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Math B.S. in Math vs. PhD in Physics

  1. Aug 1, 2009 #1
    Hey all,
    I'm a double major in math and physics right now. I like math and I'll probably take a lot of math courses anyway, definitely get a minor, but I wanted a double major partly because of job options- in case I ever want a job that goes to bachelors in math more than bachelors in physics. Its more of a contingency than a necessity, but I like having a plan B.

    However, the math major is lowering my gpa significantly and, just as importantly, using up a lot of my time. Time which could be spent bettering my physics skills directly. I've also heard on this forum that grad schools don't really care about a double major so I may be harming my chances by tanking my gpa for nothing.

    So I guess my question is, how much would employers care about my bachelors in math if they saw I had a PhD in Physics? I don't want to risk a PhD for a Bachelors if the bachelors won't buy me anymore options than the PhD would have....

    Comments? Answers?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 1, 2009 #2
    Not at all. There's kinda a saying:

    "When you get to undergrad, no one cares where you went to highschool.
    When you get to grad, no one cares where you went to undergrad.
    When you get to postdoc, no one cares where you went to grad.
    When you get your assistant professorship, no one cares where you did your postdoc.
    And so on"
  4. Aug 1, 2009 #3


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    I have to agree. Great marks with a single major beats good marks with a double major. The advantage of the double major would be that it would keep the door open fro graduate studies in either subject.

    Based on my experience in academia, they care about the highest degree awarded. Relevant master's level work can also be of interest. About the only time undergraduate work might come up is if you were involved in some pretty interesting/applicable research. If you have a Ph.D. in physics, your undergraduate could have been in 18th century balloon animals for all that it matters.

    Work in industry is a little different. There they care that you have skills that they're looking for. Since neither math nor physics is a professional degree, it's not likely to make a big difference.
  5. Aug 4, 2009 #4
    It depends on how much math you need for the grad program in physics that you are looking at. At some liberal arts schools, you NEED a math major to be MIT/CalTech Ph.D. material. At my school, for example, Real Analysis is the capstone (final difficult course) of the math major. But you are supposed to have real analysis to get into the physics grad program at CalTech. Hence, if I want a Ph.D. at CalTech, I have to fulfil the requirements for a math major at my school.

    The real question to be asking yourself is, is the math major going to help you get into a Ph.D. program in physics? What math background do the grad schools you're considering require? What grad schools/programs are you considering? Is your school rigorous enough that you don't have to worry about extra math? Because extra math *can* make or break grad applications to the best physics grad places. If you don't have at least linear algebra, differential equations, and some form of analysis, you're not going to be able to compete.

    An even bigger question is -- what do you want to do with your degree? Do you want to teach? Do research? What year are you in your degree? You have to start thinking about this even if you're just a freshman. Why did you get into physics? Is it because you're best at technical stuff, or is it because you want to make discoveries? If you want to make discoveries, you'll want to go into research. If you want to make a lot of money and build things, you'll want to go into industry. If you did it just because you're good at technical stuff, you need to start figuring out what you are truly passionate about in life and go for a career that in some way helps you be more in contact with that.
  6. Aug 4, 2009 #5
    Another thing: a Ph.D. is always better than a B.S. for getting upper level, challenging, research driven jobs, or jobs where you are inventing stuff or consulting for a major industrial company.

    A B.S. is better to just get a regular Ma/Pop kind of job. You'll do one step in the research, but you won't direct the research. You likely will not be using many original ideas, you'll just be working off of some other person's ideas (the other person will have a Ph.D.)

    A B.S. in math on its own is not particularly marketable except for teaching mathematics, and you won't find it very useful in entry level jobs. However it could be crucial if you WANT to go on for that Ph.D. in physics.

    There now I'll shut up ;P
  7. Aug 4, 2009 #6
    That actually raises another question...
    I'm taking real analysis and diff eq next semester actually, and I've already taken linear algebra. And I'm definitely going to take more, my school has a pretty rigorous math curriculum.

    But for some reason it has problems with names. For example, it calls "Real Analysis" "Advanced Calculus I". Are grad schools going to look at that and say "wow he's never taken real analysis and had to retake calculus I LMAO" or am I missing something here...
  8. Aug 4, 2009 #7
    That's the question I had in another thread. I don't know what the hell people are talking about when they mention advanced calculus. I've heard it refer to a variety subjects, including real analysis, multivariable calculus, vector calculus. The impression I get is that advanced calculus is a combination of one or more of the subjects I just mentioned (with other topics), and the specifics vary from course to course. Either way, I don't think you have to worry, as long as your calculus course has a plain name :P.
  9. Aug 4, 2009 #8
    Maybe I can write it at the end of my personal statement.

    "ps advanced calculus I = real analysis"
  10. Aug 4, 2009 #9
    Advanced Calculus I = Real Analysis is pretty standard. The confusion is that, at some colleges, advanced calculus is the name for Calc III with differential equations tacked on. But if you have Calc III and DiffEQ separately, they'll know what Advanced Calc is. :)
  11. Aug 4, 2009 #10
    For what it's worth, I've got a BS in math, and while it's cool to show off at parties (figuratively speaking), it doesn't really do anything for me career wise. Before I started grad school in physics, however, I looked into industry jobs, and I saw that there are more jobs open to math graduates than physics graduates. If you're looking for employability straight out of college, then math is a good major. But if you know you're going to grad school in physics, I don't see it being particularly useful.
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