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Is mathematical physics worth it?

  1. Oct 18, 2007 #1

    Im currently in my 2nd year as a physics major, I have been considering majoring in mathematical physics, because it seems fairly interesting and I figure it might help give me a better chance in finding a job (even a math oriented job), anyways, to do so I will have to re-take 3 math classes and take an extra 4 math classes than would have been required in just my physics degree. So all that equals more money and a lot more work too... im curious if its worth it, will that degree give me more options later, or should I just stay with the physics and learn that extra math on my own if needed.

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 18, 2007 #2
    What? I took 2 quarters of mathematical physics in my university. It was just mathematical methods for solving physics problems.

    It essentially was math that we'd need later. Right now in QM we're doing free particle stuff with Fourier transforms, and I've already learned that, so I can focus on the conceptual part of the physics. I don't know how you'd get a whole degree out of it, though.
  4. Oct 18, 2007 #3
    I assume his program has different pathways.

    I don't know that it would give you many more options. If you develop skills you wouldn't have otherwise, that could be valuable. I'd take a few classes from the extra list and go from there...if you don't go through with it, hopefully you still learn something that can help you.
  5. Oct 19, 2007 #4
    the mathematical physics programs requires you take a math course in chaos theory, differential geometery, topolgy and few others, which is something the regular honors physics doesnt require, now to take those classes I would have to taken an extra 3 or so to get ready for it, just unsure if its worth it. I want to make myself as ready as possible, but also as eligable for good jobs too. so is it worth it you think?
  6. Oct 20, 2007 #5
    I'd take it just because I think it sounds fun..."worth it" depends on your goals and reasons for taking it. If you're doing it because it sounds fun, then it's certainly worth it. Likewise, if it's something you want to understand so you can apply it later. If you're doing it to up your odds of getting into your grad school of choice or something like that (common motive, trying to differentiate yourself somehow) this probably isn't the most effective or efficient way to go about it.
  7. Oct 20, 2007 #6
    well...from all the popular science books ive read, it seems like learning stuff like differential geometery, chaos math, topology seems pretty damn interesting. I would justify the extra year in school by saying it would help me get a job, or get into grad school. if that makes sense. I guess what im wondering if though if there is a pragmatic benefit in learning that stuff in terms of applying for physics or math related jobs, but I also think that learning that extra math would also just make me a better mathematicians. any thoughts?
  8. Oct 20, 2007 #7
    Chaos Dynamics is fun, but the introduction class was kind of boring. Differential Geometry people say is rather useful in physics. I can't speak much for Topology yet, I haven't taken it =(.
  9. Oct 20, 2007 #8
    While I personally dislike the term "mathematical Physics", I'll say that minoring in math should help you be a better physicist.
  10. Oct 20, 2007 #9
    "Mathematical physics" is just the classification for one particular approach to doing physics. When it's available as a major pathway, the idea is to give you a solid background for pursuing this "style".

    It seems that most places, a physics major is a de facto math minor +/- a couple courses. However, additional upper-division math can give you the rigorous treatment of material you were likely exposed to from a more applied/computational standpoint through the Physics department.
  11. Oct 21, 2007 #10
    Frankly, I don't think the major will give you many more options either for work or grad school. Certainly you should take what you can in they way of maths courses, but I doubt taking too much extra time (and money) is worth it. Instead, you could consider undergrad research and thesis...even something practical like a particle physics experiment, etc. Sprinkled with some extra maths courses, it will look better to employers and grad schools (undergrad research in mathematical physics is a bit sketchy).
  12. Oct 21, 2007 #11
    hmm...well, I thank everyone for the replies. I guess im still a lil unsure yet :)
  13. Oct 21, 2007 #12
    Substance D,

    As someone who worked before coming back to grad school, and is looking for a job now, I'll give you my impression. The following thoughts apply towards getting a non-education, non-medical physics job in the private sector. Employers are interested in these two things:

    1) Lab experience (NOT the class laboratories, real research lab experience)
    2) Simulation/Programming experience

    Mathematical physics may give you some of the second, but none of the first. Think of it as being multiplicative, not additive - multiply your physics degree times the amount of experience you have in those things and the result is your value to your employer. If you end up with a degree in physics with neither of those things, be prepared to be back in the university, one way or another.

    Right now as I look for a job, if I had a great scholastic background in physics combined with a fantastic array of high level math classes, well I'd pretty much be out of luck. Those things just have little value to anyone I can find that hires people. My lab experience, on the other hand, appears to be what will get me employed (and it's what got me employed prior to grad school).

    I also have a (very) small sample of other physics students to compare myself to. I somehow got stuck in an office with several theorists who are earning their phd's as I write this. I get to listen to them look for jobs. I praise my lucky stars every day I'm not in their shoes.

    Take that however you like.
  14. Oct 22, 2007 #13
    I have always been of the opinion that if you are passionate about the subject you should go for it.

    The academic world/teaching world would likely be a good final destionation career wise. Besides that, a course in Diff. Geo (if you use a russian author prepaired to be amazed), is always a fun class to take.

  15. Oct 22, 2007 #14
    This is certainly a nice thought, but that passion should also be balanced by reason as well, especially if you are talking about a PhD. You may really enjoy doing your research on quantum gravity for a few years, but unless you are very lucky and very great at what you do..you may be unemployed at the end of it all.

    However, it seems the OP is still an undergrad. If one plans to try to find technical work with a B.S. in physics, it would certainly be better to obtain marketable skills, rather than take more upper level math classes. Even for graduate school, labs and research experience will probably help more than a double major in math.

    I think ZapperZ's 'So you want to be a physicist' really emphasizes all of this and should probably be required reading for any physics major.
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