of Physics, and Classical Mechanics.

    Someone mentioned I should get a second bachelor's in physics and then apply to a phd program. What if I did a masters- would phd schools want to see a masters in physics instead of a second bachelor's?
  11. Jul 23, 2009 #10
    The point of my suggesting that was I don't think it is very probable that you would be admitted to a masters program in physics. You only have a freshman physics course and made a B in it. Even if you were admitted, I think you might have trouble with the courses and could finish with low grades, further hurting your chances of getting in a PhD program. PhD programs and masters programs are usually identical for the first two years anyway.
  12. Jul 23, 2009 #11
    If I was admitted into a masters program, I would still need to make up a few courses- so it would be a conditional admittance.

    I guess my question is should I take the route of doing a full masters program then apply for a phd, or take maybe 4-5 physics courses (some graduate, some undergraduate) without being in an official masters program- then apply for a phd program somewhere in the states or abroad?
  13. Jul 23, 2009 #12


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    Mathmatical Methods is complex analysis and pde redux


    Grad. Classical Mechanics has a decent amount of linear algebra and PDE's.
  14. Jul 23, 2009 #13
    I guess I really don't know what would be the best route there. Like I mentioned, you might just ask someone who is more in tune with these things, e.g. a master's program or PhD program you would apply to. Just ask them what they think you should do. I contacted programs before I applied, and a few of them were really friendly in looking at my credentials to give me advice. You want to get as many people's advice here as possible to help find the best course of action.
  15. Jul 24, 2009 #14
    I'd be very careful with taking the masters in physics path! My masters on astronomy was an incredibly difficult course, and I'd have been totally lost if I only had physics at freshman level (i was pretty lost even having taken appropriate advanced courses!) You are likely to find that little support is given, compared to that given to UGs, you will be expected to know advanced quantum physics, E&M, Thermo, etc. If you ask a silly quiestion you are likely be directed to the hardest book on these subjects and told "read that, I haven't time to hand-hold you through stuff you should already know..." Note, you shouldn't get accepted to an MSc programme in physics, but if they are trying to "fill numbers" they may let you in, even suspecting you will fail...

    In summary, take the courses needed to get a BSc physics under your belt, and make sure the school has a good reputation for teaching!
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