Bachelors in physics to masters in applied math

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  • #1
octopus26
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Hi all, so I am currently finishing a double major in physics and chemistry. I want to change paths here slightly and do a masters in applied math. My undergraduate math classes consisted of the usual calc 1, 2, and 3, differential equations, and linear algebra and a semester of math physics. Most programs that I have looked into require courses in probability and real analysis and I have experience in neither of those areas. While according to the admissions sections of these schools websites, I have the minimum math background, but I am worrying that I would be in over my head even if I were to be accepted somewhere. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Thank you.
 

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  • #2
Vanadium 50
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Yes, it sounds like you would be underprepared, especially compared to your peers. But the bigger question is if you want to get an advanced math degree, why haven't you taken any math classes beyond the minimum?
 
  • #3
octopus26
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Well for a while my plan for a while was to do an advanced degree in physics. But now I am too burnt out for a PhD (5.5 years of undergrad) and would be worried for my job prospects with a masters in physics. Applied math would open the door to a career in statistics, modeling, and/or data science which sounds pretty good to me. Point is that my interests have changed.
 
  • #4
octopus26
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I will be applying to masters programs in December and am having a very tough time deciding what it is I want to do. I am very against limiting my self to a narrow field because my interests have changed countless times in college.
 
  • #5
Vanadium 50
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Point is that my interests have changed.

How would you respond to "if your interests have changed, why have you not taken any courses in mathematics beyond the minimum?"

How about "If you have taken only the mathematics a typical sophomore math major takes, why do you think you will be prepared for graduate-level work?"

and am having a very tough time deciding what it is I want to do.

Fair enough. But "perpetual student" eventually comes to an end, and if you are unsure of what you want to do post-college after almost 6 years on campus, another year or two is unlikely to make it clearer.
 
  • #6
octopus26
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I started off as an economics majors which, after being inspired by an astronomy course, I changed to chemistry at the end of my sophomore year. I realized I hated chemistry and began a physics major (which is what I actually wanted to do after the astronomy class but was scared of the math) in the middle of my fourth year.

So, I have been taking at least 17 credits a semester for 2 years now which means, although I wanted to take more math classes, my time was simply taken up by required courses.

And trust me, I would like to stop being a student soon. Honestly, at the end of the day, I really want to do a masters program that keeps my options open to a varied career and that also satisfies my love for science.
 
  • #7
Vanadium 50
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I understand all that. But you have to understand that grad school, even at the MS level, is a competitive process, and that grad school is more difficult than undergrad. You have demonstrated neither preparation nor interest (both of which could have been handled by upper-division math courses) and you are ~2 years behind your peers.

Your plan is
  1. Hope that despite your less competitive background you are accepted.
  2. Hope that despite your underprepared background that you will succeed
  3. Hope that when you start taking classes you discover actually like math
That seems like a lot of hope.
 
  • #8
StatGuy2000
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I understand all that. But you have to understand that grad school, even at the MS level, is a competitive process, and that grad school is more difficult than undergrad. You have demonstrated neither preparation nor interest (both of which could have been handled by upper-division math courses) and you are ~2 years behind your peers.

Your plan is
  1. Hope that despite your less competitive background you are accepted.
  2. Hope that despite your underprepared background that you will succeed
  3. Hope that when you start taking classes you discover actually like math
That seems like a lot of hope.

So @Vanadium 50 , what would you advise the OP do then? After all, you did state the following earlier:

... if you are unsure of what you want to do post-college after almost 6 years on campus, another year or two is unlikely to make it clearer.

So it seems to me that you're concluding that it is too late for the OP to consider an applied math masters.
 
  • #9
Vanadium 50
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I think he should figure out what he wants. "I want to take a lot of math courses - but not quite yet" is not a model of clarity.

If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.
 
  • #10
vela
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Well for a while my plan for a while was to do an advanced degree in physics. But now I am too burnt out for a PhD (5.5 years of undergrad) and would be worried for my job prospects with a masters in physics. Applied math would open the door to a career in statistics, modeling, and/or data science which sounds pretty good to me. Point is that my interests have changed.
Are you burned out on school in general or just physics? If you're burned out on school in general, I don't think getting into any graduate program, physics or math, is a good idea. Also, I'm not sure why you think physics doesn't open the door to many of the same career options that applied math does.

I'm not sure exactly what's required for applied math these days, but for a regular math degree, students typically take real analysis and abstract and linear algebra. And (in the US) the main difference between the lower-division and upper-division courses is that the focus changes to writing proofs. After that, one takes electives, and I'd guess this is where the pure math and applied math paths diverge. Do you know how to write proofs? That could turn out to be a pretty big stumbling block to overcome in advanced math courses.

So on paper, it seems you'd be underprepared, but then again, you should've seen quite a bit of math in your physics courses. You may also have an advantage over many math students if you've managed to develop a good intuition for what the math actually means. That could help ease the task of learning topics on the fly to fill in the holes in your knowledge.
 
  • #11
octopus26
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Are you burned out on school in general or just physics? If you're burned out on school in general, I don't think getting into any graduate program, physics or math, is a good idea. Also, I'm not sure why you think physics doesn't open the door to many of the same career options that applied math does.

I'm not sure exactly what's required for applied math these days, but for a regular math degree, students typically take real analysis and abstract and linear algebra. And (in the US) the main difference between the lower-division and upper-division courses is that the focus changes to writing proofs. After that, one takes electives, and I'd guess this is where the pure math and applied math paths diverge. Do you know how to write proofs? That could turn out to be a pretty big stumbling block to overcome in advanced math courses.

So on paper, it seems you'd be underprepared, but then again, you should've seen quite a bit of math in your physics courses. You may also have an advantage over many math students if you've managed to develop a good intuition for what the math actually means. That could help ease the task of learning topics on the fly to fill in the holes in your knowledge.
It is hard for me to tell exactly. Physics is still very exciting to me and I am still very motivated to find a career in which I can use my physics knowledge.

The reason I say that is because it seems like a masters in physics is not very sought after in the job market. I have found very few jobs that ask for physicists and if they do they ask for PhDs.

Well I have been thinking the past few days that applied math is probably not the right path for me given my background... now I am thinking about a masters in applied physics. My oldest brother has his degree in applied physics and immediately got a very cool job that involves doing lots of physics. Am I naive to think that just because the word applied is placed in front means that it is suddenly more employable?
 
  • #12
mpresic3
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Are you sure you need a degree in Applied Math to get a job in data science, modeling or statistics? I work with data scientists with varied degrees. If I were interviewing a prospect, I would be interested in what they modeled in the past? Are they comfortable with large data sets. How have they drawn conclusions from the data sets. What statistical training do they have? What software packaages have they used? and questions like that? I think a degree in physics and chemistry could be just as qualifying as an degree in applied math. If you can get an internship, that could be helpful. Computer skills are an requirement. Some data scientists I know have a chemistry background and modeled complex molecules and for unforseen circumstances had to leave a doctoral program before completion. All told, you can likely convince an employer to hire without a degree in applied math per se. You probably need probability and statistics, but the real analysis is probably not necessary for data science. Prospective employers will examine your coursework and not just your degree.
 

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