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Physics or Mathematical Physics?

  1. Nov 7, 2006 #1
    I am applying for undergraduate schools in Canada at the moment, and most of them have provided me the option of taking several specialized programs with a focus on physics. They have programs like computational physics, astrophysics, chemical physics, mathematical physics and, of course, physics.

    Of the combined majors, mathematical physics looks the most attractive to me. This program, at most schools, will give me a BSc(physics) and a B. Math. I am quite a motivated math student, and I believe that I would enjoy more of a mathematical emphasis on my studies(although I admit that I know nothing and physics is probably enough math as it is). A representative from the University Waterloo told me that the Mathematical Physics students tend to do less labs and more theoretical courses.

    This all sounds neat to me, but I don't really have any concrete reasons for going through the trouble of doing a double degree program. I am fairly confident that I wish to be a research physicist, but I, naturally, have no idea what field I would specialize in yet, so I don't know if a mathematical physics program would be an advantage or a possible disadvantage.

    Any suggestions?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 7, 2006 #2

    quasar987

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    It is my opinion that physics class are more difficult than math classes. And knowing more math makes the physics classes less difficult. As a result the math-phys path makes it twice easier.

    In my uni (montreal) math-phys students do 3 times less labs and have exactly 50% obligatory math classes and 50% obligatory physics classes. However they have far less optional credits than ppl in physics.

    But in the end what you choose is irrelevant since our culture will be assimilated, right? [​IMG]
     
  4. Nov 7, 2006 #3
    So, in addition to allowing me to better assimilate (:P) the knowledge, would it still set me up for a career in physics?
     
  5. Nov 8, 2006 #4

    dextercioby

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    Yes, you may become a theorist, instead of a lab rat. :d

    Daniel.
     
  6. Nov 8, 2006 #5
    Mathematics is essential to become a good "Modern" phycisist, experimental or theoretical it does not matter.
     
  7. Nov 8, 2006 #6

    ZapperZ

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    Maybe I don't understand the Canadian system all that much, but you have a physics degree with a specialized program in physics? :)

    If you are good in mathematics, and enjoy it, there's no harm in doing a concentration on mathematical physics. You always need plenty of math a as a physicist, whether you end up as a theorist or an experimentalist.

    On the other hand, if you want to be half-way "employable", then you may want to consider computational physics. A lot of theorists nowadays are also good computational physicists, because there are hardly any problems nowadays that allows you to produce a closed-form analytical result. So numerical results are very common. It also allows you a greater flexibility in diverging into other fields if you so desire.

    Again, not knowing how the educational system works, if it is anywhere similar to the US, then I would suggest that you don't worry that much about the specialization that you acquire while as an undergraduate. Just consider it as extra knowledge and skill that might come in handy. I don't believe choosing one over the other will close any doors on you when you enter graduate school - at least, I hope not.

    Zz.
     
  8. Nov 8, 2006 #7
    I'm a student at UW in the regular Honours Physics program. While I don't know ALL the details, I can tell you that I know a guy in the Math Physics program and basically he isn't required to take the same amount of lab credits, he could take the degree through the science or math faculty and takes the math courses for math students instead of the science ones. We have the potential to take all the same physics courses...

    Any of the other specializations is just filling your electives with certain courses... i.e. astrophys courses, applied physics courses, or programming
     
  9. Nov 8, 2006 #8
    I wish they had that kind of program here! Less lab reports more math, that would be awesome!
     
  10. Nov 8, 2006 #9

    ZapperZ

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    Maybe if you look at the job opening that's available to physicists, you might change your mind.

    Zz.
     
  11. Nov 8, 2006 #10
    So the math already in a physics program would not be sufficient?

    I want to keep my options open for both experimental and theoretical fields of physics for grad school.

    I would also like to keep in mind which program would give me more research /development/work experience before grad school. For instance, at waterloo, I know for coop in physics there are many technological research and development jobs available, what would be available for students whose studies carry a higher level of abstraction and who do not do as many labs?
     
  12. Nov 8, 2006 #11

    quasar987

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    The way it works at my school is that the physics student have a 2 calc classes, 1 linear algebra and 1 "maths for physicists" course. We (math-phys) have the same 2 calc classes and the same linear algebra class but what they learn in "math for physicist" and through osmosis in the physics classes, we learn in "differential equations, probability, complex analysis, differential geometry, abstract algebra, applied analysis and real analysis 1,2,3"

    So at the end both the pure phys and math-phys students know the same thing but needless to say that the math-phys one knows the stuff much more in-depth. Specifically, the advantages of math-phys students over the phys students I have oserved are

    1) Flexibility: the ability to improvise; to find original solutions to problems.
    2) Mathematical assurance/confidence in what we do (the physics students are always wondering "But is this operation legal?!?" or worse they do an illegal operation without recognizing it)
    3) Most importantly imo, doing math trains a muscle in the brain that is rarely used in physics but that comes into play for tackling certain touchy problems.

    There are probably counter-parts to these advantages (i.e. things that physics students have that are lacking in math-phys ones). Perhaps someone would care to list them, I'd be interetsed to hear and so would Atomos I believe.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2006
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