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Theoretical Physics / Straight Physics

  1. Jun 29, 2009 #1
    Hey it's me again.

    I'm at the stage now where i'm practically picking universities to apply to & courses and the one problem that i'm having trouble with now is theoretical/straight physics.

    Would taking theoretical physics affect my chances of post-graduate in terms of research? I know that with theoretical physics / applied mathematics, you miss out on practically all of the lab-work, which obviously plays a huge role in the post-graduate physics. It's not that I dislike lab-work, but I do prefer the theoretical side.

    Would it disadvantage me at all doing theoretical physics in this way? Or would you just recommend taking applied mathematics options ontop of a normal physics degree?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 29, 2009 #2


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    My advice has always been to be wary of X-physics or physics with-X undergrad degrees.
    But theoretical physics is a little different, there is basically a continuum between maths,applied-maths,theoretical physics,physics depending on the institution.
    You should take a look at the courses offered by both depts (maths+physics) and what the prerequisites are. You should also ask how linked the depts are, can you take final year physics courses from a maths degree for example.

    Look at UCL - when I went there (many years ago) the maths and physics+astronomy depts were very strongly linked and you could pretty much take any mix of maths/physics/astronomy courses you wanted.

    At Cambridge most of the theoretical physics grad students in astronomy as well as DAMTP had maths part III and probably a 50:50 split maths/physics ugrad.
  4. Jun 29, 2009 #3
    Actually what you're saying is linking in to what I was thinking, the main example I would be applying to (if any) would be Warwick, so as to take advantage of the excellent maths department, but like you said I guess I should see how the departments link together.

    On a side note, how much do you think doing a degree in theoretical physics would aid me in terms of mathematical skill etc? I really enjoy math anyway and I presume that doing theoretical physics/applied mathematics would focus even more on the maths but do you think that's a good thing or not really necessary for a PhD in a "run of the mill" pure physics PhD such as particle physics, solid state physics etc.
  5. Jun 29, 2009 #4


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    It depends - to a pure maths person the stuff that I would consider 'super hard miles beyond me' maths, like most of general relativity, is boring tedious arithmetic!

    On the other hand in experimental physics, I've never really had to use much maths beyond matrices.
  6. Jun 30, 2009 #5
    Thanks alot =P, still not sure what to do though...
  7. Jun 30, 2009 #6


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    What I would do:

    Major in physics and take as many math courses as you can along the way.

    This way you get the lab work and you have the math background to go into theory in grad school if you so desire.

    I'm always wary when I hear about undergrad degrees in subfields or subtypes of physics as well. I wouldn't want to place myself into a specific field or into experimental vs. theoretical that early on. When I was first entering university, I realize now that I really didn't really understand much about real physics. My fields of interest changed as I moved through the years in university. They may still as I go on into grad school. So, I'd go into the straight physics degree, to give myself the most exposure to different types of physics.
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2009
  8. Jul 5, 2009 #7
    Thanks alot for the advice, I think I will go for straight physics and try to get as many math extras as I can; while i'm here, are there any recommendations for UK universities? =P

    I'm not THAT bothered about the university campus etc, just want one with a really good jam packed course, i'm already applying to Birmingham, Oxford & Warwick, anyone got any other sugguestions? I have been to a few open days but i'm still lost >.<
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