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To be a mathematician and a physicist?

  1. Feb 6, 2007 #1
    This goes out as a question mostly to mathwonk, b/c he is a mathematician.

    Quick into, to help with my question, and b/c I'm totally new to this forum.
    I'm x-navy. I was an electronic technician from 96 to 02. I am a math major in his 5th year (I took 1 year to off to explore EE, and learned, I had already learned most of it).

    Currently I'm enrolled in Diff-geom (Do Carmo), Multidimensional Analysis (Spivak), Complex (Church), and Fourier Analysis (Korner). The () indicate the author.

    B/c my wife, a fellow math major, requires another year to graduate, I have, waited on doing all my requirements to graduate so that I can wait a year. To that end, I have a deal, sorta, with my dept. that I will take all the first yr courses of math grad school as an undergrad. Which isn't impressive, b/c it's my 6th yr.

    Ok. Now finally the question. Oh, wait, one more intro fact. I have always wanted to be mathematician AND a physicist. And I know all too well the differences.

    I have only taken the freshman calc. physics. But talking to physics majors, my electronics is ahead of theirs. Now. What I would like to do, is be a double PH.d, but I don't know if it's necessary.

    Mostly, I am interested in learning theoretical physics. But in 20 yrs or so, I'd probably like to do an experiment or 2. But mostly the theory. To that end, is it possible to catch up my physics, and do a second PH.d while I am doing my math PH.d?

    If not that, is a masters a reasonable idea? Or should I scratch the idea of another degree entirely, and simply take all the physics classes? and then just publish? The problem is, I'd really truly, enjoy being on the cutting edge of both. And I don't want to settle for something lesser.

    A question directly to mathwonk. I understand, publish or perish, is the path to tenure, and I am certain I wish to be a professor. But is it possible to be excepted as someone who publishes both pure math, and theoretical physics? Or is it suicide to consider physics before tenure?

    Also, what areas of pure math would you say, are in the category of mathematical physics? I think I understand PDE's are, and I am considering them as a path. But I am curious about Lie Algebras too.

    Mostly, I'd like to know, if any modern, (say last 20 yrs or less) mathematician, has managed to be a full pure mathematician and a full theoretical physicist.

    Thanks for taking time to read about my little problem!
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 8, 2007 #2
    rephrasing the questions

    In graduate school, is it possibly to obtain a 2nd Ph.d in physics when I'm in mathematics? If not that, then a masters? Or is it a dumb idea?

    Can I obtain only a math ph.d, and split my research between mathematics and theoretical physics (assume the topics are disjoint) and still be a likely canidate for tenure? Or will I be not considered a "safe bet".

    Is it possible and/or likely, that I could do a math degree, then obtain a tenure track in theoretical physics? (of course I would still do mathematics - the thing is I want both).

    Does anyone know of or have heard of anyone currently who is a respected mathematician and a respected theoretical physicist? and/or experimental physicist?

    You could say Ed Witten, but many of my professors in math personally know him, but they say his math isn't on the level at which a pure mathematician would be happy. I mean no offense, don't kill the messager. I would like to see the edges of reality and the edges of pure theory! and work on pushing both back.

    IMO, my ideal job, is that of something like Newtons (no I don't think I'm Newton). That is a job where I study mathematics, and apply mathematics, and I learn about the world around me. Really, this overspecializing makes me sick. I'm not saying I want to be a bull****ter, I don't, BUT! I don't want to be good at 1 thing only. As far as I'm concererned all these areas are so interconnected, that is seems stupid to have such huge chasms between them.

    They say, "collaborate". Great, I like to work with people, I do. But why not do both? What will academia think of this when it's my turn to apply to a tenure track?
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2007
  4. Feb 8, 2007 #3
    Can anyone name someone who has a PhD in pure math and another PhD in physics? I presume such a person would have done great research, having expertise in both fields.
  5. Feb 8, 2007 #4
    I know some schools will not allow you to obtain multiple PhD's. Even if your first is from a different school.
  6. Oct 1, 2009 #5
    yup but he has not such a great name but he is called muharrem kukalaj he has both math and physics he is from kosova and he was in the same classes with leonard straus
  7. Oct 1, 2009 #6


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    Re: rephrasing the questions

    If you're interested in both subjects, go ahead and study them, but don't get too ahead of yourself. Ed Witten is one of a kind, and it is highly unlikely that you will be able to reach his stature in either mathematics or physics.
  8. Oct 1, 2009 #7
    Re: rephrasing the questions

    yeh u r right abot that just keep studying but i have one question is there any human that has chimestry math biology and physics sorry for my english it is my 4 lenguage and i am learning it now
  9. Oct 1, 2009 #8
    Re: rephrasing the questions

    Why do peers ALWAYS feel the need to say things like this about someone in their field (sport, social group, etc., etc.) who may have some level of "fame" outside of their peer group?

    Ed Witten won the Fields medal in 1990. If a fields medal isn't at the level that would make a pure mathematician "happy," then I'd imagine the professors you're talking to must be damned near suicidal.

    I know you said "don't kill the messenger," but things like that annoy me to no end. Everything I've heard and seen about Ed Witten is that he's very kind and unassumingly brilliant.

    What are the professors even implying by that? You want to do a double PhD in math and physics. Ed Witten is arguably the top mathematical physicist.
    So, if you're saying that Ed Witten shouldn't be mentioned as a respected mathematician and physicist, then there is no point in asking if someone is respected in both fields.....because if Witten isn't...no one else is.

    The guy has a friggin field's medal and a professor feels it's necessary to take a dig at him by saying that Ed's level of mathematical understanding wouldn't make himself "happy." lol
  10. Oct 1, 2009 #9
    I really don't think you actually need 2 PhDs to do the research you want to do. A field you might be interested in is called Mathematical Physics. One of the leading experts, John Baez, got his PhD in math.
  11. Oct 1, 2009 #10
    u right about that he is rly great
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 1, 2009
  12. Oct 13, 2009 #11


    I know what you mean.

    This would be my dream course:


    The department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics Cambridge
  13. Oct 13, 2009 #12


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    I think it might even be MORE difficult to find a good job with two PhDs. Simply because no one really cares about your "formal" merits once you're past the PhD stage. In which group you did your PhD, and above all what you have published is much more important.

    Chances are that potential employers would look at you CV and think "Hmm, this person clearly does not know what he/she wants".
    Getting a second PhD is therefore a waste of time and you are much better of spending your time doing good research instead (unless of course you are getting your 2nd PhD for fun).
  14. Oct 14, 2009 #13


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    My own opinion is that if you really want to be a pure mathematician and a theoretical physicist, first you should take graduate courses in both of them, and if your interest lie in both of them you can try to find two advisors from maths and physics, and publish in peer reviewed journals in maths and in physics.
    But there's no need to do 2 PhDs, and besides if your academic articles will span in both of them that's better than doing 2 PhDs which will take you something like 5-10 years to finish, where with one PhD it will take you something like 3-7 years.
    You should also take into account that you're not getting any younger...
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