Physics Major vs Theorical Physics Major.

In summary: Mathematical Physics for new grad students to get a feel for the subject.If you're applying to grad school, and you've taken the courses listed above, and you're good at math, you'll be fine. Just make sure you tell the admissions people your planned major, and that you're interested in doing mathematical physics.
  • #1
flyingpig
2,579
1
OKay there is a problem. I am a senior and going to college next year and I want to become a theoretical physicist.

Here is the big problem, I signed up for Physics, but I noticed that at another university, there is something called Mathematical Physics and just Physics. Obviously I want to take the mathematical one, but the university I am applying to doesn't have one.

In case you are wondering, i am applying for the University of British Columbia.
 
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  • #2
You could consider a double major in physics and math.
 
  • #3
When you apply for grad school, they're going to care about what courses you took as an undergrad, not on what the degree is called, per se. So just take as many theoretically-oriented physics and math courses as you can as electives, beyond the minimum requirements for your physics major.

As a guideline, you could look up the list of courses for a mathematical physics major at the other school, and use that as a guide for what to take at your actual school. They probably have pretty much the same courses, it's just that one school chooses to package some of them specifically into a separate "mathematical physics" major.
 
  • #4
flyingpig said:
OKay there is a problem. I am a senior and going to college next year and I want to become a theoretical physicist.

Here is the big problem, I signed up for Physics, but I noticed that at another university, there is something called Mathematical Physics and just Physics. Obviously I want to take the mathematical one, but the university I am applying to doesn't have one.

In case you are wondering, i am applying for the University of British Columbia.

If you go to UBC, take MATH120 and MATH121 in first year - or whatever the honours classes are. The standard first year math classes at UBC are a joke.
And I guess it goes unsaid that you should go for the honours stream PHYS 107/108(?) as well.

Unless you're going for Science One
 
  • #5
flyingpig said:
OKay there is a problem. I am a senior and going to college next year and I want to become a theoretical physicist.

Here is the big problem, I signed up for Physics, but I noticed that at another university, there is something called Mathematical Physics and just Physics. Obviously I want to take the mathematical one, but the university I am applying to doesn't have one.

In case you are wondering, i am applying for the University of British Columbia.

Hi Flyingpig. Chck what I'm about to tell you with the school you're applying to, just to make sure we're all speaking the same language.

Most physics departments don't offer majors in theoretica versus experimental physics. That distinction is made only in grad school. Actually the undergrad degrees at most schools are biased towards theory. At my university we took a lot of classes that involved learning theory, but only three semesters of classwork on experimental methods. Most of the exprimental stuff I've learned, I've had to pick up as an experimental physics grad student. So if you just do the physics major, you'll be fine for theoretical physics. During our senior year of college, you'll likely have an idea of what you want to do for your graduate work, and that might be a good time to tailor your last few courses to that end (e.g. if you want to do cosmology, you could take undergrad cosmology).

A mathematical physics degree, unlike physics, is usually offered by a school's math department, andis mathematics rather than physics. Basically, mathematical physicists are mathematicians, whereas theoretical physicists are physicists. At least that's how it's always been explained to me.
 
  • #6
arunma said:
A mathematical physics degree, unlike physics, is usually offered by a school's math department, andis mathematics rather than physics. Basically, mathematical physicists are mathematicians, whereas theoretical physicists are physicists. At least that's how it's always been explained to me.

Not that I am far enough along in my education to really know, but it seems to me (based on what I've read here, and in other places) that the more theoretical your work in physics is, the more you need in terms of mathematics, simply because the level of abstraction goes up. Subjects like Group, Ring and Field Theory, Topology, differential geometry and such are not subjects most physics majors take as an undergrad, but I know that a lot of modern physics has been able to be developed by using this more abstract level of math (as opposed to say just using linear algebra and diff eqs).

I could be wrong though. Anyway, as far as grad school goes, I am sure if you cover essentials in your Mathematical Physics degree (classical, e&m, quantum, thermo and stat mech), you'll be fine to go into grad school. Most schools offer some sort of Mathematical Physics courses which are usually required anyway.

I got to take at least 2 of these mathematical physics classes for the major, and I've taken one so far and all it really was was just the entire contents of Calc I-III through lower div Lin Algebra and Diff Eqs in 5 weeks (it was a summer class, so normally it woulda been 10 weeks). SO while intense in trying to cram that many topics in such a short time, most if not all of this should have just been review to someone about to take upper div physics classes.

I do have to say that after taking a couple of upper div math classes, I still have NO CLUE how any of this Abstract Algebra stuff (group theory) can be applied to a problem in physics...but I know it is, because I've read it to be so. So if there was such a major as mathematical physics offered by my school, offering classes which actually "melt" higher math with physics, id much rather do that, then my current double major in math and physics. The math classes taught for the sake of math, and the physics classes present the math as "this is the concept and this is how you solve it" rather than going into it any deeper than that.
 
  • #7
Oh just so everyone knows I am taking AP Calculus BC right now; but I do not think UBC will allow me to skip the course, but they will grant me credit.
 

Related to Physics Major vs Theorical Physics Major.

1. What is the main difference between a Physics Major and a Theoretical Physics Major?

A Physics major focuses on the broad study of physics, including both theoretical and experimental aspects. This major prepares students for a wide range of careers in fields such as engineering, medicine, and research. A Theoretical Physics major, on the other hand, is more specialized and focuses specifically on the theoretical aspects of physics, such as mathematical models and theories. This major is geared towards students who are interested in pursuing careers in research or academia.

2. Can you still become a physicist with a regular Physics major?

Yes, a regular Physics major can still lead to a career in physics. A Physics major provides a strong foundation in both theoretical and experimental physics, which can be applied to a variety of fields. Many successful physicists have a regular Physics major and go on to pursue graduate studies in a more specialized area of physics.

3. What type of courses can I expect to take as a Theoretical Physics major?

Theoretical Physics major courses typically cover advanced topics in classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, electromagnetism, and statistical mechanics. These courses involve a lot of mathematical and theoretical problem-solving, and may also include topics such as relativity, cosmology, and particle physics.

4. Will a Theoretical Physics major prepare me for a career in industry?

While a Theoretical Physics major is geared towards students interested in research and academia, it can also provide valuable skills for a career in industry. The problem-solving and analytical skills gained from this major can be applied to a variety of fields, such as data analysis, finance, and engineering.

5. What are the job prospects for Theoretical Physics majors?

The job prospects for Theoretical Physics majors are generally good, as there is a demand for individuals with strong analytical and problem-solving skills. Many Theoretical Physics majors go on to pursue graduate studies and careers in research, while others find employment in fields such as finance, data analysis, and engineering. It is important to note that job opportunities may vary depending on the job market and location.

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