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What degree should I get?

  1. Jul 22, 2012 #1
    I'm planning on going into Physics and Mathematics.

    Should I get a double major in:

    1. Physics & Applied Mathematics
    2. Physics & Pure Mathematics

    - How would Applied/Pure affect my career?

    What minor should I get?:

    1. Computer Science
    2. Chemistry
    3. Other?

    I am planning on expanding my education later on by getting a PhD in one or both of my majors, as well as getting a bachelors in my minor. I want to make it where I can do my main work as well as personal research or hobbies related to my field. Any advice would be helpful,

    Thank-you! --- Seth Mize
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 23, 2012 #2


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    Hey smize and welcome to the forums.

    The natural question to ask is what kind of person are you with regards to mathematics?

    Pure mathematics requires a different kind of personality as opposed to physics. If you would rather prefer to just use mathematics for a purpose like physics, modeling, and so on, then applied mathematics makes more sense.

    However if you look to go deep into the whole system and deal with proofs and really stringent forms of rigour, then pure mathematics would make more sense.

    You should be aware that especially for pure stuff, you will need to have a lot of patience and dedication for looking over proofs and spending time deriving them as well as your own: the proofs are not like high school. The ones in high school are closer to the kind you will do in applied mathematics, but in the real pure fields, the proofs will be really hard and you will need a lot of patience and determination to get through it.

    Also pure mathematics is not better in any way than applied: both have challenges and they both focus on entirely different things so don't think that you are 'dumber' because you are doing applied: physics is hard and mathematics is hard as well and both require a lot of work and dedication so if you hear pure mathematicians have a go at the 'lesser physics and applied math mortals', just ignore it.

    If you are doing physics, you should take a few computer science subjects and you won't regret taking those. Also depending on the school you go to, you may have to take one or two chemistry subjects, but remember some programming subjects are highly recommended for physics and mathematics (applied or statistical mathematics).

    So for pure, the thing you want to think about is whether you want to spend most of your time looking at proofs and banging your head against a wall for the next couple of years and if you are going to do a PhD, then add a few more years of doing that.
  4. Jul 23, 2012 #3
    I love doing pure mathematics ( enough so that I did it in my spare time during high school ). My least favorite math class was statistics. I enjoy physics as well. My physics degree requires 4 chem courses, and pure math requires 1 computer science course; applied math requires 3 or 4 computer science courses.

    So which minor would you recommend? Chem would require an extra 4 chem classes, and computer minor would require 2-5 extra computer courses (depending on applied [2] or pure [5]).

    Overall, I love math and physics ( and I prefer theoretical physics as well ). And, lastly, any advice for what jobs I should go for with a Physics/Math double major with a minor in Chem or Computers?
  5. Jul 23, 2012 #4
    From what you describe pure math seems most sensible. Nowadays physics is extremely mathematical and physicists usually skim over the finer details of the structures that they're using, but for theoretical physicists it can be handy to have that extra understanding of the formalism at hand. The applied math course has more computer courses, which does sound good for a physicist, however be sure to check the syllabi for those courses: math computer courses can be very different from what a physicist would deem useful. I know for example that in my university there were two versions of a numerical methods class, one for physicists and one of for mathematicians. I took the latter and indeed learned a great deal more about the theory of computation (why some things work and why not, and quantifying the failures of a method) however we did not, for example, see anything about approximating differential equations, which the physicists (for good reasons) focused on. Now, since that major you're talking about has "applied" in its name it would more likely be more relevant than my course, but still... It could for example be that one course is about learning to work with a statistics program, which is pretty much useless for a (theoretical) physicist. And know the applied math doesn't have to be relevant for physics. You'll have to take a number of statistics courses for example, and you'll never use that for theoretical physics. Definitely check the specific courses offered in that applied math major and verify whether you're even interested in them. When you describe your outlook on math, you'll most likely be interested in every course in the pure math major.

    Also, realize doing a double major of math and physics can be a lot of work, so be sure to calculate how much work load you'd have each semester and check whether it's doable.

    I hope this helps somewhat.
  6. Jul 26, 2012 #5
    One thing I found with a double major in math and physics is that it adds only 20-24 credits...so basically 1/2 - 1 year. I think that would be fine (personally). Do you think I should minor in computer information science or chemistry?
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