Hi there. First off, nice to meet you! This is indeed my first post and I look forward to getting to know you all. I came to you with the gravest of burdens on my mind so let's jump right in, shall we? We have a lot to cover! This September I am starting my Honours Mathematics program at the University of Waterloo here in Canada. It is without a doubt our best concentration of math and computer science talent and has often been referred to as the MIT of the North. I like it but I was wondering how important an undergraduate education at a prestigious school (which means the States or UK) is to admissions at a prestigious graduate school. I don't think Waterloo is very well known (how many of you have even heard of it?) but I believe I will get the best math education in the country there--of course this doesn't amount to much if MIT or Cambridge, etc. doesn't consider me. Plaese assuage my fears and tell me all that matters is marks and research experience! More seriously, at the end of 1st year I have to choose a specialization (major) and I am torn between Mathematical Physics and Pure Mathematics. I have time to decide but knowing in advance would help me to put the focus on the appropriate things in 1st year. I took physics to ensure I meet the requirements for the Math Phys program, so there's no problem there, but I am having trouble weighing the merits of each. I like Mathematical Physics because it would let me apply the math (and see the impacts of my efforts with any hope) and the job prospects seem better to me--I have connections to the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics--and for more reasons that will become clear in a moment. I don't like it because I am afraid the program will be more procedural rather than conceptual and I really firmly believe in the bottom of my soul that while a functional command of a topic is imperative to learn it, a conceptual understanding of it is essential in order to innovate and actually accomplish anything new... with the exception perhaps of some monsters. As for pure math, I like it because I think math is beautiful and I like just the culture that is associated with academia and mathematics in particular. My one big deterrent is that sometimes I doubt whether I am smart enough to do this. I come from a small high school where things like AP or IB, etc. weren't offered and there was no math club or participation in many contests. Thus, when I meet the kids from the big cities with so much more experience in university-level maths who have the parents and money to back them I really feel like ****, like I am at a huge disadvantage that only a tremendous natural aptitude for the subject can negate--aptitude that I really don't know if I have. Don't get me wrong, I graduated with High Honours (+90% CAV) and have a huge passion and entusiasm for both math and theoretical physics (math more) but I'm not sure if I can cut it at the most competitive levels when the time comes. I mean, pure math... I know there are pressures to publish and stuff (publish or perish, right?) but I sit here and think, "how the hell am I suppose to come up with new math? Stuff not only original but insightful? I can't even understand half the books I buy in a pathetic attempt to catch up with the more priveleged students." For this reason, I lean towards math phys because it seems easier to me. NOTE: Am I right in believing that Math Phys is the same as theoretical physics? Sort of a physics degree where you skip the labs and focus more on the math and concepts? That's my impression of it... a direct route to the theoretical side of physics in undergrad. I've always thought that the more theoretical it gets, the harder it gets because I can do experiments and get paid for it even if I'm only really making a minor contribution but with the theoretical side of the coin you need to think up new things and if you can't, you,re done. I just don't want to get in over my head. I know that to do well in something you need to be honest with yourself and first judge if you are actually good at it. I'm sure if I ever got to the forefront of research in math or math phys that I would be better equipped and that would make me more confident but I ask myself whether I will do something majorly important or throw in my $0.02 and then fade away. The big problem is that I know for certain that if I did something easier like chem or bio I could have big acheivements. But I guess while many in the math and physics world might be more succesful in 'easier' or less rigourous fields, they do it not only because they love it, but because they are the only ones who can. tl;dr -- do you have to be a monster brain to not only survive in the world of grad school and beyond but make meaningful contributions? Also, with a PhD in just pure old math, can you still work with physicists and work on making new math for physics, etc. or is this really the realm of mathematical physics? (Please, I know it is probably possible, but is it likely or is it really hard?) Thoughts, please. And sorry if this was disjointed, I needed to vent!