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Choosing major program (undergrad)

  1. Nov 21, 2009 #1
    Hey everyone. I'm new to this forum, and I apologize for the lengthy question. I would really appreciate it if anyone could take the time to read through and respond. I've been reading a lot of these posts on here, trying to figure out where to go with my studies, but none specifically address my situation.

    Like many people on here, I'm stuck between math and physics. I do not want to double major in these two. I know that if I do not choose a focus now, I will have difficulty doing so later and will not be able to excel in the chosen field. I do not have an extensive background in either (weak HS calc and 1 year of okay HS physics), and while I am naturally good at both these fields, I know that I am not unusually brilliant and will have to work especially hard if I want to contribute. I have not had advanced classes or study in either, so I don't know specific topics I'm good at or interested in. I was struck by the abstraction and beauty of math, as well as the surprises of physics, particularly quantum theory.

    Also, I am planning on a joint program in computer science: it really interests me, it is useful professionally in both math and physics, and it is a fairly solid career back-up if grad school in math/physics doesn't work out. My options are either computational physics BS/MS (math minor for 1 extra class) or computer science/math double major BS, maybe with a physics minor. A BS in Mathematical Physics with some assorted comp sci courses is possible, but I would like to avoid it, as it lacks focus and depth. The course loads would be about equal for all, my school is not particularly great at either math or physics (SUNY Buffalo), and research is available in both. I need to decided on a program by the next fall, and switching after that would be very difficult.

    Would an undergraduate degree in mathematics (maybe with additional physics courses) allow me to study mathematical physics in graduate school, particularly within a physics department?
    And what exactly does mathematical physics focus on, anyway?
    How often do PhD mathematicians involve physics problems/theories in their work?
    How separated at pure and applied math at the graduate and postdoc level?

    Would computational physics restrict my graduate focus?
    Would comp physics not be helpful in finding programming/comp sci jobs after college?
    What physics disciplines focus most heavily on math theory and rigor?
    What sort of base physics background is required for the more math-based theoretical physics area?
    If I went the math/comp sci route, would it be possible to go back for a Master's in physics and apply to physics grad school?
    Job prospects for a Math PhD vs. a Physics PhD (outside academia)?

    I love math, especially the abstract beauty of it, but I also appreciate real-world knowledge of physics. I'm leaning towards math with a couple physics courses for pleasure, but I'm still very unsure. QFT seems to be something of potential interest, but I know very little about it, other than it is seems to cross both disciplines. Any other advice/suggestions/inspiration? Sorry if this long and wordy, but I would really appreciate the help.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 21, 2009 #2


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    Staff: Mentor

    What is "now"? Are you a high school senior, college freshman, or what?
  4. Nov 21, 2009 #3
    College freshman, transferring to a new school Fall 2010 as a sophomore, so that's when I need to my decision. I can postpone deciding until Spring if I have to.
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