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Is this a good undergraduate path for a physics doctorate?

  1. Mar 18, 2016 #1
    The school I plan to attend does not have a physics major. However, it has a chemistry major, as well as applied mathematics, general mathematics, and theoretical mathematics majors. It also has a physics minor.

    My question is this:

    With a double major in chemistry and applied math (or even theoretical math) and a minor in physics, would that be enough to get into a physics PhD program?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 18, 2016 #2

    micromass

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    I don't think there is a good answer to this, it depends on so many specifics. But the best advice I can give you is to find another school that does have a physics major. Staying in this school is a gamble.

    Anyway, as a physics major, you're expected to have taken at least the following courses aside from the usual introductory sequence: classical mechanics, electricity & magnetism, statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics. If you don't have at least those courses, you're going to have a very tough time getting into grad school. Note that many take well beyond these courses too.

    Research is obviously very important. If you can do research in your school that involved some physics (even if from a chemist or math perspective), then that is a big bonus. Since you won't have the right major and will be lacking some physics courses, research is very important. So are letters of recommendation and the GRE. Those will definitely have to be excellent in your case.
     
  4. Mar 18, 2016 #3

    jtbell

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    A physics PhD program isn't like an MBA where you can enter from a wide range of backgrounds. You have to have a decent amount of upper-level undergraduate physics courses, beyond the intro physics that a chemistry major includes. A chemistry major does include stuff like physical chemistry which is based on quantum mechanics, and you'll get some thermodynamics somewhere (also in p-chem?). But they're probably taught differently from the way physics courses would do them. And you still need upper-level classical mechanics and E&M, at least.
     
  5. Mar 18, 2016 #4
    Would that undergrad path be decent for acquiring a Master's in physics, and then a PhD? Or still just a bad idea?
     
  6. Mar 18, 2016 #5

    jtbell

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    In the US, physics PhD programs include master's-level coursework for the first two years, and students normally enter them directly after a bachelor's degree. Standalone master's programs are normally "terminal" degrees that are not intended to lead on to a PhD program. They're usually for training in specialized fields for industry, or for teachers to earn credentials for promotions or higher salaries.

    It's probably possible to move from a standalone master's program into a Ph.D. program, but I don't think it's very common. Maybe someone else here has experience with that.

    There may be financial differences between the two paths, also. In a PhD program you normally receive support via an assistantship, teaching for the first year or two, then research afterwards. I think you'd usually have to pay for a separate master's program yourself.
     
  7. Mar 18, 2016 #6

    Choppy

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    It sounds to me like you're planning things backwards. If your goal is to get a PhD in physics, and you're just starting out, you should find a school that offers an undergraduate degree in physics.
     
  8. Mar 18, 2016 #7
    I actually like physics and chemistry about equally. My original childhood dream was to be a chemist. But I think I've been dissuaded from chemistry over what people have told me about it. (Poor job availability, security, etc.).
     
  9. Mar 18, 2016 #8

    jtbell

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    Same with me at the end of high school. Then I took the calculus-based intro physics course in college, Maxwell's Equations blew me away, and I decided to go with physics. :cool:
    On the other hand, physics doesn't offer a sure path either. There aren't many long-term jobs in academia (becoming a professor). You need to develop marketable skills, and be flexible about where you'll be happy ending up. There have been many threads about this in our Career Guidance forum.
     
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