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Physics or Math+Phys?

  1. May 30, 2007 #1


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    There are basically two options I am considering, a 4 year Physics course and a 4 year Math+Physics course. I want to be able to do theoretical work (i.e be competent in the mathematics that a theoretical physicist would be) but I don't want to throw out experimental work altogether. If I choose the Math+Phys course, there wont be any experimental modules. But I don't know whether the Physics course has all the math that I want to do. You can find course outlines of both here :

    Physics ( MPhys )

    Maths and Physics (MMathPhys)

    If any of you theoretical physicists/physicists can tell me whether the straight physics MPhys course will disadvantage me too much (from learning the math necessary to be a theoretical physicist), I would be grateful.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 30, 2007 #2
    Maybe you can take the maths and physics stream and try to volunteer or work for an experimental group during the summers.
  4. May 30, 2007 #3


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    The way I see it, if you know you want to do theoretical physics, then doing lab work is more of a luxury, whereas not taking the math+phys route would disadvantage you dangerously.

    As for myself, I had originally planed to take the Physics route because I thought I wasn't very good at math. But a friend of mine said he was going to do math+phys and he wasn't much better than me at math... so it convinced me to try math+phys. And now 3 years and a degree later, I decided that I like math better and want to do a masters in math.

    The moral of the story is that doing math+phys, you can hardly loose as it opens the math way and the physics way. Besides, don't you have optional courses, among which you can choose lab?
    Last edited: May 30, 2007
  5. May 30, 2007 #4
    It seems to me cutting edge theoretical physics these days are done my people with very strong mathematical background.

    So learn as much mathematics as you can.
  6. May 30, 2007 #5


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    All I know for sure right now is that I want to have the same knowledge of mathematics that a theoretical physicist would. Whether my career will be in theoretical physics or not I don't know yet...

    If I choose the math+physics course, then it will be 50/50. So ill be missing half the physics that I would be doing if I did the physics course. I'm not sure whether I can choose lab options because just physics people pay more than math/phys people because of the lab modules.

    I know I'm being a little too demanding, but I'm more than willing to learn stuff on my own. I obviously can't do lab work on my own. I can either take physics and learn the maths on my own or I can take math/phys and learn the extra physics on my own and find somewhere else to do lab, but I cant decide which..
  7. May 30, 2007 #6
    I'm doing theoretical astrophysics right now (though I'm planning to ultimately be an experimentalist), and I majored in both physics and math in college. To be honest, I wish that I'd dropped my math major and picked up a liberal arts major in its place, because it hasn't proven all that useful to me. My math courses were good GPA boosters for me, but that's about it. I've found that you learn most of your important math in physics. To be sure, there are some math courses that physics majors should take. I took complex analysis, which has proven immensely useful to me. It's also a good idea to take fourier analysis (I didn't take this, but I wish I had). And, if you have time, probability theory and linear algebra might be good ideas. I took these two courses, but I really knew most of the useful stuff from quantum mechanics, and the rest was superfluous.

    While a few (=2 to 3) additional math courses will strengthen you as a physicist, it isn't necessary to run off and do a whole math degree. For example, I can't see algebra or advanced calculus as being all that useful. Don't get me wrong, these courses are all very interesting from a mathematician's point of view. But unless you actually have an interest in mathematics, I don't see any reason to take so much math. It hasn't been much help to me thus far.
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