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Programs Physics and mathematics or physics and astronomy?

  1. Jun 17, 2016 #1
    I was hoping someone could shed some light on a current predicament I'm having. Although I don't have the knowledge to make a real decision yet (only first year), I enjoy string theory, quantum mechanics (and quantum gravity), as well as cosmology. Based on these areas of interest, I'm unsure of which degree would be better to declare myself in, come third year: combined physics and mathematics, or combined physics and astronomy. Ultimately, I think I'd like to do theoretical work in one of those areas.

    Physics and mathematics will give me a great deal of mathematical knowledge, but will contain no astronomy courses, while physics and astronomy will give me a good amount of knowledge about the universe, but seriously lacks the mathematical experience.

    Would anyone here be able to chime in on what they think would be best? I think the math side of it would be best, because what I'd learn in mathematics courses are indispensable, especially in comparison to the astronomy courses, but I'd like others, more experienced, opinions.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 17, 2016 #2


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    You mean you enjoy casual reading on these topics, I suppose, and not "enjoy" like enjoy deriving all the theorems in Green and Schwartz's Superstring Theory?
  4. Jun 17, 2016 #3
    My old high school physics teacher said saying your like quantum mechanics, string theory etc before actually studying them is like someone looking at great pieces of art and saying they love painting, before they have even picked up a paint brush.

    The point is you dont know if you like actually doing those topics, reading about it is very different to doing it.

    If you dont have to make a decision til third year then I would wait a bit longer before making a decision, let your interests develop more so you can make a bit more of an informed choice.
  5. Jun 17, 2016 #4
    Very right. Planning all of this from very early on is very bad. Undergrad is the place to develop a very broad but shallow knowledge. Then you see what you like most and pursue that. Specializing too early is a big mistake.
  6. Jun 17, 2016 #5
    The only issue I have with waiting until third year is the courses I take in first and second year are drastically different. You don't declare until third year, because that's the requirement to declare the combined degree, but it's a very different schedule when you plan for it.

    Yeah, that's why I said I don't have that knowledge. I enjoy the casual reading, which is all I have to go on, which is also why I turned here.
  7. Jun 17, 2016 #6
    Forgot to reply to this too. Would you call combined physics and astro or physics and math "specializing" though? I feel like the math would be invaluable, regardless of where you went in physics. If I'm wrong, by all means let me know!
  8. Jun 17, 2016 #7
    Do you have to major in math and astro? Because a lot of mathematics courses you'll take won't be very useful to you. Why don't you just take the courses that you like to take instead of just declaring an entire major?
  9. Jun 17, 2016 #8

    Okay with if you HAVE to declare (though if you can take a mixture of maths and astro modules and just have a physics major instead of 'and xxxx' then do that) then dont think about what you want to do at grad school, pick what you are enjoying now, so if you really love doing maths then choose maths but if you've done any astro modules and preferred them then do astro

    I mean it shouldnt effect what you can do at grad school that much, because the astro you learn can be learnt quickly at grad school and there are plenty of people that dont do physics and mathematics and still do a mathematically heavy physics phd
  10. Jun 17, 2016 #9
    I don't have to major in either. Ultimately, I could just pick physics, or just pick astro, however, I like astro, and I do like math, so combining them seemed like a good option. The only "problem" with astro, is that there are 8 astro courses, which removes a lot of space for the math courses.
  11. Jun 17, 2016 #10
    Would the lack of math not harm me in terms of what program I wanted to get into, though? Since astro could be picked up quite easily, would the lack of math not be a substantial amount harder to learn once in grad school?
  12. Jun 17, 2016 #11
    Then don't major and just pick courses you're interested in.
  13. Jun 17, 2016 #12
    You wont be covering any less maths than most physics majors as everyone has to take a set minimum amount, I am sure most grad students didnt study 'Physics and mathematics' as their 2 majors. Most will have done one or the other.

    Just pick what your interested in and let your interests develop. Dont think too far ahead. Just pick a mixture of modules for next year and see what interests you the most, theres not many other ways of finding your interests than by trying as much as you can in your early years
  14. Jun 17, 2016 #13
    Both of these are phenomenal answers, and just what I was looking for. Thanks!!
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