• Support PF! Buy your school textbooks, materials and every day products via PF Here!

Programs How useful would Chemistry be as a 2nd major to Physics

So this upcoming fall I'm beginning college and decided to pursue a BS in Physics. Although I'm not exactly sure what field I want to pursue in physics, I think I want go into quantum mechanics after I graduate and obtain my PhD.

Although I love chemistry, it's not what I want to do as a career so I was just wondering how useful a BS in Chemistry would be to a Physicist. Is it better to obtain a BS in Physics with a BS in Mathematics instead and take a lot graduate level physic coursework during my undergrad years?
 

Vanadium 50

Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
Education Advisor
22,844
5,092
I think it's better to think about what classes you want to take and not so much about extra majors.
 
I think it's better to think about what classes you want to take and not so much about extra majors.
It's a requirement at my university to have a minor or a 2nd major if you are majoring in physics. I've always figured chemistry would give me a deeper understanding in physics, but after viewing some threads on this forum, it seems everything you learn in chemistry that applies to quantum mechanics is a water downed version of actual quantum mechanics.

I know math is crucial to physics and will require fewer classes than chemistry. If I do decide to do a second major in math, I have practically 3 semester of only electives or I can graduate with a BS in both. Since I have a scholarship, I don't want to waste those semester, but i'm debating on whether knowledge in chemistry would help me or if graduate courses are better. Since I don't plan on getting my masters at the university i'm attending during my undergrad, the graduate courses I take during my last year I would have to take again when I pursue a graduate degree.
 
Last edited:

symbolipoint

Homework Helper
Education Advisor
Gold Member
5,574
893
Physics will give you a deeper understanding of Chemistry. Chemistry will not teach you much about Physics. Take just what Chem courses are required if you do not want Chemistry as your career. If you are really interested in Chemistry, then maybe you might choose a minor concentration in it. Without knowing more about your career plans, your major field could be Physics and either concentration or second major in something practical - maybe engineering or computer sci/programming. Best advice right now is, talk to an adviser in your department.
 

Choppy

Science Advisor
Education Advisor
Insights Author
4,477
1,553
On a scale of one to ten, I'd say it's about a bicycle.:bike:

More seriously though, at this point it's better to choose your courses based on your interests rather than attempting to optimize the synergistic effect of combining majors based on the opinions of people on the internet.

Also, it's probably better to a couple years of undergrad underneath your belt before you start counting on graduate level coursework as part of your degree. Remember that two graduate level courses is often considered a full course load - for graduate students. That's not to say you can't or shouldn't take them as an undergrad. In some cases it can be a great experience. But other times you can end up in over your head.
 
Thank you everyone; I really appreciate the input. I guess I have to do some soul searching before I decide, but I definitely will talk to my academic advisory.
 
400
17
I was a biochemistry major in college and all throughout college I found myself curious about the deeper quantum physics behind it all rather than learning about chemical substances.

I don't think chemistry really satisfies knowledge for physics only physics does that. I did enjoy my p-chem classes though and I wouldn't mind being a physical chemist as opposed to a traditional chemist.
 
It's a requirement at my university to have a minor or a 2nd major if you are majoring in physics. I've always figured chemistry would give me a deeper understanding in physics, but after viewing some threads on this forum, it seems everything you learn in chemistry that applies to quantum mechanics is a water downed version of actual quantum mechanics.

I know math is crucial to physics and will require fewer classes than chemistry. If I do decide to do a second major in math, I have practically 3 semester of only electives or I can graduate with a BS in both. Since I have a scholarship, I don't want to waste those semester, but i'm debating on whether knowledge in chemistry would help me or if graduate courses are better. Since I don't plan on getting my masters at the university i'm attending during my undergrad, the graduate courses I take during my last year I would have to take again when I pursue a graduate degree.
As others have posted, it's hard to decide on courses this early on without having a better idea of what exactly you're trying to get out of it. I loved chemistry when I entered university and still do, but was able to learn (and still am) the theory I wanted through my physics courses and a bit of independent reading. If you enjoy the experimental side also (it can certainly be very interesting), then it might be best to look at the outlines for some of the chemistry courses you think you're interested in.

Personally, with the electives I had remaining in my physics program, I was able to take a lot of courses that I'd heard good things about (e.g. good professors, enjoyable environment). This led me into taking courses such as organic chemistry and speech as electives which were very interesting themselves. As you said, keeping space for further math/comp sci/grad-level courses could be really helpful going forward, too. The main sentiment just seems to be to keep your options open because you never know what kind of interesting courses you might come across. For example, there were courses in artificial intelligence, tissue engineering, and high performance computing that I was eligible to take (usually through special permission) because of my physics background and also other courses I'd taken serendipitously throughout my undergrad.
 
