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Cant decide between math or physics

  1. Jul 2, 2008 #1
    ill be entering my 4th year next fall and plan to graduate in my 5th year. i still cant decide between math or physics for grad school, though mathematical physics seems like the best option. i like math since i enjoyed doing proofs in linear algebra and analysis, but havent taken abstract algebra yet. i like physics since stat mech and quantum look interesting, though i havent taken the upper-div versions of them yet. i've only taken upperdiv mechanics and E&M, which were mostly review of lowerdiv.

    im currently doing an REU in solid state physics/statistical physics, and its been alright, but not spectacular so far, i probably should have chosen an area that seems more interesting like particle or astrophysics

    i guess my main reason for sticking with physics so far is because i belive there are more job opportunities for a B.S. or phD in physics than in pure math, since with physics relates more to the real world and involves labs whereas pure math doesnt. also, if i choose to work as an engineer, i'll find an easier time landing a job with my physics background rather than pure math. am i wrong about all this?

    i could decide to double major in physics and pure math, but what should i do my undergrad research in next fall: math or physics? or is it better to take 4 classes and no research?

    how are the job opportunities in industry with a phD in pure math, mathematical physics, or theoretical physics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 3, 2008 #2


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    Sounds pretty scarce I should say. A doctorate in pure math, math-physics or theoretical physics looks more like what I expect to find in academia rather than industry.
  4. Jul 3, 2008 #3
    Think about this, how many private sector fundamental particle or astrophysics research companies can you name? There's plenty of theoretical physicists in industry, but I get the impression that a lot of them fall under "condensed matter" and write a lot of code.

    There's plenty of jobs out there for math and physics majors, but if you find the applied stuff boring, you're either going to have a boring job or end up a professor.
  5. Jul 3, 2008 #4
    Money comes from selling things people want to buy. People want to buy things they can use. People can't use knowledge of a theory to help make them a smoothie or play their crappy songs.

    So, unfortunately you won't find many jobs in industry that would want to hire you for the job you want. It's basically a case of taking a theory and creating something with it that industry is concerned with.

    It's kind of a shame, because even 100 years ago theory and experimentalism was a lot closer. You had engineers making many leaps in physics and vice versa. Can't really do that anymore. :(
  6. Jul 3, 2008 #5
    You shouldn't pick the topic thats most likely to get you a good job, you should pick the one you love to do! If you like applied, then whats the point of getting a job in it, yes, you may get more of a chance getting a job and you might get a better salary but you'll hate it, each day you will hate ever considering what you did.

    I say that you should let your heart decide, not your head. Pick the one you love to do the most.

    The jobs might be hard to get and find, but one you have, you'll love each and every minute of it.
  7. Jul 3, 2008 #6
    From my experience in job hunting (take it as you will), even with a BS or PhD in physics, job oppertunities are dismal. Tons of ppl have those same degrees and it's not very practical. And im talking about science jobs. I wasn't looking for jobs in liek finance or business.
  8. Jul 4, 2008 #7
    i enjoy both math and physics but dont know if i enjoy them so much that im willing to sacrifice job opportunities and my family for them. thats why i am concerned about field at least has the better back-up plans in case i decide to pursue theory now, but decide to change my mind later on

    the hw probs in my math classes are more fun, but physics deals with reality which is why i cant decide which one i like better
  9. Jul 4, 2008 #8
    the graduate advisor and professors at my UG says theorists have a hard time getting a job in academia.

    I know how yto feel about sacraficing jobs for learnign thigns you love. imagine yourself now, if u had a hard tiem finding a job (or even having a job~ 50K/yr), can you survive in this environment? With food, gas, and cost of living getting more expensiv, can you really say u wanna study physics or math and get a PhD and earn little money, or even the prosepect of no job? Do you want to spend so many yrs doign post-doc work for little pay, hoping to get that one job as a tenured professor that hundreds of other people are competing for? There isn't a demand for mathematicians and physicists.

    I think you should study something that has high career demand and minor or dbl major in your intelelctual interest.
  10. Jul 4, 2008 #9


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    The OP said he's doing REU in solid-state, so how about career in that field? Should be easier to find employment rather than pure physics/maths.
  11. Jul 4, 2008 #10
    Im interested in ppl's experience in that field too! i hope someone has an answer. However, i would be on the pessimistic side. Sure it should be relatively easier, but how much? Alot or not much?
  12. Jul 4, 2008 #11
    well regardless of job opportunities, im still having difficulty choosing between math and physics and dont want to double major in both as that would require alot of time and make it hard for me to concentrate on one or the other in terms of increasing my grad school admissions chances.

    for instance, i cant decide whether to take 2 math and 2 physics classes next fall or 2 physics and 1 math and do research with a physics prof next fall
  13. Jul 4, 2008 #12


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    I'm not sure the two (math and physics) are mutually exclusive. Math is a necessary tool in physics. By pursuing physics you wouldn't be abandoning the study of mathematics. You may end up having to learn more stuff outside of a formal environment, but really that's what grad school is all about.
  14. Jul 4, 2008 #13
  15. Jul 4, 2008 #14
    how do you know that you wont regret that decision later on? also, i dont think i'll like applied math since my complex variables and PDEs classes focused too much on boring, tedious computations

    also, doesnt math involve alot of programming? i dont really like that anymore than experiment
  16. Jul 4, 2008 #15
    I've taken complex analysis and the focus was definitely NOT on tedious computations. Complex function theory is one of the most beautiful and well-developed fields in mathematics. Its results such as the Residue Theorem, the Riemann Mapping Theorem, Analytic Continuation are incredibly clean and their proofs are remarkably clever and interesting. If you thought your complex analysis class was full of "tedious computations" your teacher was probably a sadist.

    Sure some subfields of applied math like theoretical computer science involve lots of programming and in general anyone who goes into physics or math in the 21st century should know at least one programming language. But if you don't like programming you could still find a place in a applied math.
  17. Jul 4, 2008 #16
    Why would theoretical computer science involve lots of programming? And also, what are we defining as "lots of programming" here?
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2008
  18. Jul 4, 2008 #17

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    Why do you need an answer now?

    You have two years before graduating. You haven't taken a real math class yet, and you say haven't taken an real upper-division physics class yet. You have no basis for your decision, and you don't need one immediately anyway.
  19. Jul 4, 2008 #18
    i want to know which one to focus more time on since i have to take my gre's soon and to figure how to plan my future class schedules (like taking an extra math class or doing research with a physics prof instead. it'll be too much work to do both)

    i said i have taken real pure math classes: linear algebra with proofs and analysis. i liked both of them but loved linear algebra

    for upper-div physics, i completed mechanics and am halfway done with E&M. the 1st half of mechanics and E&M were mostly review of lower div. the 2nd half of mech was much more interesting, though not as much as linear algebra or analysis. however, i'm really looking forward to taking quantum and stat mech

    i suppose for now i could just focus on physics and take pure math classes for fun and make a decision by next spring, which is when i'll probably take the gre's
  20. Jul 5, 2008 #19
    ok, i have decided for now that math will likely be my major since i enjoy doing it more, even though research in theoretical physics seems more interesting to do as a career than being a pure mathematician since researching black holes, quantum field theory, big bang theory, etc sounds like what i want to do
    also, i heard from some of the threads in this forum that if one wants to do mathematical physics, its better to get a math degree than a physics degree

    i have one more question: if i were to not to do research this fall in physics, would it come back to haunt me if i choose to apply to physics grad programs? also, is doing your only research in physics is during REUs, and not during the school year, does that count as too little research experience?
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2008
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