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Math degree vs Physics degree

  1. Jul 3, 2007 #1
    Ok, so my academic career has been anything but traditional so far, but whatever. I'm heading back to uni this fall. I spent a year and a half at uni already. When I started off I was already well ahead as far as my math degree went. The second year there, I decided to study phyiscs/astronomy as well.

    So now that I'm going back, I sort of have a dilemma. I'm trying to figure out what would be the most efficient/economical (how best to spend my time and money,) as far as my education goes. So first of all, I'm determined to get a degree in math. That's my first love, always has been, always will. The question is whether or not to puruse physics/astronomy. I'm more interested in astronomy, but took the physics classes at my previous uni because I thought it would be a more solid background. If I was studying just physics or just math, I would have two years of uni left. However, the phyics fourses here are very intsensive, and I'm not very certain I could handle full schedules of physics and math for two years.

    So, I'm trying to decide if maybe I want to do both, and spread it over 3 years? Maybe just get a minor in physics? Or since I prefer astronomy, minor in that? Also, I hope to go on to grad school to study math as well. I'm wondering how helpful other majors/minors even are? And which would be most useful?

    Oh, and the math topics I prefer have little to do with astronomy and physics anyway. Which makes me question things even further. I really hate applied mathematics and numerical methods which would seem to be the most useful fields for physics/astro. So, even though I don't like those subjects, should I take those classes to make my degree combo better? Or maybe something else?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 3, 2007 #2
    I'd say do maths and physics both at the same time. The subject you spend the most amount of time in will be the one you enjoy the most and should go into grad school for.

    It will be better to spend more time when you're young undecided than to realise later on that you've made a mistake. However if you're unsure always keep the maths because it will always be useful.
  4. Jul 3, 2007 #3
    Given what happened last time, I would advice you to take on step at a time. If you like math, stick to that and do your best. Unless you really really want to do astrophysics for grad school and as a living, I would say put it on hold.

    You could probably do a minor in astrophysics and always drop the minor if things dont work out.

    I hope you do great this time around.
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2007
  5. Jul 3, 2007 #4
    heh... You're not supposed to remember last time... but yeah.
    I already have a few physics and astronomy classes under my belt, so I'm wondering if I ought put them to use. It'll be very simple to get an astro minor at this point. A little more work for a physics minor, but not nearly as much for the major.

    I guess I'm mostly wondering how good a science degree will even look in conjunction with my math degree. I know i want to go to grad school for math, so will having a science minor (or two) be beneficial? and if so.. how much?

    In other news, I'm very very excited to go back to school this fall! Can't wait!
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2007
  6. Jul 3, 2007 #5
    Dont play the "what looks good on my resume" game. What looks good is a person who is very strong in math applying to a math grad program. A jack of all trades, aka 2 degrees with 3 minors, does not mean squat. There not going to teach you astrophysics in the math department for grad school.

    An advisor isnt going to waste his time with someone he does not think will finish their masters degree. So I would stick to math and do your best. Theres always more math classes you can take if you want more. :smile:
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2007
  7. Jul 3, 2007 #6
    Aye. I wanted to not care about what looks good, but its hard. I suppose I needed someone else to say it.

    So, I'll take astronomy and get the minor cause I'm interested, I'll nix physics unless I somehow change my mind, and I'll focus on math, which is all I really wanted to begin with. I'm much happier now actually. I actually have room in my schedule for a few fun classes now too.

    Thank you Cyrus,
    I hope I do great this time around too... I know I can.
  8. Jul 3, 2007 #7
    Gale, I majored in both physics and math in college, and right now I'm doing astrophysics research in grad school, so I think I may be just a tad bit qualified to help you out (but only a tad bit).

    In my experience, math degrees are slightly more marketable than physics degrees as far as undergrad degrees go. Before I decided to go to grad school, I found more employers looking for math majors than physics majors. Granted, I could get jobs with my physics degree, but most of these jobs were analyst or programming positions; they had nothing at all to do with physics. If you get a physics degree, it's a good idea to go to graduate school. There are plenty of physics jobs for physics PhDs. There are also jobs for physics bachelors, they just don't have anything to do with physics. I'm guessing that it's basically the same for an astronomy BS.

    I'm a first year grad student, and in my research group there's another student who's just about to graduate with his PhD. I've had many in-depth conversations with him and others on the issue of employability. It turns out that unless you go to <Insert Ivy League School Name Here> University, obtaining a job as a PhD astrophysicist is difficult. Apparently many recent PhD astrophysics graduates from my school ended up in completely different fields. One, for example, is in molecular biology doing DNA sequencing. This, in fact, has made me decide to defect to condensed matter physics after I'm done with this summer (just don't tell my professor I said that).

    So allow me to summarize. If you like physics/astronomy and want to have a career in it, then you should major in physics or astronomy, and apply to graduate school. But unless you go to a big name school, finding employment as an actual astronomer isn't easy (from what I'm told, anyway). If you'd rather have a math-related job, then go ahead and do a physics minor to satiate your curiosity, and get out of college with a math degree. There are all kinds of math-related jobs for math majors out there, even if you only have a BS. The problem, however, is if you like physics/astronomy, but don't want to go to grad school in this field. Then you need to decide whether you want to do the degree, knowing that your job probably won't have anything to do with physics or astronomy research.

    Well anyway, I hope my rambling has been helpful. Keep in mind that this is just based on one first year grad student's experiences, which include hearsay from jaded fourth year students and postdocs. I could very well be wrong.
  9. Jul 3, 2007 #8
    You're new nickname is going to be 4.0. Don't let me down. :wink:
  10. Jul 3, 2007 #9
    Heh... Isn't that maybe a little too optimistic??

    I've never actually, ever even attempted to get good grades before....

    sigh... Alright. Alright, yeah, I'll aim high. 4.0? heh... oh boy...

    And thank you arunma. I think I've decided that physics is just an interest, and not worth struggling over, and possibly causing me to do worse in math. I want to do math, and even if I had a degree in physics, you're right, it wouldn't particularly help my job prospects.
  11. Jul 3, 2007 #10
    Point number 1, get yourself some confidence woman!

    You need more confidence.
  12. Jul 4, 2007 #11
    I got a 2.5 average and I can get any masters i want. I just tell them I was working full time on personal research and I couldn't concentrate on attending the classes. Which is true.
  13. Jul 4, 2007 #12


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    Say what??? Most universities I have looked at have minimum admission requirement of a 3.0 or perhaps higher. And that's just the Faculty of Graduate Studies requirement. The departmental requirement for the actual department in which you want to do research is usually higher. I'm hovering around maybe a 3.3 or 3.4 average overall (it's hard to say because my university doesn't use a four-point scale, only a percentage and letter grade system), and I am bummed out about the fact that I probably won't get into the program I want at any of the best schools thanks to my sh*tty grades. As far as I can see, grad school is highly competetive. Unless if you have worked with your prospective supervisor from beforehand and have developed some sort of rapport or relationship with him (i.e. he/she is confident in your work), OR you have done some independent research during your undergrad that conclusively demonstrates you're cut out for academia, I'd say you're fighting an uphill battle.
  14. Jul 4, 2007 #13
    No wonder you have a 2.5, totally clueless. Apply to MIT and post the acceptance letter, I'd love to see it.
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