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Courses Straight physics or theoretical physics

  1. May 9, 2016 #1
    Hi guys! I am currently a first year undergrad (of 3 years) doing physics and in 2 months time need to decide whether or not to continue with my straight physics course or take the theoretical physics pathway

    I want to do a phd in the more theory based side of physics (particular interests include biophysics, quantum computing, other areas of condensed matter physics, a lot of things to do with maths and of course as everyone always says string theory and particle theory haha)

    I am just stuck in deciding what pathway to take (I outline the differences below) as I want to be exposed to as much maths as I can but also concerned I would be missing out on some great things in experimental physics in my 3rd year but the thing is I HATE labs this year because of how rigid it is (it is just following a list of instructions, which I understand we need to do to learn how the equipment works but it is just so boring) and from what I have been told it is the same next year in terms of labs

    If I take straight physics I do 3 lab modules and 1 medical physics module (rest is same on both streams)

    but if I take theoretical physics I do modules non linear differential equations, geometry of curves, calculus of variations, fluid dynamics, topology, differential geometry, advance differential geometry, vector spaces as well as the standard maths of a physics degree (in the uk at least)

    I am just looking for your opinions on what you think potential pros and cons could be and why you think one would be better than the other

    Thank you for any help you can give
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 10, 2016 #2

    DrSteve

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    Seems like you already know which pathway to take
     
  4. May 10, 2016 #3

    ZapperZ

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    There's something else that you haven't considered. Where you are located, do you know the kind of job opportunities for someone who is a "straight physics" major versus a "theoretical physics" major?

    Zz.
     
  5. May 10, 2016 #4
    Based in the uk

    I dont really know the job differences but careers I am interested in include, software development, nuclear industry, finance (several different careers), medical physics and becoming a researcher but I know thats highly unlikely
     
  6. May 10, 2016 #5

    StatGuy2000

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    To the OP:

    I find it curious that students in the UK are required to choose to pursue a theoretical or "straight" (i.e. experimental or applied) physics module during their undergraduate studies, as students really have no clear idea whether a theoretical or experimental path would be right for them. It's almost as if students are being forced to decide their research path without having the benefit of learning more about these.
     
  7. May 10, 2016 #6
    I find it silly that I have to make the choice, in a ideal world id do lab and take only 2 of the advanced maths modules per year but that isnt possible due to timetable clashes :(
     
  8. May 12, 2016 #7

    Dr Transport

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    My favorite coffee cup of all time says "I have a BA, an MA and a PhD, Now I need a JOB", pure theoreticians don't get jobs too often.....take the labs and get some employable skills...... In all the years I have been in industry, I have never asked someone to give me the Lagrangian for a system or other things you learn in physics, I employed them for their lab skills and ability to dissect a problem and solve it.
     
  9. May 12, 2016 #8
    Thank you for your input :) I spoke to my tutor about this issue yesterday and she said that even though I would miss out on second year lab, I would still be able to do my project in experimental physics if I wished (she was just listing pros and cons and this came up) if I took a extra summer class in experimental techniques in my summer of next year, so I would get some more lab skills and also still get to do my mathematics courses

    Would this be enough to prove I have enough of the skills I need?

    You have given me something more to think about, if you dont mind me asking what type of job sector do you work in?

    I mean I see myself primarily going into software development as its what, after physics, I enjoy the most (I can program in python, C++ at the moment and plan to further my skills by creating projects that demonstrate my programming capability)
     
  10. May 12, 2016 #9

    Dr Transport

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    That would depend on the position you are applying for. My PhD is in theoretical semiconductor physics, but I have a huge background in writing code and for about 5 years I worked in our labs making measurements.

    If you want to work in finance take all the programming you can and learn about databases. Medical physics, take some biology and chemistry along with instrumentation. Software development requires either a computer science or computer engineering degree or possibly an electrical engineering degree, not to say that other disciplines can't program, but that is who I tended to hire.

    I work in aerospace.....
     
  11. May 12, 2016 #10
    hmm I will have to see about doing straight physics then, even if it means ill get a worse degree classification. thank you for all the help
     
  12. May 12, 2016 #11

    IGU

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    Interesting. Hiring in Silicon Valley, I favored scientists over CS people. I found that scientists tended to have internalized proper analytical thinking skills as well as the scientific method (you know, do experiments to confirm theory).
     
  13. May 12, 2016 #12

    Dr Transport

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    I wanted to hire physicists with programming experience, I was over-ruled.....most of our new-hires had computer engineering backgrounds in my group.....
     
  14. May 14, 2016 #13

    StatGuy2000

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    Computer engineering, or computer science backgrounds? Because the 2 degrees (at least in Canada) are quite distinct.
     
  15. May 14, 2016 #14

    Dr Transport

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    two of my last three new hires were computer engineers.......they were hired because of their ability to write code that better interfaced with the hardware.
     
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