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Programs Mathematical Physics or Standard physics?

  1. Mar 11, 2017 #1
    Hello, I'm seriously considering switching degrees to Physics, however I'm not sure whether I should be taking mathematical physics or standard physics (my School has both as separate programs). Which one would you say has better prospects later on? I am planning on getting a Ph.D in this eventually.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 11, 2017 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Can you provide a little more context here?

    In physics, it never hurts to have too much mathematics unless it makes you into a mathematician. Theoretical physicists arguably have more math background than an experimentalist. However, even experimentalists need a good foundation in math otherwise their results wouldn't be very solid.
  4. Mar 11, 2017 #3
    Well as far as context goes, I am a first year undergrad student, and right now my goal is to do research in physics (not sure yet about the specific branch of physics yet - as a physics prof has told me that the undergraduate education required for studying any of these branches is pretty much the same). I've been looking around on the internet, and I've heard that prospects in theoretical/mathematical areas in physics are not great, and that experimental physics research is a more practical goal. Is this true?

    Just to add, I do like both math, and physics.
  5. Mar 11, 2017 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    I think you're right about job prospects. That's why many physics majors also start doing programming as part of a backup plan which is also useful in the computational aspects of physics.
  6. Mar 12, 2017 #5


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    Education Advisor

    It's always difficult to offer advice based only on the title of the program.

    Presumably, the mathematical physics degree is the same as the standard physics degree, but with more required courses in mathematics. Or do those replace some of the standard physics degree courses? Do you have less flexibility with elective courses? Is that important to you?

    One thing that can help you make this kind of decision is to go through your course catalogue in detail and choose the courses that you really want to take during your degree. And then base your decision on which program lines up best with your most desired courses. As you do this, make sure to have some kind of a plan for what happens if graduate school doesn't work out.
  7. Mar 12, 2017 #6
    You're right for the most part about the differences between the two programs. They seem to differ by only 1 or 2 required courses, and the rest of the differences lie in the optional ones. However, it seems that the Mathematical Physics program attempts to catch up abit by replacing some optional courses in later years with required physics courses, while the standard physics program doesn't do this.

    Just to add, I've done well in high-school physics and math, so I don't think there would be an issue with the extra math courses, provided that I put in the time and effort to do well. I'm just wondering if there is a huge difference between these two programs in terms of what type of graduate programs I will qualify for, and whether these two programs differ in the types of work I will be doing later on.
  8. Mar 12, 2017 #7


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    Education Advisor

    Of course, there is nothing wrong with turning into a mathematician! :biggrin:
  9. Mar 12, 2017 #8


    Staff: Mentor

    Yes, but then you've entered the Twilight Zone.
  10. Apr 18, 2017 #9
    Hi there,

    Not sure where to add a new post so thought i would ask under this topic.

    Asked to determine the factor of safety in operation. where the ultimate tensile stress is 490mn/m2 and the ultimate shear stress is 290mn/m2. How do i determine the maximum allowable stress with the information given? I know that the FACTOR OF SAFETY = MAX ALLOWABLE STRESS / ACTUAL STRESS...

    i've worked out the actual stress on the component and answered all other questions involved, just battling with this. So in other words using both shear and tensile stresses, how do i determine the max allowable stress?
  11. Apr 18, 2017 #10
    Is the mathematical physics area in the mathematics department in your university, is the mathematical physics area in the physics department in your university, or third: is the mathematical physics area in its own separate department?
  12. Apr 18, 2017 #11
    The reason for asking the above question is what would be on your diploma. BS/BA in math; BA/BS in Physics; BA/BS in mrsath physics.
    Many jobs have computers in HR departments that screen out math diplomas in favor or physics or vice versa. Maybe the screen out math physics because it is not math or not physics depending on who they want to hire. The hiring committee may not even get to see your application to judge you favorably if it is the the opposite major.

    To address the comment by Jedishru, I know many colleagues in physics who use the computer as a tool in their research and they are not experimentalists. They learn programming because it is central in their research, not because it is a fallback in case things don't work out.

    I suspect nobody does theoretical physics with pencil/pen and paper anymore.
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