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Physics vs Chemistry Major

  1. Jun 21, 2014 #1
    Hello everyone, I am new here and have been digging through the forums to see if my problem has been discussed before, but couldn't really find the answers I was looking for.

    I am a community college student transferring to university this fall, majoring in physics. However I have had this dilemma recently about whether or not I should keep physics or possibly switch over to chem. I have taken classical mechanics and honestly thought it was useful but boring at times. I took this over the last summer and then took 3rd semester physics in the fall(which is QM,electromagnetic waves, etc.) I found the material to be very Interesting, but my professor was terrible. Long story short I had a major dispute with him and ended up failing the course, making me hate physics for a while. At the same time I was taking gen chem and really enjoyed it, I especially loved the quantum chemistry section that involved calculations with wavelength and quantum numbers.

    This scenario had me contemplating a major in chemistry instead. So I was about to switch over to chem. In the spring I took 2nd semester chem and enjoyed most of it, however I really did not like the chapters that involved equilibrium and organic chemistry. So this made me question my major once again.

    I am currenty doing research in a lab over the summer doing organic chemistry/biochem and am enjoying it, but feel like its not for me, I find the lack of equations to be quite unsettling. What I really enjoyed in my chemistry courses was doing calculations, but not so much of the lab work(although some of it was pretty cool). I already know that I will not enjoy organic chemistry and bio chem, however I am excited for P-chem.

    Given this information, I am not sure which route to take. I ultimately want to go to grad school and do research, however I find chem research not as interesting as physics research.

    Writing this, It does seem like I am leaning more toward the physics side, but I just want to hear from the community and what you guys think. If I decide to keep physics, would a minor in chem benefit me in the long run, or should I consider doing a minor in CS?

    any input would be greatly appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 21, 2014 #2
    Ha I love equations too my favorite chemistry class was quantum chemistry just like you. I ultimately like physics more than chemistry but I've learned to see the fun in some of the chemistry. I'm a biochem major so ultimately I have to like o chem biochem. If you like equations i'd say definitely stick with physics. A lot of physics research these days though relate to chemistry. Solid state physics, condensed matter physics, and even material science. P chem is the only math intensive part of chemistry other than parts of analytical chemistry (equilibrium and stuff). If you don't like the rest of chemistry I don't think focusing on p chem is worth it.

    My advice is stick with physics but take p chem as an elective. Cs minor will probably be way more useful than a chem minor unless you want to do something specific with chemistry.
  4. Jun 21, 2014 #3
    Hey thanks for the advice. I appreciate it.

    What you say makes a lot of sense. I just felt a bit lost because I've never really had that "spark in physics, at least not yet. I think this was due to having one mediocre professor and one horrible professor for physics, yet one amazing professor for chemistry.
  5. Jun 21, 2014 #4
    Hm I guess I understand. More people are in chemistry research these days than physics so I think physics professors these days tend to be "the few and the proud" mentality. Chemistry is slightly more hands on than most of physics and I think the government like to fund that more. P chem is still interesting to me. Some of the interesting stuff I learned in p chem is that water can actually crystallize into like seventeen different ways, hexagonal ice is just one kind. Liquid helium constantly jets up into the air because of density and stuff. And oxygen is magnetic when it's a liquid.

    I knew some smart people going into radiochemistry and nuclear chemistry which in my mind is like nuclear physics.

    The difference between p chem and physics is that p chem focuses on the element/substance while physics looks more at the physical phenomenon. Anyway these are all just my thoughts.
  6. Jun 21, 2014 #5


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    The instructor can make a huge difference. Pursue whichever one you enjoy studying the most, because you're going to be doing a lot of studying in either subject. Which subject tickles your fancy the most when you just sit and read it? You're going to be spending A LOT of time reading and doing problem sets in whichever one you choose.

