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Physics vs Theoretical Physics - Help with choice of major please?

  1. Nov 11, 2011 #1
    OK. I'm a high school student in Ontario, soon to be applying for university. I have a couple of questions.

    First, I want details on the differences between theoretical physics, and regular physics. I seem to have a much heavier inclination towards theoretical physics, but it seems that there are very few major programs, and very few jobs that are available related to research.

    Second, which university has the "best" physics program? And how does UofT compare, since it is the most convenient one for me to go to?

    Third, is it possible to get an undergrad major in Physics, but get a master's or PhD in Theoretical physics?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated :)
    PS. What is the likelyhood of getting a government research job related to physics with a PhD?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 11, 2011 #2


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    1. As far as undergraduate programs go, the differences will be specific to the particular school. Generally you could expect that a "theoretical physics" undergraduate program would have slightly different senior course requirements than a "regular" physics counter part - perhaps less concentration on labs and more on math or computer courses.

    As an aside, it's best not to get too specialized in undergrad. If you think physics is the path for you, take honours physics and then tailor your electives to your interest. There is no advantage as far as getting into graduate school to having a fancy title to your degree. And no one at parties is going to be all that impressed that you're doing a degree in "theoretical physics."

    2. Everyone has their own idea of how "best" is evaluated. In Canada the quality of physics education is, I don't believe, as diverse as it is in the US. Most universities have good enough programs that you won't have problems getting into graduate school (at least as far as the quality of your undergraduate institution is concerned) and thus the decisive factor for many students can come down to convenience or cost. The University of Toronto (I'm assuming since you're in Ontario you didn't mean University of Texas or University of Trinidad) is a very good school.

    3. Yes - sort of. "Theoretical physics" isn't itself a graduate degree. You would study theoretical particle physics, or condensed matter theory, or astrophysics theory - not simply "theory."

    4. It's difficult to say. They won't come knocking on your door (although for the record, we did have recruiters come to our department now and then - usually from the military).
  4. Nov 11, 2011 #3
    Thank you for the help, it was indeed what I needed. Just one thing, you mention "honours" physics. I've heard of honours programs in university, but how do you take them? Is there just an honours program for every course, similar to an AP program in high-school? If so, what are the requirements, usually?
  5. Nov 11, 2011 #4


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    Sorry, "honours" is another term that means different things at different schools.

    I meant it to imply a concentration in the subject that's strong enough to get you into graduate school. Some schools will offer lighter versions of a major where you have more elective choices, but your core coursework may not be enough to qualify you to on to graduate work.
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