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Theoretical physicist? mathematician? mathematical physicist?

  1. Nov 20, 2009 #1
    i'm on first year of physics studies, but i got a little dilemma - do i want to be a mathematician, or phycist?
    I'm thinking about being theoretical physicist - but at the moment - math is much much more interesting to me than physics. I think that may change when i'll start to learn about quantum physics - but i'm not certain about that.

    What if that won't happend? Will i be able to go for Master degree in mathematics(after bachelor's in physics)?

    What concerns me - all physicist from my university care about, for example, where they can use some piece of math - they treat it as a tool. What i care about is why some piece of math is the way it is.
    Even my calculus lecturet told me, that as a physicist, i shouldn't care about all that stuff, because it's kind of useless for me.

    And that raise doubts - was physics right choise?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 20, 2009 #2
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  4. Nov 20, 2009 #3
    I think it's too early to tell. I had the same enthusiasm for the mathematical background you describe, but I lost that interest to some degree over the years. The level of rigor and abstraction can be quite "extreme" in the advanced mathematical subjects, which in my opinion goes a bit too far.

    Having said that, mathematics in Theoretical physics goes a lot further than applying simple mathematical tools. In a lot of cases you really need to understand the "why" and "how" of certain mathematical structures in order to better understand and appreciate their physical consequences. Yes, there is plenty of math to learn in theoretical physics, especially in mathematical physics.

    What you also see is that some mathematicians get interested in theoretical and mathematical physics since it puts their subject into a new context. A lot of math developed in the 20th century find their origin in a physical context.

    I think, as a potential theoretical physicist, it's very natural to be interested in the rigor behind the math you come accross, especially in the first few years. But in the end it's up to you to make a decision if you want to switch.
  5. Nov 20, 2009 #4
    well basically I was in the same dilemma last year when I was a freshman..
    Similarly to you, the mechanics or EM are pretty boring sometimes even annoying to me,
    so I take intermediate QM this semester(griffiths) and find out it's REALLY FUN, especially when you are good at math.(linear algebra etc.)
    now I decide to have a double major in physics and math, because I enjoy them both.

    so my suggestion is, as you said, wait until you take quantum physics and then decide.
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