1. PF Contest - Win "Conquering the Physics GRE" book! Click Here to Enter
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Confused on what degree to do for theoretical physics phd

  1. Aug 31, 2015 #1
    Hi guys :)

    I am in the uk and will be going to university to study physics and the aim is to go on to do a phd in fundamental theoretical physics either in the uk or in the usa

    However I am getting confused on what is better to study at undergrad between maths and physics as a lot of the phds I have looked at either ask for a maths degree or are in the maths or mathematical physics departments.

    My question is, is it better to do a mathematics or physics degree to go onto study more mathematical side of theoretical physics. As I want to maximize my chances of getting into a top uni for the phd but I am also interested in many other aspects of physics (particle physics, condensed matter, medical physics, nuclear physics, cosmology etc)
    Though don't get me wrong I believe there are lots of areas of pure and applied maths that aren't related to physics that I would enjoy too

    The more advanced maths I can cover in my physics degree is Topology, Hamiltonian Systems, Differential Geometry, Linear and Nonlinear Waves, Transformation Geometry and a few other bits on top of the standard maths that a uk physics degree covers

    The areas of theoretical physics I am interested in are
    • string theory (and m-theory)
    • non string theory quantum gravity
    • quantum field theory
    • black holes (I noticed that these are only researched in the maths departments for phd)
    • particle theory
    • quantum computing

    thanks for any help you can give
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 31, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

  4. Sep 2, 2015 #3
    If you want to do a PhD in physics, then study physics.
  5. Sep 2, 2015 #4
  6. Sep 2, 2015 #5
    Haha I know it sounds like a stupid question. I am just concerned that most the topics I aspire to do at phd (I know interests may change) for physics are all located in the maths department
  7. Sep 2, 2015 #6
    Sure, I get that. But when you know physics, then math is easy to self-study. On the other hand, if you know math, then physics can still be difficult.
  8. Sep 2, 2015 #7
    The hotshots in my cohort that wanted to go all the way and do physics theory all double majored in math and physics. Consider it, or consider minoring in math.
  9. Sep 3, 2015 #8


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I don't know how they do it in the UK, but don't you have an academic advisor, or someone like that, that you can ask a question such as this?

  10. Sep 3, 2015 #9
    Unfortunately my uni doesn't offer a maths and physics double major (though not many do) though they do offer a theoretical physics stream (covers the maths I mentioned in my op)
  11. Sep 3, 2015 #10
    I will have a personal tutor but I wanted to get other peoples opinions too as I feel like thet will be biased towards pushing me to do a physics degree as thats what they teach, research and love
  12. Sep 4, 2015 #11


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    All of my friends who did undergrad in the UK and work in quantum gravity/string theory did theoretical physics. At Cambridge you do part III in the third year. Some also take math classes like differential and algebraic geometry in grad school.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook