Pure physics vs. adding a math major?

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  • #1
wild_boffin
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I’m sure I’m not the first to ask about this but I could use some advice from the internet:

I am a sophomore lost in the world and somewhat recently decided I was going to major in physics with my eyes on grad school. I am on track to get a math minor but I am weighing the trade-offs of picking up a double major instead. Our physics department offers two physics tracks: one meant for prospective graduate students and an “interdisciplinary” one with fewer required advanced courses for those who also want to major in a related field. A double major would require this second track and also likely preclude me from things like an honors thesis or graduate courses in physics (though I could maybe do either in math).

Any thoughts? If I do want to go to grad school I have a way to go in terms of GPA and research experience and wonder if I should just focus on physics and find my niche since math is harder for me and I doubt an additional major would mean much at all. But I am also interested in learning advanced math for its own sake and I wonder if it might open other doors if I need them.
 

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  • #2
Choppy
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Usually the tradeoff with a double major is that you're giving up flexibility in whatever your primary major is in order to grab that second one. It's not a bad decision if you also want to keep the door open for graduate school in math. But if it's really just a case of you wanting to take some advanced math courses to bolster your interest in physics then you should still be able to do that as a physics major. Read the course calendar carefully and see if there are any courses that you want to take that you can't if you're not a math major.

Adding a second major in math in and of itself is not going to confer any major advantage in terms of graduate school admission for physics.

I would also recommend talking with your academic advisor about this. That person will know a lot more about the details of your specific program(s) and how they jive with your educational and career aspirations than people giving advice from the internet.
 
  • #4
gwnorth
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I would think hard about not doing a senior thesis.
 
  • #5
CrysPhys
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I strongly second Choppy Reply #2 and gwnorth Reply #4. In particular,

* A double major in physics and math is advantageous under the following scenarios:

(a) You are planning to go onto grad school, and you want to leave open the option of a grad degree in physics or a grad degree in math.

(b) You are not planning to go onto grad school, and you want to qualify for a broader range of job options [i.e., job posts that specify "bachelor's in physics required" or "bachelor's in math" required].

Otherwise, if you are already set on pursuing a grad degree in physics, don't bother with a second major in math or even a minor in math. Such additional credential gains you nothing. If you want to study more math, simply take the math courses you're interested in as free electives.

* Assuming the honors thesis in your school involves original research (rather than merely a literature review and report tantamount to a term paper), definitely do it. It will give you experience in actually doing physics, rather than just studying physics.
 
  • #6
hutchphd
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I will add my voice to the chorus. So long as you graduate, concentrate on the very best courses from the very best professors with the most interesting (to you) content. And hopefully you will work like a person possessed.
The rest is secondary, and to the degree it interferes with the above, counterproductive.
 
  • #7
gleem
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I would suggest continuing your majoring in physics (forget the math major) but take as many applicable math courses as you can handle. A solid math background is beneficial. That was my background due to the fact that at my college they encourage that approach.
 
  • #8
MathematicalPhysicist
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If you enjoy both equally well then the double major (at my uni it's called combined degree) is the way to go.

Well I also did two MScs with a thesis component in maths and physics; I took too many courses and didn't finish writing my theses.

I don't plan on marriage, it was never on the cards for me.
 
  • #9
ohwilleke
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I would either do a math major, or skip both the math major and math minor entirely (and just take those elective math classes that interest you).

In connection with many undergraduate majors, a math minor would communicate something exceptional (e.g. in connection with an English major). But a physics major is generally assumed to have as much math instruction and knowledge as a math minor coupled with most other disciplines.

One of the better reasons to have the math major in addition to the physics major would be to keep your options open if you become disillusioned with your prospects in graduate physics studies. For example, a math major could be helpful if you sought to instead pursue operations research, to become an actuary, or to pursue graduate studies in math instead.
 

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