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Physics major contemplating Math Minor. Need Help Deciding.

  1. May 5, 2009 #1
    I'm currently a 2nd year Physics undergrad who is contemplating adding a math minor. My plans for what to do after undergrad will most likely involve a Masters in some engineering branch (contemplating Mechanical Eng.) or grad school for physics (not so certain if I love the stuff enough to spend that many more years on it).

    The Math minor at my school simply requires 5 math upper-div courses. The ones I have in mind are Linear Algebra, Complex Analysis, Applied Numerical Methods, PDEs, and some elective to be determined.

    My other option would involve not declaring the minor and taking only Linear Algebra, Complex Analysis, or whatever other upper-div math courses I want (<5 total), and petitioning my way into 2 engineering courses to possibly get a feel for what's involved in engineering.

    Most of my friends within my dept.(Physics & Astro) have suggested that I forego the math minor completely and simply concentrate on research instead. The reasoning they used was that I should not get the minor if I'm planning on using it as some sort of "plus" for my grad school app, since most students end up double-majoring in Physics and Math anyway, so simply minoring in it would pale in comparison.

    This has been suggested to me despite whatever academic/career path I'm looking at, whether it involves me planning on pursuing a job immediately after undergrad or if I'm looking at a PhD. If I decide to do this, I may end up trying to self-study with some of the Dover math books for whenever I need to cover something.
    Last edited: May 5, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. May 5, 2009 #2


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    When I went through undergrad physics majors were not allowed to take a math minor. I believe the philosophy was that earning a physics major made one at least somewhat competent in math, and one didn't really have to take any extra courses to earn that extra distinction. Today, I'm not all that sure that having a math minor will count for a whole lot with respect to graduate school applications or competition in the job market.

    What does count though are the actual courses you've taken. If you are really interested in the extra math courses then take them for the sake of learning the math rather than having an extra bullet on your CV.

    If you really want to get into mechanical engineering, why not pursue that now?
  4. May 7, 2009 #3
    At my uni a physics major need only take one extra class in maths and they are granted a minor. Which maths courses are you required to take for your physics degree. For example do you need a course in PDE for your physics degree or do you have to take liner algebra for physics? it seems like some courses may over lap.

    I would suggest that if nothing esle you should atleast take a few of those math courses as some of them would be helpful for physics, such as Linear Algebra and PDE. Then it is up to you to decide whether it is worth taking the extra 2 or three courses to get the minor. I'm sure all of those courses could be beneficial depending on what you end up doing. Perhaps the numerical methods would be beneficial for mechanical engineering if you are more interested in the computer side of it, like doing simulations for stress testing and that sort of thing.
  5. May 7, 2009 #4
    I used to be more adamant about wanting to learn more math but my interest has mostly waned.

    I've considered switching to Mechanical Engineering back in the Fall mostly because I was still finishing up the introductory physics sequence (E&M, optics). However, even now, I'm not too sure about the nature of the work I'd be going into for engineering, and also, which particular branch would I want to go into. I could probably still make the transfer now, but while I'm interested in it as a potential career path, I'm not too enthusiastic about having to stay here an additional year (despite the fact that everyone's been telling me college is something you only get to do once).

    I've been attending this one seminar our engineering school offers for it but unfortunately, it's mostly focusing on some aspects of product development. I get the feeling there's a lot more that it's failing to show me.

    The furthest "required" math we're supposed to complete is simply a Math Methods course offered by our physics department, which attempts to tie together some linear algebra, ODEs and PDEs(separation of variables only), and orthogonal vector spaces. A second Math Methods course is offered afterwards which mostly focuses on complex analysis.

    Since the time I started this thread, I sat down with my dept. advisor to discuss my options. I'm most likely going to simply take an upper div linear algebra class and petition my way into some engineering courses to see which turn do I want to take with careers.
  6. May 10, 2009 #5
    That seems to be a valid decision. In all reality the math minor would have done nothing for you except give you the extra math courses. It wouldn't have added much to your CV. And if you will have exposure to many of those math topics (covered in the minor) anyway then you seem to be still on pace. Linear algebra and the math methods course should prove very helpful to you.

    I wish I had to option to take a few engineering courses. I am doing a combined Physics/Maths major but am considering different fields of engineering for graduate studies (mainly environmental eng.) and I wish I could have experienced some courses in the different fields on eng. during my undergrad.
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