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How much Pure Math is in Physics, pure math / physics major?

  1. Oct 8, 2012 #1
    I really like pure math, like analysis, topology, and number theory, but I also like physics. I am wondering how many applications pure math has in higher level physics, because I don't want it to leave my life. And also, would a pure math /physics double major be intuitive or a waste of my time. At this point I my best case scenario after undergrad is to go get a Phd in math or physics, and try to get a job as a professor. My second case after undergrad is to go to grad school in engineering or physics and work in industry, because I would never go to grad school in math and end up working as an analyst or acruary, I would die.
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 26, 2015 #2
    You're in luck; most high level physics involves TONS of pure mathematics. This is particularly true in Relativity and String Theory (example, Einstein spent over a year essentially doing nothing but pure math to perfect his general relativity). When you say you want to be a professor, do you mean a focus on teaching or research? If teaching, then boom, you're all set to teach maybe some grad lvl relativity once you get a higher degree, or something similar. If research, then you will likely not be able to land a job without considerable experience as the really high level physics areas like string theory are just so complicated and hard that you have to essentially prove yourself a genius in the area to make good progress.

    So if you want to be a professor with a focus on teaching, then by all means do the double major with a PhD afterwards. If research, then good luck, but if unless you are highly gifted in the hot areas of study plan on getting another job first in case you have problems. Of course, this is assuming you retain your focus on pure math. If you give that a backseat, then your prospects as a professor improve greatly.

    As far as the engineering or physics industry work, all I can tell you is that that is the way to go if you want money. But it sounds like you have a passion for physics and math beyond just it being a means to make a living, so I would recommend the professor route.
  4. Jan 26, 2015 #3
    One thing to ask yourself is whether you'd really enjoy teaching. Some students at lower levels can be really impatient and inconsiderate. And if you're good at math, it's generally a pretty big shock to see the level of the students in some of the lower level classes. And even some higher level ones, too. It can be a challenge to get though to them. For example, you might run into an algebra student who says 7+3*4 = 10*4 = 40 because they don't know the order of operations. You have to realize that they're not stupid for making that mistake because the order of operations is purely a matter of convention, so you could be a genius and if you don't know the convention, you miight do the same thing. It does show a pretty profound lack of familiarity with the material they are supposed to have learned, though. Anyway, these things are so ingrained in you, if you've done a lot of math, so what ends up happening is that you have to almost relearn what it's like to know next to nothing about math, so that you can understand how to communicate with these students. I don't mind that so much, but what I do mind is when students start playing the blame game and just get really impatient and judgmental with you about it, if you don't instantly read their minds and know exactly what to tell them. I know I wasn't a very effective teacher when I started out, so I was failed by the system because they just kind of threw me to the lions and watched to see if I could defend myself. So, the students may have had some right to complain, but it wasn't all my fault, either. You can beat the system if you have more of a natural talent for teaching or if you prepare by having quite a bit of tutoring experience with low level students before you start teaching. Another thing is that people are judgmental about very superficial things. A psychology prof did an experiment where he worked on his tone of voice or something and it was a night and day difference in terms of how he was perceived. So, some kind of enthusiasm and practice in front of mirror/videotape beforehand might help. Perhaps, if I had done these things before I had to teach, I would still have some patience to keep trying, but the experience I had was so painful, I can't stand the thought of devoting my career to it. I didn't have any idea teaching was that hard before I tried it.

    You could try to become an engineer professor, too. Engineering can be very close to math and physics if you choose the right field, so I would recommend looking into it, if you are worried about getting a good job afterwards.

    Engineering isn't just for money. It is also good for minimizing the amount of painful job-search BS you have to suffer through in order to get a job, and it's also about getting a job that's more interesting than one that you might have randomly had to get to use as a back-up plan when you fail to get an academic job.
  5. Jan 26, 2015 #4
    I agree with homeomorphic. I started tutoring math calculus and under n I was terrible. Only a few students who were naturally inclined towards mathematics understood me. A majority of the students I tutored just wanted to learn the plug and chug method and did not even bother to practice before hand. There was a few times I had to re read their textbook to understand a few problems and some students would make smart remarks. Patience is key in this field.
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