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Mathematics or Physics

  1. Aug 29, 2012 #1


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    (I know this has been discussed extensively, but please read my situation.)


    I will be a college freshman in this fall to begin my studies in the sciences. I have equal passion for both subjects so I am going to choose whichever I am better at. I have seen a number of threads in this forum and talked to my teachers. What they all suggested is to take both mathematics and physics courses and see how it goes. However, my school kinda separate those who want to be a mathematics major and those who want to be a physics major. (They offer two separate "proof" based and "physics" based courses and i must register for physics program during my first year) And I also want to be strongly determined before I begin my studies so I put all my attention to one, not contemplating which one to pursue.

    I prefer understanding challenging concepts rather than solving challenging problems with some bright techniques.

    What I like about mathematics is the logical progression of proofs but I don't see the tricks needed quickly unless I have seen them before. I feel enormous stress when looking at the IMO problems because I can't get any of them right.

    What I like about physics is explaining physical phenomena using mathematics. Since there is rarely obsecure algebraic tricks involved in solving problems I feel much more comfortable, but I was never good at physics as I was at mathematics, at least in high school.

    I am kinda leaning towards physics, but I feel like I am running away from mathematics because I was never good at contests. Should I major in physics?

    Any word is really grateful for me in such a situation, thank you in advanced.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 29, 2012 #2
    It's common to do both. Other than that, take physics and math your first two years and see how you like it. The second year is when you will probably start taking "real" math courses.
  4. Aug 29, 2012 #3
    I know a lot of people who were really bad in contests, but who succeeded in math after all. Being bad in competitions does not mean that you're bad in math. And it certainly doesn't mean that you will fail your major.

    Just take math and physics courses and see what you like best.
  5. Aug 29, 2012 #4
    Most people can't solve IMO questions without a very long time of training.
    Most people can't solve more than half of them even after a very long time of training.
    People who score 21 out of 42 in the contest win a silver medal.
    Bottom line: IMO questions are supposed to be very very difficult.

    More importantly, it is naive to do Physics instead of Maths because you think Physics is going to be easier. Go look up the questions in IPhO.
    The same thing happens: You won't be able to solve any of them without a lot of hard work.

    Just do what you think you'd like more and work hard.
  6. Aug 29, 2012 #5
    Just so you know Physics problems sometimes do involve a lot of algebraic tricks, or require setting up a problem just so. My professor's always seemed to believe that a couple pages of algebra builds character. I don't know what experience you have with proofs, but my friends who majored in math and physics told me the computations in math are easier than those in Physics.

    School is UCSC
  7. Aug 30, 2012 #6
    My eyes just glaze over with IMO questions, the IPhO questions look marginally less intimidating, I still haven't solved any though..
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