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Mathematics to theoretical physics

  1. Nov 16, 2011 #1
    I'm a second year mathematics undergraduate at a good university (top 50 world) in the UK who has started to take an interest into physics (mostly theoretical physics, i don't want to do any experimental physics).

    I've always had a interest in physics but never did perform so well on it (then again i never performed well in mathematics until later on but now I'm studying mathematics...), for those who live in the UK I only achieved a C in GCSE physics (Triple science) along with some other Bs (including mathematics), though at A levels I went on to achieve A*A*Aa (Maths, Chemistry Biology and Further mathematics AS respectively), so luckily i got into a good school despite my bad GCSE grades. When at university I started looking at theoretical physics and I'm now considering getting a PhD in it, or perhaps at least a masters (i was originally planning to do a PhD In mathematics). I'm not quite sure weather or not it'd be possible for me to pursue a PhD in theoretical physics due to my mathematics background... and the lack of physics background (though I'm only interested in the mathematical side of theoretical physics, string theory etc).

    To sum up, how would I go about pursuing a career in theoretical physics? Should i try taking certain modules or would i have to start a new degree (I wont be able to fund myself for a new degree actually).

    Just wondering on how i would go from a undergraduate mathematics background to a theoretical physics career?

    Thank you, and sorry if it doesn't make much sense, this was kind of rushed.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 18, 2011 #2
  4. Nov 18, 2011 #3
    It might be helpful for people to know what mathematics courses and what, if any, physics courses you have taken.
  5. Nov 18, 2011 #4


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  6. Nov 18, 2011 #5
    Here are some of the modules i've taken:

    Special Relativity and Electromagnetism
    Complex Analysis
    Introductory Quantum Theory
    Galois Theory
    Space-time Geometry and General Relativity
    Representation Theory of Finite Groups
    String Theory and Branes
    Quantum Mechanics II
    Quantum Field Theory

    A few more also, and thank you, i'll ask a few universities for a physics graduate paper.
  7. Nov 18, 2011 #6
    Since you are going towards the theoretical side I would say it seems that you are in pretty good shape based off the courses you listed. You certainly wouldn't need to do a completely new degree as you can probably make up for any physics deficiencies you have either before you start your PhD or very early in your PhD. As indicated in the link Dembadon posted, your best bet would be to contact the individual departments that you would like to apply to and see what they think you should study up on.

    Good Luck!
  8. Nov 19, 2011 #7
    0_0 how is that possible... after two years?

    I feel quite bad about myself now.
  9. Nov 19, 2011 #8
    Agreed. :S
    At my school its not even possible to take quantum mechanics until 3rd year, as the mathematical prerequisites make it impossible.
  10. Nov 19, 2011 #9


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    There's a high school junior (17 years old?) in my Calculus III class. I'm guessing he started taking courses at a community college his freshman year of high school. I'd love to know how he got so far ahead.
  11. Nov 19, 2011 #10
    This is very true.
  12. Nov 19, 2011 #11
    It is quite explicit that he's from the UK - so no community college - and considering they have a 13th year of high school, a lot of the material that one covers in freshman year in a US college, is done there. In addition to that, the OP studied Further Mathematics, which gave him a good head start. My guess is he's in one of UoL's colleges, and if I recall correctly, some of them allow one to take physics options.

    OP, from what I know, the path to physics from maths is somewhat easier in the UK. At least, it looks this way. Somebody on this forum (made only one post afaIk) did a BSc in Mathematics at Imperial, and a few years later, did their Quantum Fields and Forces option. There's also the highly popular Part III of the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge, where one can only take physics modules if they feel so inclined. Read into those, e-mail departments and ask if this is sufficient preparation to enter a PhD program and you're good to go!

    Incidentally, I know of someone who's making the shift from Physics to Mathematics and he's applying to Master's programs in Europe.
  13. Nov 20, 2011 #12
    I only done further mathematics AS just to clarify (college didn't allow me to move on to the A2, they didnt think i was capable :D). Also, the further maths did help for the first few weeks, and then everyone was at the same spot, the reason why i'm doing all of these early is because i have a good relationship between my professor and he keeps just progressing me on to harder stuff; i'm part of a 4-year Msci program, so i'll probably spend more time on my research project.

    Also, yeah i am at one of the UoL universities, one of which is strong with their theoretical physics so I it was easier for me to take modules i suppose, but looking at other universities BSc programs, it seems that everyone can take these modules (3rd & 4th year).

    Also, the part III mathematical tripos, i believe there's little to no funding for that program, so i'm not really sure if i'd be able to afford it, but i'll speak to my professor/advisor about it and see what they think.

    Thank you for the responses everyone, cleared everything up.
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