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Switching from Physics to Maths for post grad study

  1. Nov 11, 2010 #1

    I'm currently studying towards a physics degree at undergraduate level in the uk with the aim of then going on to do an MSc in maths before hopefully gaining entry onto a phd programme in either maths or a mathematical area of physics.

    Given this intention i am trying to gather a scope of opinion on whether it is worth switching to a maths undergraduate degree now (while i still can) or carry on with the physics or is this not much of an issue at undergraduate level?

    I do enjoy both subjects and have indulged in study away from my degree in other areas of maths (analysis & topology primarily) that are not options as part of the physics degree, but I'm concerned about my options in maths at post grad level if i have a physics rather than a maths degree.

    Also would a degree in physics and then an Msc in maths make it difficult to gain entry into a physics phd programme i.e. without an MSc in physics?

    Any advise or opinions are welcome.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 11, 2010 #2


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    Well, if you plan anyway to be a theoretician, then I think the best route is to enroll to a UG in math, and if you can take some additional theoretical physics courses (in classical mechanics, classical electromagnetism, quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics (and thermodynamics)) then also add them to your curriculum.

    Usually a degree in physics alone will have some lab component which is a bit tedious, and if you plan to go theoretical then it won't help you as much as the theoretical courses.

    I am saying from my dire situation.
  4. Nov 12, 2010 #3
    Thanks for your reply, its given me some food for thought.

    I'm only taking a few lab based modules as part of my physics degree which will mean i can fit in a level 3 complex analysis module along with electromagnetism, quantum mechanics , relativity and a project course on quantum entanglement, hoping that this will give me enough preparation to take on complex variables and functional analysis at masters level.

    The problem in deciding whether to take the maths or physics degree route really stems from the fact that although there is a lot of overlap, doing physics means dropping some of the pure maths modules, primarily at level 2 (analysis, group theory, vector spaces etc although have been studying elements of these fields in my spare time) while doing the maths means dropping some classical physics modules and relativity at level 2 & 3(although will still be able to take quantum mechanics and electromagnetism).

    I guess im unsure as to how important at least a grounding in undergraduate classical physics is in doing mathematical physics.

    My original plan was to do the physics degree while studying some of the pure maths that i will be missing out on in my spare time. The intention was then to follow this up with a maths MSc with modules in functional analysis, complex variables, nonlinear ordinary differential equations etc in the hope that this would give me a solid foundation in both physics and maths with which to gain entry into a phd programme doing applied maths or mathematical physics but would still leave the option of doing a physics phd.

    However now i'm starting to get the impression it's probably best to focus in on one area and as i prefer the theoretical is the reason why i have been considering switching to the maths degree. I also have the feeling that a BSc physics with an MSc mathematics would be less favourable to gaining admission to a maths phd programme than a BSc maths with an MSc maths.

    Have you found this to be the case?
  5. Nov 12, 2010 #4


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    Look at it this way, you say you planned taking a bsc in physics and the other pure maths to learn by yourself, if you can do this then I guess you can also do it the other way around, taking a bsc in maths and learning the other physics modules by yourself.

    Most people would argue that the math is the hard part of theoretical physics (well quantum mechanics is really probability and linear algebra), so if you can tackle the math then the physics will be a little bit easier (depends if you have also an intuition for physics, though in QM I don't know how to find an intuition).

    Either way you choose best of luck.
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