Major in Chemistry or Physics?

  • #1
As with probably a lot of pure science undergrads, my dream goal is to become a researcher, academia or industry. As far as I know at the moment, I'm interested in the area of research that straddles physics and chemistry, and I'm not sure which one I should major in. Should I major in chemistry or physics? I've been comparing both fields' research topics through university research group pages, and I'm finding I like the style of physics more (e.g. focused more on the fundamental nature of atoms/molecules/materials), in topics like AMO and condensed matter. Also, it's more math heavy, which I think I'd like. So, I'm currently leaning towards physics, though I am a chemistry major currently. Any thoughts? Thanks.
 

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  • #3
Choppy
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Depending on how you select your electives, your major may not really matter that much in the end. I've known physical chemistry undergrads who've gone on to do graduate school in physics (and quite successfully at that), so making the choice now won't necessarily limit your opportunities in the future. But you do need to be selective about.

It might be worth talking to an undergraduate advisor about too. That person will likely have some experience in detailing what doors open and close with either path that's specific to your program.
 
  • #4
symbolipoint
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I've been comparing both fields' research topics through university research group pages, and I'm finding I like the style of physics more (e.g. focused more on the fundamental nature of atoms/molecules/materials), in topics like AMO and condensed matter. Also, it's more math heavy, which I think I'd like. So, I'm currently leaning towards physics, though I am a chemistry major currently. Any thoughts? Thanks.
Choose Physics! You could still take on Chemistry as a "minor" concentration if you believe it suits your interests.
 
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  • #5
ZapperZ
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As with probably a lot of pure science undergrads, my dream goal is to become a researcher, academia or industry. As far as I know at the moment, I'm interested in the area of research that straddles physics and chemistry, and I'm not sure which one I should major in. Should I major in chemistry or physics? I've been comparing both fields' research topics through university research group pages, and I'm finding I like the style of physics more (e.g. focused more on the fundamental nature of atoms/molecules/materials), in topics like AMO and condensed matter. Also, it's more math heavy, which I think I'd like. So, I'm currently leaning towards physics, though I am a chemistry major currently. Any thoughts? Thanks.
Your academic advisor should be the first person you ask this question to. Have you?

Zz.
 
  • #6
Your academic advisor should be the first person you ask this question to. Have you?

Zz.
I haven't yet, because I want to have a sense of whether I'll like it or not. I've been asking physical chem professors & others who do spectroscopy/computation and I'm planning to ask physics professors about what they think. But, my academic advisor is an analytical chem professor doing applications to biological stuff. While he can totally help with navigating the change of major, I thought it'd be more helpful to ask other physics-interfacing professors first because they'd probably know more about the major and how it's different from chemistry.
 
  • #7
Dr. Courtney
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I've mentored both chemistry and physics majors, including a few on the fence who changed majors. Most students who start in chemistry majors know if chemistry is their calling by the time they complete O Chem. Have you finished O Chem yet? By this time, most often have some research experience as well on one side or the other, and this often assists in their choice.

Prior to O Chem (or Modern Physics and Mechanics on the Physics side) and without any research experience, the discussion is pretty theoretical, you are basing your decision on what you hear from others rather than your actual experience. And the actual experience will tell you a lot more about which you really like better.
 
  • #8
I've mentored both chemistry and physics majors, including a few on the fence who changed majors. Most students who start in chemistry majors know if chemistry is their calling by the time they complete O Chem. Have you finished O Chem yet? By this time, most often have some research experience as well on one side or the other, and this often assists in their choice.

Prior to O Chem (or Modern Physics and Mechanics on the Physics side) and without any research experience, the discussion is pretty theoretical, you are basing your decision on what you hear from others rather than your actual experience. And the actual experience will tell you a lot more about which you really like better.
I'm only starting my 2nd year, so I haven't taken the university o-chem sequence. But, my high school offered an o-chem class, which I took of course. The most interesting topics for me were spectroscopy and reaction mechanisms. It was interesting to be able to look at a molecule and see how its electron densities and various substituents could affect how it reacts and behaves (steric and electronic effects), and because spectroscopy is a precise way to identify that, that also was fascinating. Memorizing reactions was the worst part of the class. The labs were fun to do themselves, but there's so much room for error and impurities that trying to do things precisely in an organic lab doesn't seem that fun.

On the physics side, I'm a bit ahead on math, so I'm planning to take modern physics and upper-division mechanics this fall, to see if I like it. I've taken a look at what mechanics topics are like, and it looks to be very math-heavy and applicable to more advanced stuff, so it'll probably be a good litmus test (ha) to see if I like physics.
 
  • #9
symbolipoint
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Memorizing reactions was the worst part of the class. The labs were fun to do themselves, but there's so much room for error and impurities that trying to do things precisely in an organic lab doesn't seem that fun.
Very likely you would like Physics more than Chemistry as major field.
 
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  • #10
radium
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Since you like the physics style more, I think the best option may be to major in physics and take whatever chemistry courses interest you or that you feel will be useful.
 
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  • #11
symbolipoint
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Something more to think about: What JOB do you want , if you know this, after earning your undergraduate degree? If graduated with Physics, do you want a job as a technician or as an engineer? Something else, or something related? Maybe something like "staff scientist"? If graduated with Chemistry, do you want a job as a chemist, chemical technician, laboratory technician, or something related to chemistry?
 

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