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Courses Mathematics or physics

  1. Aug 28, 2016 #1
    I don't know wether I should choose physics or mathematics in University. I'm very interested in theoretical physics described in those popular science books such as the string theory ,QED, relativity , and I want to become a theoretical physicist. But I'm not impressed by the physics taught in high school and I think some of the questions are tedious(I like how the formula is derived though). However I enjoyed pure mathematics. I'd love to spend time on thinking new ideas. I know that being a theoretical physicist needs a lot of mathematical knowledge, should I study maths first then transfer to physics after I have finished maths, or just physics/Math as there is no dual degree.
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  3. Aug 28, 2016 #2


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    You must choose what you find most interesting and what you are willing to spend your time for study. You can't see the beauty of Theoretical Physics through popsci books, as these have a lot of misconceptions, oversimplifications and magic in them. You'll definitely need a lot of good math skills in order to follow the path of Theoretical Physics. Question is, do you like to derive the laws of nature in a rigorous way or you find more interesting wandering through the fascinating world of math? You can start from this and make up your mind along the way.
  4. Aug 28, 2016 #3
    I was actually in a similar situation. I was interested in both maths and theoretical physics. But when if I did maths, I wanted to choose a course which have physics optional modules (as many math courses in fact do). I applied to universities in both mathematics and theoretical physics. I ended up with only one choice because of grades, so I did theoretical physics.

    Now looking back although it was somewhat disappointing, since I didn't have much of a choice, I enjoyed my course anyway. I definitely did some additional mathematics as self-study which they didn't cover enough of the material. But again you can also take a maths course and go into physics.

    In my honest opinion, both options are viable (and so is Physics\Maths, as it will probably give you more flexibility). If choosing physics, you will get some of the physics knowledge early on which can provide great motivation for what you want to do in the future. If choosing maths, it will take longer for you to see the physical applications. You might even get into research into pure mathematics, which can be very interesting in my opinion.

    It is no doubt that the choice will shape your thinking and motivation in the future, as well as your choices.

    Also, you should take into account an important point: theoretical physics is not just applied maths. This means that if you choose maths and want to go into physics later, you still have to work hard to learn physics subjects. A solid foundation in both physics and mathematics is essential for anyone who wishes to become a good theoretical physicist, as argued by t'Hooft in http://www.staff.science.uu.nl/~gadda001/goodtheorist/index.html.
  5. Aug 28, 2016 #4


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    • Dual degree for Mathematics and Physics exists.
    • Physics taught in college or university is better than in high school, because the subject is more thorough, deeper.
    • One must solve problems and answer questions no matter if the goal is "theoretical" , experimental, or applied.
    • Physics people make very detailed use of Mathematics.
    • Physics and Mathematics people must handle some very tedious, detailed questions.

    You could change your mind when you find that solving problems is very powerful.
  6. Aug 28, 2016 #5


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    It looks like Symbolipoint beat me to it, but there are a lot of universities that allow you to double major in these subjects. Sometimes what I've observed is that students get their heart set on a particular school for one reason or another - location, cost, prestige, family pressure etc. and then they try to match a program at the school to what they really want. But really, this always seems a little backwards to me. The point of attending university is to educate yourself in a direction of your choosing. So it makes more sense to figure out that you really want to learn and then choose a school that offers it and develop a plan for attending.

    The other thing worth mentioning is that you don't have to make a precise choice in your first year in most programs anyway - depending on where you are. (My experience is with North American programs - Canadian ones in particular.) The first year of a physics or mathematics program is pretty uniform - at least to the point where if you choose one direction and end up wanting to chance you can do so without much of (or any) penalty.
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