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Applied mathematics?

  1. May 20, 2008 #1
    I just finished my freshman year at a very highly esteemed LAC. I started off wanting to do physics but I did not continue with it like I probably should have. I am on track to be a math major. I was wondering if I got a math major and got a phd in applied mathematics, what kinds of fields could I go into? Could I go into certain aspects of physics? Or maybe intelligence (another thing ive always been interested in). I'm just not exactly sure what applied mathematics is. Also, would it be worth it to work to minor in physics or is that unnecessary?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 20, 2008 #2
    If you want to do physics, do physics. Even the problems mathematical physicists work on are math problems. If you want to do math that has some connection to physics, look into mathematical physics. A lot of mathematicians work on fluid dynamics, numerical solutions to the Navier-Stokes equations, general relativity, string theory, quantum field theory, etc.

    But again, if you want to get a phd in applied math because you think it will let you do physics, that's a very bad idea.
  4. May 20, 2008 #3
    the thing is idk if i want to do physics...some of the physics fields that interest me seem to be included in applied math and appied math seems to apply to other thigns as well in case i wanted to go that way. I basically want to know more about what exactly applied math can be
  5. May 20, 2008 #4
    You noted that you said a lot things in physics include applied mathematics, that is true. That is not doing applied mathematics, that is USING applied mathematics. A slight but crucial difference. If your interest lies in using applied mathematics to study physics, then stick with physics and learn lots of mathematics. If you have a desire to prove theorems, develop numerical analysis methods, extend results, etc, then go for applied mathematics.
  6. May 20, 2008 #5
    The thing is im not sure exactly what I want to do yet. Ive always thought about maybe wanting to work at a government research lab or like the Naval research laboratory. If i got a PhD in say, applied mathematics studying computational fluid dynamics (which is apparently in applied math depts) could I work at a research lab? Or if I focused on Statistics (which im not sure is its own department or applied math? ive seen both) could I do something like that
  7. May 20, 2008 #6
    Correct, many computational fluid dynamic classes are housed by applied mathematics. That tends to be out of tradition though. Statistics tends to be merged in with math departments until graduate school and the same can be said about applied mathematics. Not many places state side have a whole department for applied mathematics.

    I'm not sure if getting a PhD in applied mathematics and then getting a job at a government research lab is easy or the best route, but I am sure it is possible with a PhD in applied mathematics.

    The real question is, would the field you be studying actually be something you enjoy? A career is an important decision. You will be spending most of your awake day, and week working on your career, so make sure you actually like applied mathematics.

    You got time and I see no reason why you cannot double major in mathematics and physics until graduate school. That way you'll have a better understanding of what applied math really is and what physics can offer you.
  8. May 20, 2008 #7
    yeah true. the only reason I am trying to figure it out is because i didnt take physics last semester (and because the way the classes work out), to not totally cram physics classes into my schedule i would have to self-study mechanics over the summer and take a placement test to get into E&M next semester so im trying to figure out if it is worth it
  9. May 21, 2008 #8
    I think you could go into physics through an applied math program, if that's what you're asking... There's several multidisciplinary graduate programs in something like "computational and applied math" where almost everybody works on applications (like physics) but also takes classes in math and programming.

    You seem to be remarking about how the study of mathematics allows for great versatility to do work outside mathematics, say, in physics. I really agree with this remark and I have talked to at least one professor in Canada who strongly agreed with this idea. In fact, the professor I talked to, who was originally from Russia, had mentioned how he originally got a Ph.D. in Physics (in Russia), and then later went on to get another Ph.D. in mathematics, taking a whole another five years.... Obviously this man felt that his initial Ph.D. did not suffice. He strongly believed in the mathematician's versatility in research work. Why does mathematics training make you a good physicist? Because advanced physics can be extremely mathematical.

    I basically disagree with this remark from zhentil. I like to think of it this way. Everyone who uses lots of mathematics, be it a financial analyst or a physicist or anything else, has the need to understand his mathematics to a certain degree. This degree varies for everyone differently; some people are content to just use mathematics passingly, whereas others insist on knowing the mathematics exactly. If you happen to be one of those people who really needs to see all the inner workings of the math, including the proofs, then so be it. Some people are just more into the math than others. In other words, maybe some physicists need to be educated by mathematicians to be happy.

    It is true that the study of mathematics _by itself_ will not make you a successful scientist or engineer. But I think most everyone would agree that the better you are with math, the better you can be with physics. So if you can study in a math program but still retain a solid education in another subject, I don't think there's anything to criticize here.
    Last edited: May 21, 2008
  10. May 21, 2008 #9
    There's the rub, and what a rub it is. If you get a Ph.D. in applied math, while also getting a Ph.D. in physics, you'll be prepared for physics research.

    ... Or you could just get the physics Ph.D. While there's nothing standing in the way of people who take an applied math track getting into physics, I agree that if you already know you want to be a physicist, ideally you should pursue physics while taking math classes relevant to your interests.
  11. May 21, 2008 #10
    No you don't need two PhDs! I don't think that's what the other poster meant. You should study and be aware of one field while working in the other.

    Having a PhD represents your ability to work through long research projects semi-independently and contribute to your field. That is the most important thing that degree signifies. You don't need to demonstrate it twice. If you want to switch after grad school, just switch, people do it all the time. You don't have to start over for two fields that are so close to each other.

    Andrassy, you are a freshman, relax. You have years to figure it out. You don't know until you take more classes and maybe do an REU or something like that. You have had almost no taste of either physics or math yet.
  12. May 21, 2008 #11
    I was teasing about having to get two Ph.D.s; that description of what a Ph.D. represents is absolutely correct.

    The point I was making is that it's more difficult to study applied math and keep abreast of developments in physics than to do the same if you're studying physics. Learning applied math techniques can make you a better physicist, but you better know physics too, so it seems rather roundabout to suggest to someone to go into applied math and then do physics.
  13. May 21, 2008 #12
    Oh sorry I might have caught that if I had my coffee before going on the forum. D'oh!
  14. Jun 25, 2008 #13
    Okay so I stopped thinking about this for a while but I had a conversation about it with someone and it came back up so I have a new question. What can you do with a PhD in applied math? Could you work for NASA or somewhere like Los Alamos, or maybe a defense contractor like Lockheed martin? And if so what kinds of careers are available
  15. Jun 26, 2008 #14
    Isn't this the same question you asked in your first post?
  16. Jun 26, 2008 #15
    I agree. I am a mathematics and physics major and I am going to get a PhD in applied mathematics precisely because I don't want to do physics.
  17. Jun 26, 2008 #16
    yeah but i brought up going into physics and thats where the discussion went. I still have no quite figured out what jobs in industry are suitable for the education
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