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Studying Maths, Physics, Astrophysics, Astronomy or Cosmology?

  1. Apr 20, 2016 #1

    I don't know where to begin, please forgive me for asking this if it's been answered before.

    I'm confused, I don't know what to study, can you help me out? I'm fascinated by the Universe, my only regret in life is that I don't live in space far away from humans. I've always liked everything related to the Universe, but life took me to another direction. Well I'm pretty stable now, mentally, emotionally and financially, I'm 31 working in IT with a good job and good salary but lately I've been thinking about my never fulfilled fantasies and that lead me here to ask for advice.

    I can't remember how or why but I've been attracted to Maths lately and I always hated it in high school (irony is not lost on me). I've been watching one or two science talks/documentaries every night and I'm getting really excited about being part of that community of scientists/researchers. I know I can do it, I've done everything myself so far, but my only problem is I don't know what to study. I obviously need to study something if I want to approach this from a scientific perspective.

    I have some spare money, just enough to pay for a BSc degree and about 4h every day (I'm single) so I thought about going back to Uni. However, I can't figure out what is the best programme for me. Every talk I watch on WSF I see Mathematicians, Physicists, Astronomers... discuss Quantum Theory, laws of the Universe all backed by knowledge from Maths and Physics. I don't quite understand the difference.

    I'm aware Astronomy and Cosmology are similar and that there are elements of both Maths and Physics if you want to study either but I Astronomy courses don't have any Maths as far as I'm aware and Maths courses don't teach you anything about the Universe, so what gives? How do you combine all these fields? I'm not sure how to go about all this.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 20, 2016 #2


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    Education Advisor

    You don't have to decide on a sub-field right away.

    You would start by enrolling in a physics program at a university or community college. The first year is going to be very similar between majors in physics, astrophysics, astronomy, etc. As you go further, your focus will narrow. An undergraduate degree in physics can get you into any of those different specialized areas, as well as many that you probably don't even know about.

    On top of that, often people realize very quickly after taking a few courses that actually doing physics is quite different than talking about it. So it might be worth considering a single night school course or two - just to see this is something you really want to commit to. The only down side is that doing it that way takes more time than jumping in completely.
  4. Apr 21, 2016 #3
    Thank you. I found two colleges not far from where I live that offer part-time Physics and Maths degrees as well as courses. I was going to take on a course or two to see what it all looks like and try to get admitted next year, but I'll have to do this either way regardless of how hard it is. I only can't figure out where to start as I can't possibly take on four studies simultaneously and I get oddly contradicting suggestions on the internet. Some people suggest to go with Physics and learn Maths along the way, other suggest to go with Maths and learn Physics along the way, then others again suggest to study Astronomy and learn just enough Maths that I need etc. so I'm quite confused, more so when I don't know if the person behind the nickname is actually competent enough to give such advice. All I need is someone who's studied either of these fields and know what they're talking about to point me in the right direction so that I don't waste my time.
  5. Apr 21, 2016 #4


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    Staff: Mentor

    Different countries have different academic systems. We have people in this forum from all over the world. They naturally tend to give advice based on their own experiences, which may or may not be completely appropriate for your academic system.
  6. Apr 21, 2016 #5


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    In the US, you'd start with math. Once you reach the calculus level, you can start taking physics as well, and physics and math go very well together. You can take an intro astronomy course without much math, but all the higher level classes will require math and physics. It's really not separate programs, they usually all go together.
  7. Apr 21, 2016 #6
  8. Apr 28, 2016 #7
    The physics course seems good enough. I can't really tell about the mathematics. My opinion is that if you are fascinated by the universe as you say, you should take the physics course, not the math.
  9. Apr 29, 2016 #8
    Thank you for your reply.

    Yes I know I should take the Physics course, but everyone seems to recommend to take Maths first before studying Physics or bad things can happen later on. More so if one wants to go down the Theoretical Physics route rather than Applied Physics at the graduate and postgraduate level.
  10. Apr 29, 2016 #9
    Mathematicians tend to aproach mathematics in a different way than physicists do. For instance in theoretical physics physicists use group theory (Lie groups and algebras) which is very different from what mathematicians call group theory. Another example is differential geometry.

    In a physics course you will acquire more than enough math knowledge in order to persue PhD in theoretical physics. The majority of theoretical physicists have a physics BSc not a math one.

    Also if you take a math course you will end up not knowing any physics at all, no quantum physics, no electromagnetism, no relativity... As far as I know all these modules are prerequisites for graduate studies in theoretical physics.
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