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Mathematical physics

  1. Apr 15, 2007 #1
    I'm doing a 5 year masters (Mphys) in mathematical physics. My director of studies told me that is a much more prestigious degree than the straightforward physics counterpart, and says it will serve me well in the future. However, for my last three years i wont be doing any labwork at all, its all replaced with advanced theoretical and mathematical courses (quantum field theory, fundamental symmetries....). Will this limit my career options, for example, will i still be able to work in industry? Basically, will i be less employable than if i had taken the (much easier) straightforward physics degree?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 15, 2007 #2


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    I guess you're in the UK-- if so, how come it's 5 year long? I thought undergraduate masters were 4 years? I don't really know the answer to your question, but a seemingly obvious question to me is that if you want to go into industry, then why would you do a theoretical degree?
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2007
  4. Apr 15, 2007 #3
    Physics is about learning skills, and covering a mathematical physics course would certainly give you good grounding for any theoretical work in the future. Experimental work may be different - and becoming an experimentalist does also require lots of practice but both cases can be learned. If you're worried about a possible future in industry, or as an experimental researcher, theres no reason why you couldn't do some experimental work over the summer - take on some research projects by asking your professors if theres anything going or alternatively try to find a scholarship that will allow you to work on an experimental work then you'll have a referenced project which will be better than most lab work.

    Also, cristo, chances are I think he's in Scotland. Masters tend to be 5 years since those Universities don't require advanced higher level courses for entrance into first year (the equivalent of A-level). In fact, I'd maybe even guess that he's studying at Edinburgh?
  5. Apr 15, 2007 #4


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    Oh right, ok. I didn't know that; thanks!

    What makes you think that a general physics degree is "much easier" than specialising in theoretical physics?
    Last edited: Apr 15, 2007
  6. Apr 15, 2007 #5
    Yeah I am at edinburgh actually. I haven't really decided what i want to do after i finish my degree but i want to keep as many options open as possible. The reason i think my degree will be harder is that for example the mathematical physics course for third year is taken by people on the regular course when they are in their 4th or 5th year, and the level of the courses (9 or 10 or 11) is generally higher. I will be doing the same courses as the regular degree, but with labs replaced by more advanced theoretical courses. Anyway my director of studies told me that it was a much more prestigious degree, which i would think means it is more difficult aswell.
  7. Apr 15, 2007 #6
    The issue of difficulty between theoretical and experimental physics is quite a big one. Personally, I think experimental physics gets rather a hard time from Undergraduate students - it's often seen as tedious, boring and wasteful at those points. I feel the reason for this is probably as simple as the fact that Labs are one of the few things in an undergraduate degree that students are completely forced into - with lectures there's a choice and attendance need only be around 70% or so, so it's easy to pick and choose the subjects you like.

    As far as one being more difficult than the other goes, it's not quite as simple as that either. True, on the mathematical physics course the math courses you'll be taking will be more difficult but on the balance you'll also have much more time to cover the material. Experimental physics can be about noticing things, picking up on the minor issues between a good result and nonsense.

    So far in my degree I've found lab-work more difficult, by all means the math courses I've managed to take haven't been seen as super-difficult or anything but in the more theoretical courses I've covered so far I've found that the results and processes come to me in a much more natural way than learning the experimental side of things have. Up until recently, when I had the choice between theoretical lab work and observational, I'd pick theoretical. I then realised that I avoid observational work because I'm not as good at it - not a good idea!

    Lastly, your degree is all about what you want. Any undergraduate degree in physics should leave you enough room to enter most areas in the field with little training - as is being discussed in a thread elsewhere, engineering is a popular example. If you want to do theoretical physics for the most part, you're making the right choice. (Also, I visited the open day for the theoretical physics course a few years ago which is how I guessed - it did look very appealing - enjoy.)
  8. Apr 16, 2007 #7
    Indeed. While it's easy to say that highly theoretical courses are a priori harder than experimental stuff, there's one fact that breaks that argument completely, at least in my case: If I look at my audit (for a math-physics double honours degree), my grades in physics courses with a lab component (about a sixth of my math/physics courses) are uniformly lower than my grades in physics courses without labs or in mathematics courses.
  9. Apr 17, 2007 #8
    Yeah I'm not that great at lab work either, mostly because i find it boring and annoying. What does it mean that my degree is more prestigious than the regular physics degree? Presumably it would only be people in academia who would even know which degrees are the most prestigious. With a degree in mathematical physics, would i be able to go into a field like biophysics for example? Also, i noticed that the postgraduate department of mathematical physics is part of the maths department rather than the physics department. Is it possible that a degree in maths rather than mathematical physics is necessary for a PhD in mathematical physics?
  10. Apr 17, 2007 #9
    I'm doing my undergrad work in Mathematical Physics, but I'm doing my best to make sure I get plenty of labl work, and a good variety of practical topics, so that I'll stand a good chance of getting a job once I'm done.
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