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Best major cosmology

  1. Oct 11, 2005 #1
    I would like to eventually like to pursue a career in cosmology. However, there is no specific undergrad that I have found that is specifily "Cosmology" the closest I seem to be is Astrophysics.

    My question, is Astrophysics the best major for someone how is interested in pursuing cosmology? or did I miss somthing.

    P.S. I'm a junior in HS
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 11, 2005 #2


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    Perhaps you should give more information as to what exactly fascinates you

    Is it the possibility of life on other planets? Astrobiology?
    Is it the gamma ray bursters? Big bang theories?
    Is it the branes, multiverses, strings?
    Is it the purpose of the universe?
  4. Apr 15, 2009 #3
    I am also a junior with a similar issue. I'm not strong in math, but wish to pursue a career answering fundamental questions. After doing some research i realized that cosmology would be my best option, but i now see there is no distinct major for cosmology. Please post ideas.
  5. Apr 15, 2009 #4


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    You don't need to major in cosmology (in fact, it would not be advantageous to do so, even if such a thing existed). Major in Physics, but try and do as much maths as you can.
  6. Apr 15, 2009 #5
    As much as I enjoy physics, I have a strong interest in astronomy, or in this case astrophysics. Unfortunately as I stated before I simply don't have the math grades to enter this field of study. I'm trying to get as many math credits as I can but I'm still afraid it won't be enough.
  7. Apr 15, 2009 #6
    Math. Math is the best major to do cosmology well, and take some interesting physics courses too. I'm not kidding, physics departments favor math and math and physics students above astronomy/astrophysics students everywhere. You will have a much better preparation for astrophysics with a pure math background than you actually would with an astrophysics background.
  8. Apr 15, 2009 #7
    Einstein didn't major in Math, his UG was in physics (with a heavy experimental component). Physics departments, from what I've seen, are happiest with physics students. Are you a Math major "whybother"? :-)
  9. Apr 15, 2009 #8
    I did major in mathematics, yes, but I have seen a pretty strong bias favored towards math majors in theoretical physics in graduate programs. And frankly, when is Einstein ever a good example for students to follow? You've got to look at averages for good statistical advice for students, not at Einsteins.
  10. Apr 15, 2009 #9
    wow great suggestions guys! But would majoring in physics really help me pursue something more emphasized on theories and answering fundamental questions?
  11. Apr 15, 2009 #10


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    I have to agree, though I didn't know the same thing held for grad programs in the US.
  12. Apr 15, 2009 #11
    Completely agree with this post. Definitely major in physics and focus on taking mathematics as far as possible, would even suggest getting into geometry and topology if possible.
  13. Apr 15, 2009 #12
    Things have changed a lot since Einstein. The marriage between math and physics back then wasn't as strong as it is now. If you look at Einstein's papers also, notice how long it took him to develop GR as opposed to SR. That's because he had to learn differential geometry right after publishing the paper on SR!
  14. Apr 15, 2009 #13
    I have to disagree. For instance, do you really think taking differential geometry, and learning manifolds, tangent spaces, pull backs, curvature is easier and benefits you more than an actual GR course which skims through curvature+connection and go straight into Einstein's field equation and Schwarzschild metric?

    One of the high energy theorists at our department (with a pretty solid reputation) says he's never really taken a math course. He told me that he doesn't care whether the delta function exists or not (as distributions), as long as he can use them. Math is more concerned with definitions while physics is more concerned with...well, physics. If you wish to do physics, then major in physics. It doesn't hurt to dual major math+physics either.

    From seeing some other theorists lecture, the style of physics is totally different from mathematics. Sure, they may use math terms like tangent space, manifold once in a while, but it is rarely useful to go too deeply into the technicality. For instance, the professor usually just do delta expansions instead of getting the technicality down (in terms of functions on the tangent space). Same thing with applications of group theory. It's much easier and more intuitively than tangent planes. Of course, the rigor might be gone, but who cares, the results are still good, and it's not too hard to put the rigor back in.
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2009
  15. Apr 15, 2009 #14
    Well if a student wishes to learn GR the best possible, then by all means, go right into GR and skip the more abstract geometry. But, a theoretical physicist's job is to try and explain the unexplainable, that which is not yet known. More abstract fields in mathematics might hold that answer. Theoreticians' aim is to extend understanding, not to understand better what is already known.
  16. Apr 15, 2009 #15
    Well I am biased, but I can't imagine that going straight to GR would actually be better than doing what you said above... as a solid understanding of the mathematics behind something is pretty essential to learning it well. I don't think anyone who seriously does GR hasn't thoroughly studied differential geometry, manifolds, and tangent spaces.
  17. Apr 15, 2009 #16


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    Hi Scourge,

    Yes. Cosmology is a sub-field of physics. When you're thinking about an education, it's generally best to stay general, and work towards something specific as you advance in your studies. So for example, you could enroll in a university program in science, then after a year or so decide to major in physics. As you get into your senior undergraduate year you could take classes in fields that you find more interesting such as cosmology, general relativity, differential geometry, etc. Then you decide on a sub-field when you apply for graduate study (and sometimes you can even make that decision after a year or so of graduate study).

    The advantage of doing it this way is that it exposes you to all the fundamentals that you will need to draw on as you advance in your career. Also, it allows you keep options open. For example, you may find that in your fourth year of undergrad you're inspired to go into condensed matter as a result of a research project you got involved in, or perhaps you would consider geophysics for graduate study because you want a job that gets you outdoors and pays well.
  18. Apr 15, 2009 #17
    Thanks for the great answer Choppy. I guess I'm going for physics ^_^
  19. Apr 15, 2009 #18
    I would like to eventually be a cosmologist but i hear there isn't much work out there in the field (can anyone confirm this?), so i've decided to do particle physics instead and make cosmology my secret love
  20. Apr 15, 2009 #19
    its a shame they there isn't much work for cosmology, it seems to be a very interesting field.
  21. Apr 15, 2009 #20
    I agree, but it's hard to get lots of funding for things with no practical application
  22. Apr 15, 2009 #21
    haha, thats true. at least you still keep it in your life, even if you don't get paid.
  23. Apr 15, 2009 #22
    Practically ever student who gets into physics wants to do cosmology or string theory or QFT in the beginning. People like Brian Green and Stephen Hawkings make HEP and GR sound elegant and, for lack of a better word, sexy. However, usually after doing a bit of actual physics a lot of people turn away from it (for good reason IMHO). (I, for example, started out being really interested in that and then as I went on I started to find emergent behaviour stuff in many-body systems to be much more interesting (of course that's just me and I did have a strong computational background, which is the perfect tool to explore many-body stuff)).

    That being said, if I could do my undergrad degree over (which was in computational physics) I'd probably do it in applied math with minors in physics and scientific computation. I do feel that the "pedantic" math that gets glossed over in a lot of undergrad physics courses end up being crucial later on.
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