Should I become a physicist or a mathematician?

  • #1
I am a person who likes to think deep and can't keep himself from delving deeper into concepts. Even though math is the subject in which I outshine my counterparts, it is physics that I find more fascinating. Also I feel that physics gives math a sense of direction to work upon.

But I am a 12th grader so my knowledge is therefore limited. Will I fare well as a quantum physicist ? Does quantum physics involve more of manipulation and understanding or imagination ? (For instance mechanics involves a lot of imagination while integration demands fresh point of view and some manipulation)

Also , solving some hard problems of competitive exams across the world does give me some confidence but it also forces me to question if solving some Olympiad problems are sufficient for me to decide whether I'll do well as a mathematician/physicist or not. Whether I'll even like university math or am I someone who's just built to do some basic math really well but not advanced math. How do I decide between the two professions ?
 

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  • #2
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Your question is in my opinion firstly a question about languages. Physics is written in a specific mathematical dialect, namely coordinates. You need coordinates to measure something, and you need to measure something to support your theories. Mathematicians notoriously dislike coordinates because they block the view of what is really going on.

This is in my opinion the real difference between mathematics and physics. Of course, you can master both of them, and good physicists are usually good mathematicians, too, or as a mentor of mine once put it: "There are two types of physicists: mathematicians and blacksmiths." Conversely, mathematicians are usually very interested in physics and not complete laymen. Both fields have developed, develop, and will develop in parallel.

So the answer to your question is simple: What is a linear transformation to you? A matrix, or a combination of rotations and stretchings?
 
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  • #3
Dr. Courtney
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It is hard to guide students to a good answer to that question unless they've at least seen some calculus on the math side and physics in a challenging algebra-based high school course.

If you have not had those yet, keep your options open until you have had at least one semester each of Calculus and Physics in college, and then circle back and ask again. Especially pay attention in your physics laboratory, since experiment is really what separates physics from math.

In the meantime, you might also benefit from watching the Feynman Lectures in Physics.
 
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  • #4
Choppy
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Something to keep in mind is that you're not deciding between professions. At this stage of the game, the choice before you is much more along the lines of what to pursue for advanced education.

The good news is that the first year of university between a physics major and a mathematics major is generally common enough that you can easily switch between the two. Some people will even pursue a double major, at least until it becomes clear that they have a favorite.
 
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  • #5
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I would echo Choppy's comments. I would add that, if the physics department has a "math methods" course, you may prefer to take the courses in the math department covering the topics in that course, even if you end up pursuing physics. Ask your advisor about that option.
 
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