1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    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!

Double major: Physics and Classics?

  1. Jun 20, 2010 #1
    Hey everyone. I'm an incoming freshman at UT Austin, and it's getting around the time where I'm supposed sign up for courses. I'm planning on double majoring no matter what, since it doesn't seem too complicated and is fairly common at UT. I figure I should probably have a good idea of what I'm going to be majoring in so I'm not stuck in college an extra semester trying to finish up courses I need because I didn't plan correctly. My main degree is more than likely going to be physics, and I'm in the honors program so it will be an honors degree, but I'm conflicted about the second.

    Just as a little background, I took Latin all four years of high school and loved it. Latin class, despite it's name, was probably more like a Classics class sans Greek, Classics being ancient Greek and Roman language, literature, history and other things of that nature. I think that the Classics are a valuable and interesting field, and my high school experience has made me seriously consider studying it in college. In general, I have great respect and interest in the Humanities.

    The logistics of getting a degree in Classics is not a problem, as I should be able to pull off both degrees without too much trouble. What I'm worried about though, is the utility and maybe even more importantly, the opportunity cost (hooray for high school economics) of getting a Classics degree over something else like a Math or Computer Science degree. I, at this point, am planning on being a Physicist in academia, although it would be a little naive to think that it's impossible for that to change over the next few years. I was just wondering what you guys thought about, both the potential benefits of getting a degree like Classics, and the opportunity lost in not getting a more Physics related degree.

    Now at this point, I should probably explain what I, personally, think the benefits of a Classics degree would be, before I get assaulted with posts bashing me for even considering the usefulness of it in the career path I'm looking into. First and foremost, it's something I'm interested, and I think I would greatly enjoy learning about it in a structured learning environment. I also think that it's a fairly uncommon degree to have, especially coupled with a scientific degree, and would set me apart during applications and things like that, not that I'm in any way thinking of doing something different for the sake of being different. Classics, in my opinion, seems like a fairly sophisticated study, and I think that getting a degree in it and Physics would express well roundedness. The only problem is, are graduate schools and employers going to value that difference and well roundedness over a more practical second degree? How big of an opportunity in skills that would better me directly as a Physicist would I be missing out on? Is that second degree even going to matter that much in the long run?

    Thanks in advance and I look forward to reading your insights!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 20, 2010 #2
    Not meaning to sound bashing by any means, but most employers are going to be concerned with what you offer them skillwise and not what you're interested in. As far as on applications and whatnot, double majoring in compatible degrees like physics and mathematics (which is actually what I'm doing, plus a chem minor) will help more for application because you are simply capable of more in your field.

    That being said, I will throw this interesting little tidbit out there. Of the physics professors that I really know (i.e. talk to outside of class), several have degrees outside of their field, mostly in theology of all things. One professor I know majored in Physics and theology, with minors in mathematics and philosophy. I guess he either really didn't know what he wanted to do or really loved both.

    As a college student getting ready to fill out grad school applications (because I definitely don't want an actual job yet), I would suggest looking into a Classics minor instead of a full major. Going for a minor gives you MUCH more freedom in picking your classes, so you won't have to put up with the BS ones. With the extra time you free up by not having that major, you could take more math or computer science classes to both help you in your physics classes and on applications.
  4. Jun 20, 2010 #3
    In fact, if I was to give any advice to incoming physics majors, it would be to take as much math as physically possible. I would go so far as to suggest putting off gen-ed classes to take more math your first few semesters. Don't stop at the required ones for physics- other classes will be EXTREMELY helpful in understanding material, classes like Partial Differential Equations and Abstract Linear Algebra.
  5. Jun 20, 2010 #4
    I see. Thanks for the response. And yeah, as for employers, I knew that I'm not sure why I included that in there. I suppose I'm more interested in what graduate schools would think. But I definitely get what you are saying about Math and other degrees which would work better with Physics. I plotted out a rough schedule I'd have to do, and the full on Classics major, while being reasonable, would seriously hinder my ability to take additional classes, which was another apprehension I had of it. I have actually considered a minor also, but I have heard that minors aren't very useful. I suppose a full Classics degree wouldn't be that useful either, but is it even worth getting a minor, in terms of having something to show? Or are minors more for your own personal interest, rather than resume items?
  6. Jun 20, 2010 #5
    Minors are (in my opinion) mostly for your own pleasure. Most minors aren't particularly useful (the main exception being foreign languages). And, after you go to grad school, your minor won't really matter at all, especially compared to your Master's or Ph.D in physics.
    I would encourage the Classics minor if it is something you are genuinely interested in, which Classics seems to be.
  7. Jun 20, 2010 #6
    Yeah that's what I thought. And for grad schools? How do they generally consider minors? I've been looking up some of the major requirements for a math degree and it seems pretty reasonable to double major with that and also get a minor in Classics.
  8. Jun 21, 2010 #7
    As for grad schools, I can't really say. The best way to find out would be to either email someone at a grad school that is involved in the recruiting process (or contact a general graduate admissions person, check http://www.utexas.edu/ogs/admissions/usgradcontact.html) or to meet with your academic adviser once you start.

    If UT is anything like OU, adding a math minor to a physics major will only add one or two classes, which if you're serious about physics you should probably take anyway.
  9. Jun 21, 2010 #8
    I think a second major in something like computer science or math might be helpful in your field. That being said, I would not let anyone try to dissuade you from a humanities program if you are interested in it. Just be aware that most employers (and I am going to guess a lot of grad schools) are not going to see the extra time and work as something that directly contributes to your ability and ergo, your employability.

