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Physics Double Majoring in Chem and Physics

  1. Jan 14, 2017 #1
    I'm currently a chemistry major at a community college. I'll be transferring next fall to a UC here in California (Davis or Berkeley). I still love chemistry, but now I'm wondering if my true interest would be best served by studying physics instead. My interest mainly lies in atomic/nuclear Chem/physics and I would like to get a PhD in the future, do research. Honestly I'd like to major in both, but I worry that my grades would suffer.

    I guess I'm just wondering if anyone has done it before and the feasibility of majoring in both while maintaining good grades or whether it's a waste of time.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 15, 2017 #2
    Look at the total courses you'd need at each school for the double major. At most schools, it is a lot. Unlikely to be attainable in 4 years.

    How long and how much money do you have?

    Worth it? Depends on your goals. The double major won't help you get into grad school in Chemistry or Physics. For that you need a straight major in the chosen field, a good GPA, good GRE scores, research, and letters of recommendation.

    My usual recommendation is 1 major, the highest GPA you can earn in that major, and use the rest of your time and energy to get into a research group and do the best job you can for them. A second major pales in comparison if grad school is your goal.
  4. Jan 15, 2017 #3


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    While I largely agree with the advice provided above, I would dissent somewhat in terms of the courses required to complete the double major. Certainly from what I know about the chemistry and physics programs at my alma mater, there is considerable overlap in prerequisites, and I have no reason to believe things would be that different in other colleges/universities in Canada or the US. So completing the double major (my alma mater has a joint-specialist option) isn't necessarily unattainable within 4 years.
  5. Jan 15, 2017 #4
    This is the bit that is school dependent. At the Chem and Physics programs I've looked at, there is very little overlap, and too many hours of specific Physics and Chemistry courses to be workable in 4 years. Gotta look for the specific school and do the math.
  6. Jan 15, 2017 #5
    I expect in your chemistry curriculum, you had to take a course or two in physics. Physics is a broad area. What aspect of physics is luring you away from chemistry. Is it the mechanics, electromagnetics, optics, fluid dynamics, or modern physics (atomic or nuclear or high energy), solid state physics, relativity, cosmology, biophysics, space physics, etc?

    I do not know what you mean by and interest in atomic/nuclear Chem/physics? Perhaps you mean by atomic/nuclear this can be placed in the rubric "Modern Physics" If this is what you mean, you will be seeing modern physics again at the Junior/Senior level when you take physical chemistry. You will not be closing any doors by remaining in chemistry rather than transferring to physics. If you mean something else, you can reply.

    What area of chemistry do you love and might do research in. Laboratory :Quantitative Analysis, Qualitative Analysis, Instrumentation
    Physical Chemistry, Electrochemistry, Biochemistry, Organic Chemistry, Ligand chemistry.

    Condensed matter (solid state) physics, statistical physics, atmospheric physics, probably dovetails best with chemistry. There are nuclear chemists and nuclear physicists, but their research topics may be quite distinct from each other.

    Most likely, unless you know you want to do research in cosmology, general relativity, or maybe high-energy physics, you could get to your research area by committing to do well is one major discipline (chemistry).
  7. Jan 15, 2017 #6
    I'm gearing up to finish the last physics undergrad course offered at my community college which covers modern physics. Just finished up electricity and magnetism last semester. The lure lies in modern physics, nuclear atomic, high energy. I know it's somewhat premature as I have that last physics course ahead of me.

    I've heard that a lot of physics overlaps and more completely explains topics covered in chemistry. I suppose I worry about falling behind in comparable knowledge if I stick straight to chemistry only.

    Honestly chemistry has been harder to pin down research areas of interest. I'm still interested in nuclear chemistry (what can I say I'm predictable) or nanomaterials possible. I interned at a lab last summer in nuclear Chem and it was pretty dang interesting. Inorganics broadly speaking-I'm not sure about physical chemistry. Most people seem to hate it rather viscerally.

    I know that nuclear Chem and physics don't exactly intersect and therein lies the problem really. While I'm interested in nuclear in both these subjects focusing on one wouldn't help me much in the other. I'm worried because I've already applied to colleges and I don't know how well they take to transfer students straight up switching majors.

    Thank you for the reply!
  8. Jan 15, 2017 #7
    I never transferred to another college so I cannot answer the last question, as to how well they take transfer students who switch majors. Perhaps you can talk to an academic advisers or some expert on these forums can help. I think you probably will not have to declare a major in the university/college you transfer into right away, but I am not sure.
  9. Jan 15, 2017 #8


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    You may be able to use quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics from the physics major to get out of the two semesters of physical chemistry in the chemistry major if you get special permission. I know several people who did this at my undergrad who majored in both physics and chemistry. However they had a pretty lenient advisor so it may not work in most cases.
  10. Jan 17, 2017 #9

    Dr Transport

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    I looked at taking physical chemistry at one of my local universities, when I compared the syllabus to what I had in physics, the only real overlap was the second half when they dealt with QM, the first semester was thermodynamics from a chemists point of view, not what I learned in thermo and stat mech. compare carefully.
  11. Jan 17, 2017 #10
    I tHink it's doable but really ambitious. I only know of one person who did it and hes working as a computer programmer a lot older than i am.
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