    If a major in physics and a minor in chem is your goldilocks zone, then do that. It looks like you'll already have a lot of chem under your belt. Don't minor in CS if you're not interested in it.
  7. Jun 21, 2014 #6
    I keep repeating this, but I suppose there is a need for it - there are formal graduate programs in chemical physics (at least in the US), where you wind up taking coursework in both chemistry and physics, and they are looking for chemistry students (with an interest in physics) and physics students (with an interest in chemistry). Either background is suitable (they really do take people who aren't double physics and chemistry majors with math minors, like some seem to presume), and the coursework is usually intended to put everyone on a fairly equitable footing in the end. You're allowed to select a research supervisor in any of the participating departments at said university within reason, which can also often include applied physics, electrical and/or chemical engineering, and so on.

    I do have to wonder why you'd join an experimental organic/biological chemistry lab and think you'd be doing lots of calculations, unless they're a very mechanistically oriented lab, where you've got intricate mechanisms to tease out and complex kinetic pathways to quantify. But that may be my cynicism at work there. ;)
  8. Jun 21, 2014 #7
    Well I love programming and I keep hearing that CS is a better minor for physics. Thats mainly the reason I've considered it. Although some people tell me that its not really beneficial since a lot of it can be learned on your own.

    As far as the physics and chem goes. I find physics more interesting, but chemistry much easier.
  9. Jun 21, 2014 #8
    Haha well I didn't join it deliberately. I was given the opportunity and had no idea what was in store. I figured any research is good for my CV in the long run. I didn't expect to be doing calculations, my point was that I'm rather surprised I actually miss doing them.
  10. Jun 21, 2014 #9
    I started out as a biochemistry major because I'm interested in medical research, and I thought that would be a good major. I ended up hating it because of the lack of mathematics involved. (My school has chemistry and biology majors take organic chemistry freshman year rather than general chemistry, and I hated synthesis. My school has a large focus on organic chemistry...) So I switched over to physics going into my sophomore year, and loved it, so that was the right choice for me.

    I'm now a senior, and I'm currently doing research with my school's chemistry department that involves a lot of the physics I learned and only the chemistry that I am interested it. I took chemistry classes as well, but only the ones I am interested in taking. You could do something like that, if you want to avoid all the chemistry you don't like. Look at your school's requirements for both majors, and see how many classes you think you'd enjoy taking for each. Depending on the school, you could probably sub in courses from one major to meet a requirement for whichever you are actually majoring it. Or you could just take those courses as electives.
  11. Jun 21, 2014 #10
    Ahh, OK - I had parsed your original description a bit differently, as I presumed (which was certainly the overwhelming case for myself and classmates as undergraduates) that you had joined that lab after some serious consideration and exploration of possible research opportunities. Of course, perhaps that's why I continued (and still am, after a fashion) in that same general field now for ~ 15 years.....heh.

    Paraphrasing significantly here, but Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann notes that the themes of synthesis, structure, and reactivity characterize chemistry in a unique way (see his book The Same and Not the Same for the full story) versus the other sciences. Consider this a chance to gain some good perspective on the synthesis side of things (what do they consider interesting, and why, and what do they consider noteworthy/impressive), and to learn some good lab technique. It very well could come in handy.
  12. Jun 21, 2014 #11
    Why not just do chemical engineering? The job prospects for chemE are much, much better than chemistry.
  13. Jun 22, 2014 #12
    To answer your question as honestly as possible. I don't want to be an engineer, I know they make more money but I would be more happy in pure science as opposed to engineering.
  14. Jun 22, 2014 #13
    I want to thank everybody for their responses. I really appreciate it and you all gave me a lot to consider for my choice. You are all awesome.
  15. Jun 30, 2014 #14
    Whatever you do, learn to get along with professors. Some are great, most are OK, some should not be teaching. But you cannot win in a conflict with them. Be d--- sure you like and are liked by any research or thesis director.
  16. Jun 30, 2014 #15

    Sound advice, but also be yourself and don't brown nose. Let your work speak for itself.
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