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Are you allow to teach Math with a Ph.D in Physics?

  1. Aug 4, 2010 #1
    I've read that Stephen Hawkings teaches Math in Cambridge also, but he only has a Ph.D in Physics.

    Now I love both subjects equally, but I know that in order to really study Physics I am going to need Ph.D in Physics so they allow me to play with those toys. When you become an instructor, whether it is a college or even high school (which I want to avoid at all cost), aer you allow to teach Math? Or do I have to be really famous like Hawkings to teach Math with a Ph.D in Physics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 4, 2010 #2

    I think for the most part you're probably restricted to teaching only physics courses, but I am not sure...I know Brian Greene and Michio Kaku also teach math apparently, but like you mentioned they are famous.

    I would be willing to bet you could teach some math courses that were basically mathematical physics. For example, there is a course at my university called Manifold theory, and I think a physics professor teaches it, yet its offered through the math department. For courses like calculus or algebra though, I'm not sure though. That would be cool if you could do that.
  4. Aug 4, 2010 #3
    I thought micho kaku teaches only astronomy and physics?
  5. Aug 4, 2010 #4


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    I know loads of people with PhD's in physics and who lecture mathematics. Of course, one would not expect, say, an experimental physicist to be able to teach very pure maths, but I'd say that anyone with a PhD in physics should be able to teach all first year maths modules and at least some second and third year stuff.
  6. Aug 4, 2010 #5
    The real answer to this question is, "It depends". I go to a pretty good university and there's an instructor here with only a BS in physics and he teaches some upper level math and physics courses. However, he's been teaching in universities since the 70's and things were a little different back then.
  7. Aug 4, 2010 #6
    So you think theoretical physicists have just as much power in the math department as professor with a math ph.d? Or I am getting carried away here?
  8. Aug 4, 2010 #7
    In terms of teaching courses, I would assume that theoretical physicists are in the same boat as mathematicians. The difference between them is probably in research, and not in teaching ability.
  9. Aug 4, 2010 #8
    He didn't say, or even imply that at all.
  10. Aug 5, 2010 #9


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    I don't think Hawking taught courses in pure maths, maybe some courses in theoretical physics which include a lot of math, mainly for graduate students.

    At my university physics professors teach only courses in physics or mathematical methods for physics majors, the courses in math are taught solely by the math department.

    I would think that if you have affiliations with both departments then you can teach courses for physics majors and for math majors, but this is not common at all.
  11. Aug 5, 2010 #10
    At my University and to my knowledge, no; physics Ph.D's do not teach math courses. Maybe in a pinch, if they needed to run a class or something. Everyone should remember that mathematics and physics differs in philosophy. I mean that one should approach mathematics (at least pure topics) differently than one approaches physics.
  12. Aug 5, 2010 #11
    But really just stretching it even more, what if that physicist turned out to be Witten?
  13. Aug 5, 2010 #12
    There aren't any formal rules in college. There are more formal rules at high school, but they are rather flexible.

    Depends on the type of math. For high schools and lower division classes, the answer is generally yes, because they often don't have the people they need. For upper division classes, it's harder, but it really depends on the school.

    One thing, just because you know math or are even a genius at math doesn't mean that you are qualified to teach math. I know tons of people that are math geniuses that are completely incompetent at teaching math, and sometimes being a math genius hurts you in teaching math because you just can't understand why something is not obvious to the person that you are trying to teach.

    I've found that in teaching basic math, that I'm often acting more like a therapist and a psychologist than a mathematician.

    Stephen Hawking is a brilliant physicist, but I have no idea how good or bad he is as an Algebra I tutor.
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