Grad school math or physics

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  • #1
I'm going to grad school in the spring of 2013 or maybe take a grad class in fall 2012 and I'm working on deciding on going for math or physics.

Here is a quick version of my story so you know my background.

1. In my early 20's I got really excited about physics and wanted to be a scientist.

2. I didn't take any physics classes because I needed to take pre-cal and trig first.

3. When I finally finished calculus 1, it was time to pick a degree at my school.

4. My school did not have a BS physics degree (small school) so I did a math degree.

5. Finally, after a year or so into my math degree I had the availability to take university physics.

6. My university physics professor was one of the worst teachers I've ever had in my life.

7. I later talked with another physics professor and told them that all I ever wanted to do was to become a scientist and get a physics degree.

8. To my surprise, a physics BS degree was created that semester (brand new program) and the teacher said I could double major.

9. Double majoring in math and physics is something that I am very proud of but very hard.

10. I'm graduating in fall 2012 and trying to decide on which path I will take, a masters in math or physics.

Can anyone offer advice on how to help me decide?

How do you make this kind of decision?


Answers and Replies

  • #2
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I can only tell you what I did.

I picked on math Msc, and if I'll have an itch in my conscience later on that I need to do also an advanced degree in theoretical physics so I will pursuit it as well.

I am more of a theory person to tell you the truth.
  • #3
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It can be tough to decide when you have multiple interests. One piece of advice might be to look for particular projects that interest you and/or professors who you feel would make good mentors rather than the name of the department that you would be doing them in.
  • #4
and trying to decide on which path I will take, a masters in math or physics.
As far as I understand, Mathematical Physics is the study of various mathematical structures/constructions which resemble and possibly generalize things done in various traditional physics settings or which project to be important to future physics endeavors based on some fundamental calculations already done by physicists (e.g. what sort of mathematical properties WOULD be necessary to make a certain physical theory work out a certain way), perhaps among other things. There is an appeal even to me as a mathematics concentrator to actually seeing what the actual physicists have to say, however, because it's simply much closer range to physics topics.

I'd say if you are interested in the kind of physics farthest from mathematical physics, you should definitely do a physics master's. If you're interested in things in theoretical physics like quantum field theory, you could go either way. Learning some more geometry, topology, and analysis could help a lot for things like that.

Keep in mind that both theoretical physics and mathematical physics students often take courses from each others' areas (and this is particularly relevant given you are asking about a MS rather than a PhD at this point).

I think you do have the ability to start asking what you're interested in given you're double majoring.
  • #5
I have talked with my math professors and although I'm sure they like me, none of them have really taken an extra interest in me.

I have also talked with my physics professors and it turns out that this is this one professor who really likes me! She teaches undergrad Quantum Mechanics (I'm in the class). We get along very well and I like her as a teacher very much.

Her research is in biomolecular chirality, why life is based on L-amino acids rather than D-amino acids.

I'm finishing up my undergrad in fall 2012. I had no idea that apparently the time to go to grad school was in the fall and you are supposed to graduate in the spring. But this is just how my double major worked out. I can't help it.

In my last semester for undergrad, I'm taking Logic and Abstract Algebra, if I go for the physics degree, the physics professors have told me that I should take Math Methods for physicists, but since its a small school I don't know if it will conflict with my other classes. Stressful if you ask me and the schedule for that semester fall 2012 is not out yet.

For the undergrad, you have to do a little research project which I can do in the summer and I would like to do it with her, my QM teacher, but since it is about chirality, she wants me a take a course on chirality over the summer so I can do her research in the fall 2012 but if I do that and then I sure wouldn't be able to take Math Methods and would miss out on that semester. Why can't Math Methods be offered every semester, darn it.

But I'm also thinking for talking with her and asking if she has any alternative research projects that I can work. She is the first teacher who has taken a liking to me and actually told me that she wanted for me to do research with her.

Also I really don't know what schools I should consider for grad school. The only way I can pay for it is with a scholarship. I haven't taken the general GRE but plan to over the 3 week summer vacation break.

Also here is my list of classes and how I felt about the subject material after taking them.

Calculus 1 - Understand very well
Calculus 2 - Understand very well
Calculus 3 - Understand but I wasn't able to spend as much time learning it as I wanted

Differential Equations - Understand very well
Number Theory - Did good but sometimes difficult
Probability - Had hard time understanding it but basic probability is OK for me
Statistics - Didn't take because I don't like it, not my kind of math

Advanced Calculus - Understand pretty well
Complex Analysis - Understand very well

University Physics 1 - Had bad teacher, she didn't teach very much. Understood some things.
University Physics 2 - Got a B+ grade, understood somethings pretty good but there is so much more to learn
Modern Physics - Very strange class, teacher read directly from power point, I understood as much as I could

Thermodynamics - Liked the class, understood some things, I feel like I could eventually understand this pretty well. Some problems had crazy assumptions though.
Electrodynamics - Teacher used David Griffiths 3rd, hard time understanding it. Don't know how anyone could do some of the problems without solutions manual

Quantum Mechanics - First physics class where I feel like I actually understand whats going on! Teacher has homework with reasonable questions that as long as you read the material you can answer it. I really like the subject and the teacher is good!

Classical Mechanics - Class is kicking my butt, homework takes up to 10 hours. Feels like endless hours of pointless algebra. Understanding some things though. Problems just take too long. Would be hard to do without solutions manual.

And that's another thing, solutions manuals. Yeah, I could probably do some classes without them as I have before but good God without having solutions manuals for some of my darn classes I honestly don't know how in the heck I would get my homework done on time. yeah, I can research the heck out of a problem and read in other books but sometimes its just a waste of time. I just don't see how some people can do these classes without having the answers.

Oh yeah, another thing is that my very poor physics 1 teacher, who doesn't know what she is doing teaches the graduate level Quantum Mechanics classes. This upsets me because I would love to have my current QM teacher for grad QM. In fact, that would be a real selling point for me to stay at my school but nope.

I am one of those students who, as long as I have a good mentor and someone that believes in me, I can accomplish great things. I'm very motivated while working with people (teachers), its the long lonely hours doing homework by myself for many years that has only made me sometimes depressed.

Anyway, I had to vent here. I'm kind of stressed out right now so forgive any poor grammar ect.
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