Does liking physics courses that are more mathy suggest that I should be a theorist?

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  • Thread starter xbomber88
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  • #1
Generally I've found that the more mathematical a Physics class I'm taking is the more I like it. For example I didn't really love the modern physics course I took because it wasn't very math heavy and focused a lot more on conceptual understanding rather than delving very deeply into the math. Right now I'm taking an upper level E&M course using Griffiths and I'm really enjoying it. Also I've always liked working on problem sets much more than I've enjoyed lab work. Does this suggest that I should be a theorist or not really? The thing I'm worried about is that I might not have enough math to be a theorist. I've only taken math up through ordinary differential equations. Though it's not because I don't have the ability to learn more math that I haven't. I didn't start taking any math or physics until my sophomore year so I'm doing all I can on the physics end to be able to graduate on time and be well prepared for grad school so I don't really have time to take more math on the side. Also I go to a small liberal arts school so most of the upper level math courses we have are very proof oriented pure math courses that probable wouldn't be very useful to physicists. We unfortunately don't even have a course on PDE's. The other thing I'm worried about is that it's my impression that being a theorist is much more competitive than being an experimentalist and I don't want to get a PhD and then never be able to find employment as a physicist. Is this true? But then again I'm not sure that I'd even like being an experimentalist even if it's easier to get a job.

Answers and Replies

  • #2

nah, everybody hates the labs, and modern physics isn't just "conceptual" its usually a sort of bs cover of ideas you actually run through later in depth. So I wouldn't judge theoretical vs. experimental just on that alone.

For me, the concepts and the math are linked, and if you do it right, they should be coupled strongly.

As far as figuring out things for yourself, I'd try some actual research (not just a lab) before thinking about whether you like it or not. At the very least, you mine some solid information on how the whole sociology of a research team works.
  • #3
Dr Transport
Science Advisor
Gold Member

You pick up the math that you need while doing research and taking more advanced classes. For instance, I never took a course in complex variables, just had courses that touched the topics, but am comfortable in using the techniques needed when the occasion arises.
  • #4

I would say that a lot of the 'math = theory' views are just misconceptions. Experimental work these days isn't about sitting in a lab and writing down a number every two hours. It's about measuring and interpreting real-life results. There are big differences between experimental and theory work - I certainly wouldn't decide one over the other based on math ability, or how much you like math. In experimental work, you'll need to find things that can be measured, be part of work deciding how to do it and then work out how this can be interpreted: this needs some math skill too :smile:

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