The main sentiment just seems to be to keep your options open because you never know what kind of interesting courses you might come across. For example, there were courses in artificial intelligence, tissue engineering, and high performance computing that I was eligible to take (usually through special permission) because of my physics background and also other courses I'd taken serendipitously throughout my undergrad.
Sadly, my university doesn't offer any of those amazing courses, and if they did, I couldn't not put myself through the biology or computer science to get to that level. They are my least favorite subjects all around, and although I hated most of mechanics in physics, I loved electricity and magnetism when I took it at my college last year through a dual credit program.
On the other hand, the area I live in is surrounded by a lot of opportunities for STEM major and my university really focuses on research at all levels. I just recently got an internship that sparked my passion for chemistry (more like chemical engineering) again, so right now, I'm going to keep my options open. Thanks for the solid advice!
 

Zap

154
46
I graduated with a BS in chemistry and physics, and minored in biochemistry. I would not recommend it. It was a pain in the arse, and it didn't seem to open any doors for me. No one really seems to care that I double majored, except for my mom. If I could go back, I would double major in physics and computer science. Now that is a hell of a combo.

I was essentially forced to go to grad school, because I couldn't find a job. Now, I basically have no idea what I'm doing with my life. Don't get caught up in all of this academic stuff. You should be looking at jobs and where you want to be in 4 to 5 years, maybe 6, if you decide to do the double major. Try to choose something that will allow you to go to graduate school if you want but also make you employable right after your bachelor's degree. You probably won't regret it. I thought I wanted to be a super scientist and go to school my whole life, but 5 to 6 years later, I was 5 to 6 years older and had a change of heart, but chemistry and physics are two pretty weak bachelor's degrees in the current job market. Combining them doesn't make things any better.

It doesn't make a lot of sense to double major. In the amount of time I spent on my bachelor's degree, I could have graduated with a master's degree. School costs a lot of time and money, and you need to be utilizing that time and money effectively. I agree that you should take a few electives in other departments and explore classes, but also talk to professors, volunteer for research in different areas and talk with them about jobs and where their students get employed after graduation. That doesn't cost money and the time will be worth it. You have the opportunity to obtain skills and professional experience in just about anything you want at the university. Just because you're a physicist doesn't mean you have to work in the physics department. You can talk to anyone and get involved with anything without having to take extra classes. Right now, I am speaking with someone in the electrical engineering department at my school. It is possible that I will begin research with him in optical engineering despite being a master's student in the physics department. Work experience usually trumps a few classes in whatever area you're interested in. Don't go crazy and take 250 credits of university classes, like I did. It doesn't pay off. You're better off filling your extra time with research or engineering experience than taking some stupid class.

That's my advice. I don't know what it's worth, but if I could go back, I wouldn't choose to double major in chemistry and physics. It was pretty difficult and there was no reward in it. With a bachelor's in chemistry, you can expect to choose between careers as a chemical technician or materials scientist. With a bachelor's in physics, you can expect to choose between careers as a chemical technician or materials scientists. I'm just joking, but it's kind of true. Physics might open a little bit more doors than chemistry. The chances of becoming an engineer are higher, but apparently not high enough for me.

I knew someone who triple majored in biochemistry, chemistry and chemical engineering. How useful do you think that was? I also know someone who got a PhD in chemistry and became a plasma physicist. That was due to her research, not her classes. But if you're going to supplement a physics major, I would choose something other than chemistry. It's not a particularly good degree. I've thought I would make a great spectroscopist or physical chemist, but that kind of stuff usually requires a PhD, so having the chem + phys background still doesn't help me much there. I'm like a millimeter away from being a materials engineer, right? I seriously have not a clue what I'm doing, but head my warning, Amy. I must know a little bit. Heck, I majored in chemistry and physics ...

... minored in biochemistry.

Only a chemist would think that double majoring in physics is a good idea.

Your major should be finding a career, lady. Not becoming a professional student.
 
Last edited:

verty

Homework Helper
2,157
197
I think there's a job out there for you, Zap. Just write your CV in a convincing way, how you love science, you pursued the two sciences you love, etc. Something will happen, I'm sure.
 

Zap

154
46
Yea, I just need to keep my spirits up and stay motivated. I was pretty naive after graduating. I thought that with a good GPA and my double STEM BS that employers would be sending me offers left and right. No one told me otherwise. I got a pretty big wake up call. It's a lot harder than I thought it would be, but I've not given up.

I'm not sure if I love science, anymore. During my last semester of undergrad, I took 21 credits of 300 to 400 level physics classes (mostly 400 level), and absolutely hated it. I thought I loved it, until that semester. After that semester, I felt like I hated science. It's not been the same since. I'm not into school as much as I once was.
 
