1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Theoretical physics or pure maths?

  1. Theoretical Physics

  2. Pure Maths

  1. Jul 5, 2007 #1
    Results just came in. I did 2 pure maths, metric spaces 51% & algebra 59%, Partial differential equations 79% and 2 advanced theoretical physics, QM 71% & Stat mech 74% all at the third year level. The scores are exam scores.

    I like pure maths but find them hard. I usually have trouble doing the problems in pure maths and it takes me a lot of time to do the assignments. Physics and applied maths on the other hand are more natural to me and fittingly I do find them easier.

    There is one more semester left this year and then I would have to specialise next year in physics or pure maths and hopefully go to grad school with one of them. I have a feeling the results will be similar, namely for pure maths subjects to be much poorer than the applied ones. Which should I choose? It would seem more natural to do it in physics because of my better results. But I love pure maths deep down. I love physics as well but pure maths is on another level for me. I am a purist and everything about pure maths seem to suit me except that I am bad at it and obviously don't have any talents for it. So it's quite a big problem. I also never did well in maths competitions in high school.

    Whichever I choose, I like to make a career out of it as well so it's a big decision. Advice Appreciated.
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2007
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 5, 2007 #2
    Is doing an extra year a possibility? Based on your marks and your experience in math contests, I would agree that it would be better to plan for further education in physics. But if you have money and an extra year, there is no reason to give up either pure math or physics.

    Perhaps you can do an independent project or find a summer research job doing something physicsy? That will give you more of a feeling for what research is like and whether you would enjoy it.

    Don't feel you have to close off your options because you are a "purist". There are many satisfying things about doing physics - the pleasure of elegant mathematical description is just one.
  4. Jul 5, 2007 #3
    You seem to be trying to base your career objective on the scores that you obtain. IMO that's not always the best way to go about choosing the discipline you want to go into.

    I'm pretty sure that once you get past undergrad it's more about your understanding rather than your ability to do well in exams, although most (not all) people either have both or neither.

    I think that as long you actually understand the material (scores aren't that important as long as you're averaging over 65 for Honours) then you'll be fine. Don't worry about things like high school maths comps, I never did well in them but I've never had a score of less than 90 in uni maths. This illustrates quite clearly that it's more about the effort that you put in rather than 'talent.'

    So I think you should go with what you're most interested in.
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2007
  5. Jul 6, 2007 #4
    I use to think marks weren't that important but have come to realise how accurate a description of ability it is over the years. Looks like I am one of the majority you describe, both or neither.

    Naturally you want to have a career doing something you are good at hence also enjoy it more. The problem here is that my mark difference is too huge. And I am clearly better at one thing and not good in the other.

    Wow you've done well. I think that the biggest problem for me with regards to maths is that there are some gaps and maths is a cumulative subject that builds on top of each other. Physics is the same but it feels more natural to me so the gaps can be filled more easily.
  6. Jul 6, 2007 #5
    I have the option of continuing study in both as I am above the minimum mark recquirement. So no need to spend an extra year but I just like to do something I will likely to succeed in. Maybe its just the case that I need to put more work into maths and do more easier problems to boost my confidence.
  7. Jul 6, 2007 #6
    The extra year isn't meant to be remedial - the point is that you could do the upper level requirements for pure math AND physics if you took five more semesters to finish instead of three. If you really enjoy both math and physics and are having trouble deciding between the two then this might be a good way to decide what to pursue. In the grand scheme of things an extra year doesn't make much difference at all.

    What do you mean by "something I will likely succeed in"?
  8. Jul 6, 2007 #7
    It just means something I will do well and be able to gain entry into the recquired levels. Like gain entry into grad school, entry to a post doc position and so on.
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2007
  9. Jul 6, 2007 #8


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I think this is a decision you have to make on your own, since we cannot possibly know your situation. However, I have a couple of things for you to consider. Firstly, you will not be able to tell right now whether you are likely to suceed in your PhD, let alone secure a post doc position. Secondly, you should note that if you wish to persue a PhD in theoretical physics, then you will most likely need to know about metric spaces and algebra, so you should take some time to review those topics regardless of which path you choose.
  10. Jul 6, 2007 #9
    Well to get into a Phd I'll need an average of 75% in next year's subjects. So if I did choose all pure maths subjects I wonder how possible is that as I would have to lift my game by at least 15% (I get better marks on assignments then on exams). That is a big jump to make by anyone. Is it even possible? However I should make that mark if I stick with physics so at least get into a Phd.
  11. Jul 6, 2007 #10


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Sounds like you think you should do physics then. I honestly don't know whether it's possible for you to increase your marks that much-- for example, I don't know how much effort/time you put in at the moment.
  12. Jul 6, 2007 #11
    Applied Math :biggrin:
  13. Jul 8, 2007 #12
    I was overloading during the semester and found that some subjects really didn't get enough time. I managed to fill up (doing excercises) two and half 96 page booklets for each subject except for metric spaces with only one and half booklets. Not enough time was spent revising that subject. If I do the normal load next year than there might be more chance of success. However the gaps in my knowledge are widening and becomes harder to fill.

    I think I might just go with the pure maths and see if I can lift it by 15%. Maybe doing only pure maths will allow my brain to fully adjust to it and improve my understanding substantially as there are lots of connections in it.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook