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Mathematical Sciences

  1. Apr 26, 2009 #1
    I want to become (maybe) a theoretical physicist (specializing in Quantum mechanics (theory)).

    One of our major Universities (here in South Africa), namely Stellenbosch University, offers a new programme in Mathematical Sciences [http://science.sun.ac.za/index.php?alias=students&calias=students01&lang=eng. You can choose your "Focus" and one of the choices is a focus in Theoretical physics [http://science.sun.ac.za/index.php?alias=students&calias=students45&lang=eng. Now, what I want to know is, is this subject or focus going to be suffice for a work as a quantum theoretical physicist, does it contain the subjects that you need to become one? Or, must I go with the pure Physical Sciences' programs.

    (I am currently in grade 11 and will have to choose my future career soon)

    Thank you very much for any advice.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jun 5, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 29, 2009 #2
    Sorry, I know now that I have completely asked this questions erroneously.

    To make my questions more answerable, here is my new questions.

    Can you please state from experience what type of subjects you needed most to become a [theoretical] physicist? What is your experience of the programmes in Mathematical Sciences, or is this a new study programme?

    Also, just for curiousity, what type of work does a mathematician exactly do, or are they usually just mathematicasters? Do they work out new theories of how the omniniverse works, or do they just solve insolvable math problems?

    Thank you for all your advice.
  4. Jun 4, 2009 #3
    I have started this thread more than a month ago. And still no reply. Can someone please give some advice or tell me what I did wrong that I am receiving no replies.
  5. Jun 4, 2009 #4
    The links don't work.

    If you want to be a theoretical physicsist working in Quantum Mechanics, you will need at least the equivalent (or close to it) of an undergraduate physics curriculum.


    One course in each of these should be the minimum you want. Anything over and above that would be good to have.
  6. Jun 4, 2009 #5


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    What's a mathematicaster?
  7. Jun 4, 2009 #6


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  8. Jun 4, 2009 #7
    No, you don't.
  9. Jun 5, 2009 #8
  10. Jun 5, 2009 #9
    The problem with the links in the first post is that it has a ']' at the end, which must be removed. Sorry.
  11. Jun 5, 2009 #10

    George Jones

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    I fixed the links in the original post.
  12. Jun 5, 2009 #11
    Thank you very much.
  13. Jun 11, 2009 #12
    To become a Theoretical physicist, most people will get a degree in Physics. You generally won't be able to specialize much in undergrad and will have the option of a physics major or perhaps some kind of astronomy major.

    I too am hoping to attend a PhD program in Theoretical physics. If it helps to see my path, I have a previous degree in Kinesiology from a reputable liberal arts college.
    I am currently working on a second Bachelor's with an Applied Mathematics major and Astronomy minor (I will earn a physics minor in the process of earning the Astronomy minor).

    Upon applying to graduate schools, I will have the following courses on my transcript:

    Calculus II
    Calculus III
    Linear Algebra
    Differential Equations
    Mathematical proofs
    Numerical Analysis
    Vector Calculus and Complex Variables
    Modern Algebra
    Mathematical Modeling
    Advanced Calculus I
    Advanced Calculus II
    Differential Geometry of Curves and Surfaces
    Advanced Linear Algebra
    Advanced Differential Equations (mostly PDEs)

    Stars and Galaxies (with lab)
    Sun and Solar System (with lab)
    Physics I (with lab)
    Physics II (with lab)
    Intro to Astrophysics (with lab)
    Modern Physics (with lab)
    Quantum Mechanics
    Special problems (I've spoken with the dept. and will most likely be able to "cover" some undergraduate E&M and other Physics I've missed in a independent study/special problems course)

    I will also likely need to take an upper level physics course or two upon entry in the graduate program. (I've been lucky enough to have fairly frequent discussions with the graduate advisor at the university I wish to attend about what to do with the missed physics courses)

    That is the route I'm taking in the hopes of becoming a theoretical physicist. I'd say that my self-study has been at least as intensive as my official coursework. I've done well in school, and I'm sure the self study has been a part of that, but Math and Physics is very competitive and you can be confident that the top students in all of your classes is doing more than just the recommended studies for that class. The Mathematics and Physics programs invites intelligent students by its very nature. On top of that, there isn't the financial certainty of medicine or engineering, so the students in these fields are not only intelligent...but interested and motivated in the material beyond financial gain.

    A few things I can add:
    Don't expect to major in "quantum mechanics," "particle physics," or anything exciting like that in undegrad.....you won't see specialized majors like that.

    Also, there seems to be some underlying desire to make physics "boring" your first few years. I'm sure that it stems partly from the frustration that professors get from students with no physics background wanting to study quantum mechanics or General relativity and partly from wanting to weed out the students majoring in physics because they think it will be fun to "be the next Einstein."
    Perhaps it isn't this way at every University, but it seems that professors really want to make you push through the muck to get to the fun stuff in order to weed out the people not willing to work through it.
  14. Jun 11, 2009 #13


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    I'm a little (actually more than a little) bothered by the fact that the "analysis" class uses Stewart's Calculus as a text book.
  15. Jun 19, 2009 #14
    @Troponin: Thank you very much for this extensively helpful advice.

    @Vid: Can you please be a bit more specific why this bothers you. Thank you.
  16. Jun 19, 2009 #15


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    because Stewart's book is not meant to be used in an "Analysis" class
  17. Jun 19, 2009 #16
    i see what you mean thrill, its just a bad naming of class....for example
    Analysis and Linear Algebra II
    with stewart book, in curriculum you can just see this is multivariable calc with a touch of linear algebra
  18. Jun 20, 2009 #17


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    yes, looking at the detailed course descriptions, the class is simply an elementary analysis class, or in short, a calculus class
  19. Jun 20, 2009 #18
    Careful of the posts from American students, their system is very different from the UK. You want to listen most carefully to students from SA, though it might be closer to the UK than US given our closer historical links! The biggest mistake I made in the UK was taking the kind of course you're thinking about. You may end up, like me, torn between two cultures and looked upon as a second class mathematician and a second class physicist. You'll be overlooked by physics professors because you're one of the 'combined' crowd. The physics component of the combined course I took was a course into which failed medical students and failing physics students were dumped in the second year -- leaving yhe highly motivated types (like me!) hanging out with a bad bunch and tarred with the same brush. I took 'combined' because I liked *all* science and wanted to 'do everything'. Big error!

    You should take straight physics and talk to the professors about doing quantum physics options once you are there.
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