Last edited:

verty

Homework Helper
2,157
197
I would try to get a job in a manufacturing situation, QA for food manufacturing for example. I mean taking samples and testing them, writing logs, etc. Perhaps it'll be boring but perhaps it'll lead somewhere. Those QA guys bear a lot of responsibiity. One such place to work is a brewery.
 

symbolipoint

Homework Helper
Education Advisor
Gold Member
5,574
893
I would try to get a job in a manufacturing situation, QA for food manufacturing for example. I mean taking samples and testing them, writing logs, etc. Perhaps it'll be boring but perhaps it'll lead somewhere. Those QA guys bear a lot of responsibiity. One such place to work is a brewery.
Stressful and uncomfortable work
 

Zap

154
46
I don't have much experience in QC and QA outside of one analytical chemistry course. It doesn't seem like I'm the most qualified for that kind of job. I think market research or some kind of analyst position would be a better deal. I feel like statistical data analysis is a significant part of chemistry and physics, and I'm currently taking classes in computer science. I heard that business positions like to hire physicists. I'm also considering spending my life in school. It seems like the acceptance rate is much higher for schools than for companies. Most schools work you part time and offer tuition waivers, so I'll be making more money per hour as a grad assistant than at an entry level job for around 15 an hour.
 
Last edited:

Dr Transport

Science Advisor
Gold Member
2,208
383
The additional labs required for a chemistry major would preclude you from graduating in 4 years, even a minor would be difficult to achieve. Mathis a better way to go with a second major or minor.
 

Zap

154
46
Minor was just 1 additional class, at my school. A whole second major was roughly 13 or so.
It's doable in 5 years, but I'm not sure whether it is useful. It would depend on what you wanted to do. I can only see it being useful if you wanted to do spectroscopy. The chem isn't going to give you the mathematical tools to understand molecular orbital theory, and the phys isn't going to give you the chemical intuition or qualitative understanding of the molecule and it's chemical properties like chem does.

It's not the worst idea in the world, but you're giving yourself a lot more work than what is necessary. It might not be worth it. Assuming you've already taken gen chem, I would recommend taking a semester of O-chem and one more of inorganic (with group theory) and possibly one of quantum chemistry and stopping there. There are other chem classes, but I don't think they are pertinent. You pretty much touch on everything else in gen chem, besides analytical and instrumentation. You may want to take analytical chemistry, though. I got a much fonder appreciation of statistics and error analysis in analytical chemistry than I did from my physics classes.
 
Last edited:

DrDu

Science Advisor
5,982
728
As a chemist who ended up in physics for his thesis, I think chemistry might be most useful when you are interested in experimental physics, e.g. solid state physics or biophysics. The interesting part in studying chemistry which is hard to get elsewhere is lab experience. Think about whether you want to do something where you will need it or not.
 

symbolipoint

Homework Helper
Education Advisor
Gold Member
5,574
893
As a chemist who ended up in physics for his thesis, I think chemistry might be most useful when you are interested in experimental physics, e.g. solid state physics or biophysics. The interesting part in studying chemistry which is hard to get elsewhere is lab experience. Think about whether you want to do something where you will need it or not.
One can find that some people who earned a degree, like an undergraduate degree, in Chemistry, later returned to school and earned a degree usually including an advanced degree in Physics. The Chemistry from earlier either was not satisfying just by subject, or their work experience was undesirable for them, so Physics became more appealing.
 
34
12
I would do a second major in mathematics if you are set on doing one. In my work I deal with a lot of chemistry. My company is mainly a chemistry company. They hired someone with a physics degree to do my job because it is far easier for a physics degree holder to pick up chemistry than it is for a chemistry degree holder to pick up physics (not always, so don't get all offended).
If you don't want to specifically do chemistry, then I don't see it as a benefit in any way... just a distraction.
Mathematics will help you understand Physics better.
Really though, I wouldn't recommend a second major at all, especially if you are getting a PhD. Just focus on your primary subject.
 

DrDu

Science Advisor
5,982
728
I would do a second major in mathematics if you are set on doing one.
Mathematics? You don't need to inscribe to a university to learn mathematics, just get yourself some good books and a comfy sofa. Same for theoretical physics. I would only recommend to inscribe to a subject where you get hands on experience in some advanced experimental techniques.
 

Want to reply to this thread?

"How useful would Chemistry be as a 2nd major to Physics" You must log in or register to reply here.

Physics Forums Values

We Value Quality
• Topics based on mainstream science
• Proper English grammar and spelling
We Value Civility
• Positive and compassionate attitudes
• Patience while debating
We Value Productivity
• Disciplined to remain on-topic
• Recognition of own weaknesses
• Solo and co-op problem solving
Top