    So, I think the bottom line is, if you are going to do a second major in the humanities, you should do it for your own educational and personal edification, and you might just might find that you learn some things that you can apply to your professional work. Just do not expect to get brownie points for the second major from a grad school or an employer. I personally believe though that there is a lot more to life and excelling in your profession than just being technically competent.

    EDIT: I should add, degrees demonstrate a specific level of competence in a field. If something interests you, but you are not going to pursue it professionally, it might make more sense to study it on your own, gratis, at the local library, or for the minimum investment required for an Amazon Prime account, or the occasional class at the local community college every now and then. Not every lawyer that plays violin needs to have double majored in music as an undergrad. People have hobbies, and earning a college degree in a field is one of the most expensive and time-consuming ways of indulging a hobby.
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2010
  10. Jun 21, 2010 #9
    Free studying is muy bueno, for sure. Check out itunesU as well- there's some really interesting things there.
  11. Jun 21, 2010 #10
    I wouldn't waste time in two left-brained degrees if you have right-brained aptitude. Being a well-balanced individual is far more valuable in life than having a few extra number crunching skills for a job.

    A friend of mine double majored in Physics and Romance Languages and he's now in grad school for EE. He's really one of the most amazing friends I have. I'm somewhat envious because he's always got women all over him.

    I really believe balance cannot be overrated. I've known plenty of folks with multiple tech degrees from undergrad and I can say I haven't seen anything terribly magical come about in their lives because of it.

    Also, you'll do yourself a huge favor if you let go of any anxiousness about having to graduate in 4 years. If it takes an extra semester or two, it's no big deal. I've known too many folks with that rush-through mentality and things rarely turn out well for them in the end.
  12. Jun 21, 2010 #11
    Thanks everyone for all the responses! I'm definitely taking what you guys have said into consideration. At this point, I think djeikyb is probably right about getting a minor in Classics and taking more math classes. I looked at the physics and math degree plans and it looks like there is some overlap so it wouldn't be too complicated to get it.
  13. Jun 21, 2010 #12
    You're welcome.

    As I said, I am going the physics/math double major route, and I'm currently a senior at OU. Feel free to PM me with any questions about that (just try not to let the rivalry get in the way of messaging me).
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2010
  14. Jun 21, 2010 #13
    I am finishing up a triple major with two minors: Majoring in economics, history, and physics and minoring in business and math.

    It has taken me 5 years, but in my opinion, worth it.

    I love history and it was my "fun" degree, ie. a subject that I am intensely interested in but nothing will come of it. A classics degree would be similar (unless you go on to phd or something).

    I don't regret the history major which is far away from my other majors and virtually useless.

    Nevertheless, it IS something I could have done in my spare time merely for fun without spending thousands of extra dollars and an extra year to get. The classics degree is like this, it is something you don't really need a teacher for, and if you ever do occassionaly, you could just talk to someone in the department who is willing to help, or even just get a mentor in that department.

    Someone said employers care about skills, not what you're interested in. This may be true, but the point of college is NOT just to get a job at the end. It is a big part, but there are other reasons for college: grow up mentally, experience adulthood-lite, and to learn things you are interested in!
  15. Jun 22, 2010 #14
    On the mentor thing, you can also do independent study with a professor for a small amount of college credit, and you get to really pick what exactly you're going to be learning. This could give you more freedom than even a minor.
  16. Jun 22, 2010 #15

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    I think you have to ask yourself why are you in college? Are you looking to learn something? Or are you trying to get a "union card for a white collar job"? The answer to this question will determine the answer to your original question.
  17. Jun 22, 2010 #16
    Yeah and I mean of course my main goal in college is to learn something, and there are many things I'm interested in. But the problem is that there's a very limited amount of time we have in college, and we have to choose. I just don't want to be shooting my science career in the foot by pursuing something I just have interest in, and not in something that I'm pursuing as a job.
  18. Jun 22, 2010 #17
    Limited by what? Stay as long as you want.
  19. Jun 22, 2010 #18

    Of course, there is that whole money thing...
  20. Jun 22, 2010 #19
    Yeah, there's the cost of school plus the opportunity cost of not getting started earlier.
  21. Jun 22, 2010 #20
    Gigabyte, this sounds like a really fun idea. When I was in college, Classics was one of my favorite subjects. It's unfortunate I only got to take two classes in it. If I had infinite time/money, I'd have probably picked up a Classics major just for the fun of reading ancient Greek literature.

    I once talked to someone I know on my department's admissions committee, and he told me that they don't really give a rip about well-roundedness. Not sure how representative this is of most admissions committee, but my unqualified understanding is that most committees are like this. If you think about it, they want you to do research for them, and they don't want you to fail out. Med school and law school admissions committees care very much about well-rounded applicants, but if I had to guess I'd say grad school committees don't care at all. I don't think it'll hurt you though.

    Anyway, if you decide to try and pull this off, good luck! I'm sure it'll be fun.
  22. Jun 22, 2010 #21
    Thanks for the input. I think I'll just start out with some classes and see if I think it's worth it in a year. And yeah, Greek literature sounds pretty cool. My friend told me about this one math or physics professor that translated Euclid by himself.
  23. Jun 22, 2010 #22
    It's all illusions.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook