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Future direction needed for Uni student

  1. Jun 17, 2005 #1
    Currently I am doing first year BSc. I like to become a pure mathematician or a theoretical physicist. The trouble is I cannot decide on which one.

    They say ‘do what you enjoy most’. But in this case I enjoy both equally as much. For example, I read about quantum mechanics or string theory and I think ‘studying about nature is the real deal’ and I want to become a physicist. And then I look at Rienmann’s hypothesis and I think wow! And I want to become mathematician. I guess what attracts me to physics is about studying nature - the real thing. What attracts me to mathematics is perfection – since I am a bit of a perfectionist.

    They also say ‘do what you are good at’. But I am not good (or bad) at either math or physics. I have never done well at any math or science competitions (the ones you can’t study for). Although I usually do well in the exams but that is because I like to study hard – since I enjoy all my subjects very much.

    I really want a direction because I think I waste too much time thinking about it. Any advice would be much appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 17, 2005 #2
    If everything is the same on the both sides, you can simply toss a coin. And don't forget that you are not going to ba a physicist or a mathematician forever, you are a human being and after some years you will die => Take it easy and let God decide for your destiniy.
    (I'm in th mood of religious preaches today, yeah?? :D )
  4. Jun 17, 2005 #3
    I'd look into what the daily grind is like, and the supply & demand situation, for both careers. (Some careers pay peanuts and are cutthroat because of the enjoyment factor.) That should help you decide.

    A friend of mine ended his pursuit of a Master's in physics just a few months short of graduation, when he realized that in his chosen specialty he'd forevermore be spending a big chunk of his spare time keeping up to date with the latest developments. As they say, "publish or perish". Just look before you leap is all I'm saying.
  5. Jun 17, 2005 #4
    You might get slanted results, asking in a physics board :)

    But I think you should do math. The reason being, it's a lot less stressful. Even if you do have to keep up with recent developments like a mad man, you don't require an expensive budget and a team of assistants. There is life outside your career and the career that places the leasts demands on this, while being enjoyable, is the way for you.
  6. Jun 17, 2005 #5
    I think being a pure mathematician or a theoretical physicist are quite different things, and it mostly depends on what u can do best...

    I remember when i was having my 1st course of mdoern physics, i ahd a friend int he electrical engineering department having the exact same course, but yet she could never answer one question of any of our exams, cause she only learned how to deal with it mathematically, while we worked out our minds more on it, we learned how to do physics, while they learned how to do everything in mathematics...

    So it's quite different...
  7. Jun 17, 2005 #6


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    Ph.D. Theoretical Physics ... that undeniably sounds cooler :)
  8. Jun 17, 2005 #7


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    Well,i'd advise you to follow theoretical physics.I'll try to do it myself starting this autumn.It can be rewarding and demanding at the same time.

  9. Jun 17, 2005 #8
    why can't you do both??? theoretical physics has alot of math courses...and some even have GR and QM as math courses...I believe uft does this.See if you can skip all the lab courses and take math...as for being weak in math and phys...ass long as you work hard you will do welll...those contests like descartes/euclid/olympiads don't mean squat in university(just helps you get into a good one or scholarships) unless you wanna try the PUTNAM(north american uni contest). I did well in those contests but I was lazy...I wish i had a hard work ethics...but video games came into the picture...stay away from them... plus I wanted to lean towards programming 3D environements to simulate physics/math/psych but my school sucked for cs(you hear that MCMASTER you suck at cs)

    One of the most important things to do while in university is to talk to your profs which is one of the things i didin't do in my first few years. Learn the traits from them and they'll see whether you could cut it. Ask them questions about the future of the field and such...most profs are open to talking about stuff like that. ANd make sure you make a niche of people that you can count on in the programme.
    I would suggest also learning some programming be it matlab/maple or C/C++ because they'll become an importantr trait in the future.

    againt intelligence means nothing without good work ethics.
    and to become a foremost researcher only time will tell.
  10. Jun 17, 2005 #9
    Be a theoretical physicist who takes a lot of math. I believe that physics uses more math than math does physics.
  11. Jun 17, 2005 #10
    I can relate with this question. The only difference is, I am having trouble deciding whether I should be a Pure Mathematician, or a Experimental Physicist. My Mathematical ability far transcends my ability in Physics. Though I am quite good at solving Physics problems and understanding Physics. Mathematics completely comes natural to me. Physics may require more studying, if I were to choose the path to becoming a Physicist. Going into Pure Mathematics would be an easy ride in life as I tend to look at it.

    I am being pressured by other students to pursue a path into becoming an Engineer. Though there are just too many Engineering Paths I can take. Whether it be Chemical, Mechanical, Petroleum, or Electrical Engineering.

    If I were to become an Experimental Physicist, I would really like to get into Fluid Dynamics. I find that to be an interesting area. When I look at Mathematics, sometimes I think I might get too bored and just get my Masters and end up teaching at some community college. I get this impression because I know so many Math teachers that have their Masters and kind of got tired of attending College any longer to get that PhD. I think I'de rather be an Engineer then teach at a High School or Community College.

    So I am struggling to make this important decision. Hopefully I'll get accepted to the Nasa Undergraduate Research Program. If I can do that, then maybe I can find an area I would most like to specialize in.
  12. Jun 17, 2005 #11
    ooh i applied for the NASA thing..buit i think only 5 in 150 apps get excepted...i got rejected =[.

    have you thought about engineering physics..thats what we have in canada. for those who wnat to do enginneering. we also have a math and physics option.
  13. Jun 17, 2005 #12
    Come to think of it, I sometimes do find mathematics boring when doing exercises (especially after doing a few practice exams, I feel like a machine) whereas physics exercises are about the real world (so each one is different and interesting). Although even if I could not relate the mathematics to reality, I felt ‘smarter’ after doing 1st year pure mathematics and did other things in life a little better and quicker! Also at rare times I feel really inspired by the math.

    Most of you suggest that pure mathematics is easier than physics. I tend to go the other way, because
    1.Maths is not very intuitive – you cannot relate to the real world
    2.There is usually a trick in the mathematical problems and it can take ages if you are not experienced. Whereas in physics, the tricks are a bit easier to see since we can apply our intuition more readily.

    I haven’t done a modern physics course yet so I’ll get more idea about physics after doing it next semester.

    Some say that real physics is experimental physics since nothing is sure until we have empirical evidence. So I shouldn’t rule experimental physics out. It probably has more job opportunities as well.

    Mathematicians of the past seem to give the view that mathematics is not for everyone and is not a long-term occupation, which is a bit worrying.
    For example,
    Poincare said “Mathematics are born, not made.”
    Hardy said “Mathematics, more than anything else is a young man’s game”.
    Russell said, regarding the only negative in mathematics “It is a pity that it should be necessary to make one very serious reservation-he must not be too old.”

    Has any physicists said anything like the above?
  14. Jun 17, 2005 #13
    The key to Pure Mathematics is to invent, create, or discover. If your unable to do that, then Pure Mathematics will always appear trivial to you. However there are many things to be developed and discovered in Mathematics. To invent, create, or discover some Mathematics, requires alot of intuition. Eventually if you go far enough you can do some research for your thesis and make a contribution in Mathematics.

    I would very much like to make a contribution to Mathematics, but so far at this point in time I have not been able to invent, create, or discover something in Mathematics. I do find it enjoyable explaining Mathematical Concepts.

    What is really interesting is Mathematical Physics. This is an area that focues primarily on the Mathematics used in Theoretical Physics. Mathematical Physicists work with the many developments of Theoretical Physicists. Very few Universities offer Mathematical Physics as a degree.
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