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Math MsC in applied physics or mathematics?

  1. Feb 5, 2012 #1
    I'm an undergrad student in engineering with no work experience and limited knowledge about what's to come after I finish my studies.
    I still have a lot of time to decide, over 1 year more or less.
    Up until now I've been interested and fascinated by applied physics. More specifically, nanotechnology. Recently however, I've been getting a little interested in mathematics.

    If I choose a Master in mathematics then I will have the choice of specialization within some fields of mathematics: discrete, computational, optimization/systems, statistics or a more general one that allows for studying things like topology, abstract algebra, differential geometry, analytic functions and higher courses in analysis.

    I also have the possibility of choosing a master in Nanotechnology, either a more "practical" one or a more theoretical one. Which does sound awesome as that field of physics is at the front of research and seems very fascinating.
    To me it seems like it offers many possibilities, the choice of working for a company or working at an academia/university. To me, it seems like it offers a broad field of work. From medicine to research to semiconductors on the nano scale.

    Mathematics on the other hand, seems interesting because it's the foundation for every other science. Further developing my mathematical skills will, as I see it, make it easier to learn any other science. Mathematics in itself is challenging, enlightening and allows for some philosophical thinking since it can be applied and interpreted in many ways.
    If I choose to specialize in mathematics then I think I will go for the more general specialization and cover things like abstract algebra, differential geometry and analysis. Would be interesting to learn what Lie groups are about and such.

    I will be able to study for a maximum of 3 years so I have the possibility of reading a Master and then study some subjects that I find interesting for 1 year (8 courses), or the other way around.
    So I was thinking that maybe I could study 1 year mathematics and a Master in Nanotechnology or the other way around. Or a Master in mathematics and then who knows what.

    The thing is, I have no idea what I will be doing if I go for the MsC in math. What can I do with a MsC in math (with focus in analysis, algebra and geometry)?
    Research in applied physics does seem exciting. Studying applied physics seems like a more solid choice to me, right now, whereas I'm not sure about mathematics.
    Maybe I should keep math as a hobby and just get some books to read at home in my spare time?

    Edit: The text above is basically me "thinking loud". For clarification, I'm working towards a MsC in engineering, what I'm unsure about is what to do with my final two years. Whether to go nanotechnology or mathematics. What would help is if I could get some ideas about what kind of careers I can pursue with these, especially with specialization in mathematics (with focus on algebra, geometry and analysis). Another thing that would be helpful is if you could tell me what sort of mathematics is used in the field of nanotechnology.
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 5, 2012 #2


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    Hey Inertigratus.

    The first question I have for you is 'what do you want to do careerwise'? I will share a few thoughts in regard to this question.

    The first thing to note is that you can still learn after you get a degree (undegraduate/masters/PhD/whatever). It would make sense if you just apply for a job of some sort and then just keep learning while you are in the workforce.

    If you really want to do coursework that does not completely build on undergraduate foundations, my suggestion would be to find a job environment where you might get some exposure to it, or get any job that you find interesting enough (but still not related) and do coursework on the side.

    Again with respect to the first comment, you should realize that after a while you won't need more coursework: you'll just do things yourself and when you have done this for a while, it's a knee-jerk reaction to just take on new things without hesitation.

    The only real reason I would see for someone to do a new degree is if you really really want to get into that area and that you know more or less what you're getting yourself into. If this is not the case, then I suggest that you build on your prior experience first among other things.

    Also sometimes its not good to study too much. If you have studied too much you might end up being a bad candidate for employment. Getting any kind of real experience is good for various reasons: one of which is the fact that in a job, you do what you are told (whereas in university you tend to pick what you want to do). You should be aware of things like this because these do have a real impact on people looking for work.

    So the question I have for you is what are your motivations in a good amount of detail for wanting to do this course?
  4. Feb 6, 2012 #3
    1) I have no idea, how can I know without any prior experience?
    However, research seems interesting. The MsC in applied physics seems to offer laboratory-kind of research whereas I don't what possibilities a MsC in mathematics would offer. Mathematics is an interesting subject to study but not sure about working with it. Working with something space-related would be pretty interesting too.

    2) Why is that? I would think that the more you learn the more you qualified you get.
    I haven't studied much at all as of now, this is my second year. One more to go and then I have to choose which Master programme to study.

    3) Which course? I'm halfways in my education. Why I chose to study engineering you mean?
    I've always been drawn towards science, wanting to know why things are and how things work. I feel like you can't know too much, always more or less open to learning if the subject is interesting. My goal isn't really a job, it's to learn more and then see what comes.
    It does matter though, what kind of job I will be able to get.
  5. Feb 6, 2012 #4


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    When I asked that question I should have realized that it is a hard question and that most people (even mature in their age) haven't figured it out so I apologize.

    But having said the above, you have been studying for a while so I'm assuming you have some specific thoughts on the subject which would help us give you a more guided and directed answer in this respect.

    Also what do you mean by space-related? Is that something to do with "space" like NASA or something to do with mathematics?

    If its do to with mathematics there are many many kinds of spaces!

    You would think that but at some point more study is not a good thing.

    To understand this you have to understand the difference between the academic life and the working life.

    In the working life there is an emphasis on basically being able to be a) competent enough to do the work or learn the work and b) able to have all the other skills to do the work.

    When you think of academic study you are mostly addressing part a). The part b) is the stuff that comes from doing specific things that come from experience working in that specific non-academic environment that you learn on the job.

    These kinds of things are not exactly academic either. When you work with people in industry you work with certain types of people that you may get little (or no exposure) in an academic environment. I don't want to paint all of academia with this brush as it depends heavily on the area and specialty, but in many applied technology and related fields this is really important.

    Basically working in a specific environment gives you skills like understanding the industry, understanding your colleagues and their roles and understanding what they need to do and what they need from you. Also understanding how they 'understand' your work: for example if you are a technical guy, then when you do a presentation, you are not just writing it as you would do in university.

    Even if you had to a presentation in non-technical terms in university, you have to realize that in some instances you are doing a presentation for maybe half a dozen or more people each in a different area and you need to understand every single one of them in terms of what they need to know and their 'lingo'. In university you may get marked by one person in one specific field that has one specific way of thinking and while this may be a good lesson in itself, it doesn't necessarily reflect the total realities that are found in the workplace.

    There are other things as well but I want to make this short but still concise.

    One thing you should realize is that the workforce does provide a lot of learning. You might see a job and learning as mutually exclusive but they are not.

    Some jobs emphasize this more than others like some scientific jobs and things like programming especially in some specific domains where you are reading about new techniques/technologies and ideas maybe in a weekly frequency.

    Other jobs may not emphasize technical learning, but still require you to learn a lot of new things especially if the job you have is dealing with lots of people. The more people you deal with, the more learning you will be doing because you will have to be talking to people and if its a technical role, then you are probably going to be giving advice in some capacity.

    The point I hope to make to you is that the university environment is not the only place to learn. It provides a structured environment to learn specific things but it is not the only place. A lot of the 'unstructured' learning happens in the real world where problems exist that haven't been solved and that are not only 'technical' from a math/science/engineering viewpoint.

    It is important that you know this because I think you may view the workforce as a 'mindless job' which while in some cases may be true, in others is definitely not.
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