Theoretical Physics is only for maths graduates?

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Are you going to school in the UK?
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etotheipi said:
My tutor mentioned that the theoretical physics department doesn't accept physics graduates into their theoretical general relativity or high energy physics groups - instead only maths graduates. When I checked this, it turned out to be true! It's somewhat understandable except now I feel I'm sort of wasting my time, because I don't at all want to do experimental work and I'm not really interested either in the groups they accept physics graduates into, like for instance the condensed matter one.

It's essentially impossible to switch internally to a maths degree at this point so the only option would be to drop out and apply somewhere else - would like to hear your opinions.
First, I don't claim to understand this at all, although I assume there must be a reason for it. I would say you need to look more closely at what these groups are actually doing if they explicitly don't admit physics graduates. Is what they are doing really what you want to do?

There's a big world out there and there must be graduate physics programmes that admit physics graduates somewhere!
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Is this a new thing (last five years-ish), do you know?
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etotheipi said:
I'm not really interested either in the groups they accept physics graduates into, like for instance the condensed matter one.
Nowadays one can do GR in condensed matter
Einstein's Equations Starting from Qubits

In the above papers, Shinsei Ryu and Brian Swingle are condensed matter physicists. Some older examples of links between condensed matter and HEP are Anderson's proposal of the Higgs mechanism from condensed matter, and Wilson's use of HEP insight into renormalization for criticality in condensed matter.
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etotheipi said:
Yes! 😄
It does seem to work that way in the UK. But it is of no concern really, providing you are aware of it when you pick your undergrad degree - do a double degree in the two, e.g.:

Another possibility is many offer a degree in Applied Mathematics with Mathematical Physics, e.g.:

Just something to be aware of when choosing your undergrad degree in the UK. Also, be aware in the UK that they, while not required, prefer a combined Bachelors/Masters for entrance into a Doctoral program.

That said, you are stuck with what you chose, so in practical terms, as was mentioned before, it is a big world out there. You will be able to find a program that suits you somewhere. In the UK for example:

Or you can go overseas eg in Australia at my local university:

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  • #9
One thing that is not obvious from your original post is what you are currently doing? Unless you are already doing an MRes (as part of a CDT) you are of course not limited to applying for a PhD at the same university where you are currently doing an undergraduate degree (in fact, some would say that is often better to move to a different place for the PhD).
The rules for PhD applications vary wildly between different universities and departments. The rules are also different depending on whether or not you are applying so to specific position or a CDT.

Hence, I don't quite get why you think you would need to drop out?
Also, it wouldn't surprise me at all if it turns out that other places have the opposite rule; i.e. that they would ONLY accept people with physics degree.

The system (or lack thereof) here in the UK is very confusing and inconsistent. Note also that since there are no real national rules it is usually up to the department to decide who they want to accept. Hence, I would be very surprised if that is not a rule that is occasionally broken.
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  • #10
If I had to do it over, I would major in math as an undergrad. Honestly, the math that was taught in mathematical methods for physics was a bit of joke.

I definitely think people interested in theory should major in math and minor in Physics.

It's a bit of a shame that Physics departments aren't more upfront about this or have tracks that focus on the background needed for theory.
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  • #11
Some advice for *you*. You seem like a very hard working individual, and have a passion for science and math. No choice of degree will stop people like you from achieving success if you decide to pursue something. If you were a bottom of the barrel candidate, then yes, maybe an arbitrary choice like this would matter. You're not the average student, so embrace that!

What will matter? Your connections. Start networking now, send out those small questions you have in emails, read papers, stay curious. Graduate school is mentally tough no matter which group you join!
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