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Math and Physics Undergrad?

  1. Jun 2, 2013 #1
    Hey everyone,

    I'm in a bit of a pickle. I just finished my first year of undergrad (started as a math major), and I'm still terribly lost as to what I want to major in, mainly because I'm not sure what I want to pursue as a career after college. For the most part, I know that I want to go after something heavily related to STEM fields. The topics that have caught my eye for a while now are engineering, meteorology, and geophysics. Because I don't really know what I want to do specifically, but I know that I want to do something that involves a strong background in mathematics and physics, I have been considering adding a major in physics. I've looked over the requirements, and I wouldn't need to take any extra time to finish it all. I've enjoyed the physics I have taken so far (Physics I and II, I more so than II), and I want to learn more about it and other fields in physics. If I did this, I would also have free space to take courses in engineering, geology, etc. to get a better idea of whether I like geophysics vs. engineering vs. meteorology vs. whatever else pops into my mind.

    The reason I am not sure of doing the engineering undergrad instead of this is because I have done some of the introductory courses required for mechanical engineering majors at my school. One of them was a design course that used Solidworks, and that became a huge turnoff toward the designing side of engineering for me. Plus, it is obviously a very structured course load with little room to explore and take courses in other subjects. With the math/physics duo, I have plenty of space to take classes in other subjects and hopefully find other things that spark my interest.

    Do you guys think that, for someone who will most likely have to go to graduate school in a field like meteorology or geophysics, or even engineering or something else I haven't found yet, a bachelor's degree in math and physics would be the best option for me to create a strong foundation for these fields?

    Note: my school does have a geophysics major, which caught my eye, but I was concerned with choosing it because of the possibility that I might not end up in that field.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 3, 2013 #2
    Can you take the courses required for the geophysics major as well as the classes required for the physics/math major? If so, you can then decide later. That's what I'm doing.

    Math and physics prepare you very well for geophysics graduate school. In fact, they're better preparation than geology. However, you do need to take some geophysics classes or some geology classes if they're available to you (I've been told that about 5 or 6 classes is generally enough). You might also want to take chemistry and do some research in geophysics.
  4. Jun 3, 2013 #3
    Doing all three will be a stretch; that's a big reason as to why I asked this question in the first place. I have had general chemistry courses, but that's it so far. I've considered taking a few more, but I'm not sure yet. I do plan on starting some of the geology courses next semester and going from there.
  5. Jun 3, 2013 #4
    General chemistry is all that's really necessary, but depending on what you do, physical chemistry could come in handy. In regards to geology, I sort of did the reverse and took some graduate level geophysics classes my sophomore year, but will only start doing introductory geology stuff in my junior year. Lots of the graduate level classes are accessible to people with strong physics backgrounds though.

    How is the geophysics major at your university structured? Here, it involves basically all of the same classes as the physics major which has been designed for people to take for graduate school, plus a slew of additional advanced geophysics electives (and intro geology...). If it's like this, it might be easier to double up. Otherwise, if you do math or physics but take a geo class most semesters, you'll still be very well prepared for geophysics- and almost certainly better prepared than geo majors who didn't focus on math and physics. Try also to get some research in, because that will also help you to decide whether you like the subject.
  6. Jun 3, 2013 #5
    What's weird about the geophysics major at my school is that there aren't many classes from the physics department required. We have to take Physics I and II and two EE courses, Circuits and Intro to Electromagnetism (Circuits is pre-req for Electromagnetism). Most of the courses that I would have to take are a ton of geology and a ton of classes from the geophysics department itself, which is housed under the geology department here.

    I know one of the geophysics professors pretty well, and I will try and see if I can get in on some of his research either in the fall or spring. I did actually consider taking physical chemistry soon. I might look into it some more.
  7. Jun 4, 2013 #6
    Oh, that's interesting. I guess my university does a lot of research about planetary evolution/dynamics rather than exploration geophysics, which explains why the geophysics degree requires classical mechanics, statistical mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, math through differential equations and linear algebra as well as another physics elective.

    If it's any help, MIT's graduate program recommends electromagnetism, oscillations and waves, classical mechanics, as well as basic math and physics. Their planetary science program recommends thermodynamics as well as basic math and physics.
  8. Jun 4, 2013 #7


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    I recommend dropping the math major. You're obviously not going to a grad school in math or theoretical physics, but rather in something applied. In that case, a math major will contain a lot of courses that will be totally irrelevant to you. As far as I see, the essential math courses for you are calculus, linear algebra and differential equations. Anything more is not very useful to you.

    So drop the math major and replace it with something more useful to your goals.
  9. Jun 4, 2013 #8
    Applied math is VERY useful for geophysics/atmospheric science though. If you do keep the math major, do applied math.
  10. Jun 4, 2013 #9
    Regarding the math major, I actually only have to take five more math classes to finish the major (I came in with a lot of math credit and took three more math courses this past year). I enjoy what I've learned so far and want to do some more. That's the biggest reason why I am doing the math major. I know that I most likely will not go to grad school for math or theoretical physics, but I'm this far into the curriculum already and will still be taking math classes for a while.

    lasymphonie: Yeah, my school's geophysics department is very focused on exploration geophysics. Also, for my school's math vs. applied math degrees, the math requirements are identical, except applied math requires a statistics course that I was planning on taking anyways. What makes the two different is applied math requires you to choose one of five concentrations (engineering, computer science, biomathematics, education, and business) and take certain courses for those.
  11. Jun 4, 2013 #10
    If you're interested in geophysics, you'll be just fine doing math and/or physics as an undergrad. I would say that physics and computer science can often times be more useful than math but it also depends on the field you're interested in. In any case, try to take a geology class or two before you graduate (ideally a minor). I'm a physics major and didn't find geology/geophysics until second semester sophomore year. I took one geology course and now I'm doing a seismology REU this summer. There are several kids with math/physics backgrounds and even some chemistry students. Also, if you like physics I more than physics II, then you might want to look into seismology. It involves mostly Newtonian mechanics and elastic wave theory but to an extreme degree (stress/strain tensors). You also get to do a lot of signal processing and inversion theory or instrumentation if you like... not to mention earthquakes are wicked cool.

    Overall, geophysics seems to be a very unique field in that it can be VERY quantitative but also has opportunities to be outdoors and travel. For example, I don't know any other profession where you can be outside deploying instruments and playing in the dirt in the morning and doing p-wave tomographic inversions in the afternoon. I would say if you're interested in the geosciences then give it a try! You won't regret it.
  12. Jun 5, 2013 #11
    Thanks jbrussell93. How are you enjoying the REU so far?

    To everyone: if I am also considering meteorology and engineering, should I try and take courses in those as well? My school doesn't have meteorology at the undergrad level, but we have some branches of engineering. I was going to try and take a few of the beginning courses if I can find the time (Statics, Thermodynamics, Materials, etc.) What do you guys think about the engineering courses vs. just taking the physics courses?
  13. Jun 5, 2013 #12
    So far, I have loved what I've been doing. It is definitely helping to narrow my options.

    I started out in engineering and switched over to physics after my first year for the same reasons you are expressing. I had many interests but wasn't able to explore them as an engineering student. I took statics and materials, autoCAD and a handful of other (rather dry) engineering classes. They haven't been extremely helpful but then again, I don't regret taking them. Whether or not to take engineering or physics really depends on what you want to get out of your degree. If you're planning on graduate school, then I would suggest taking physics courses if that's more the route you want to go. Out of all engineering, I would say that some electrical classes like circuits and signals could be useful in many fields. But again, it really just depends on what you want from your degree.
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