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What kind of math classes are normal requirements?

  1. Feb 7, 2010 #1
    I am a freshman Physics major and I always thought I would be required to learn a lot of higher level maths. But I picked up a major requirement sheet today and found out I only need to take the 3 level calc sequence, linear algebra, and DiffEQ. Thats it.

    Now I understand I CAN take more, and frankly I am pretty positive I will,especially considering by the end of this year I will have met all of those requirements except DiffEQ.
    But I am wondering, is this a normal range of mathematical requirement?

    Is it because beyond those sequences the higher level math you need depends on your area of your specialization? So in grad school are you ever in Physics classes that end up teaching you a lot of math concurrently?

    I'd hate to stop learning math past calculus...

    Thanks for any responses.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 7, 2010 #2
    I think the only additional course our program has is a vector calc/complex variables course.

    I'm technically a physics major, but I've taken more math courses. I don't know if it will help me at the graduate level, but I've seen two standard responses to your question on these forums.

    1: You learn the math you need in your physics courses. Extra math courses look good, but they never seem to transfer to physics as well as just learning the math 'as needed' in physics courses.

    2: If you want to do theory, you will really benefit from the extra math courses. First of all, it will look good on transcripts, and you want to be able to focus on the physics in your grad courses.....not the math you don't understand.

    I plan to apply for grad schools next year and I will actually have more math courses than physics courses.
    I don't know if that will help me at all, but I've enjoyed the math courses and still find myself convinced that the extra math courses are going to be a definite advantage.

    If it matters, In addition to the courses you have listed, I'll have taken:
    a 'proofs' course
    vector calc/differential equations
    advanced differential equations
    modern geometry
    differential geometry
    Advanced Calculus

    And I'm planning to either take another linear algebra course or a graduate 'mathematical methods of physics' course, if the department lets me.

    Beyond that, some of the people that have already 'been there/done that' will have better experience. If you plan a PhD in theory, I'd imagine a few extra courses would look good (I'm sure they would for experimental too...).
  4. Feb 7, 2010 #3
    Yeah I think the analytical skills from math courses can only help.

    But I guess I was off put because I always liked Physics for the math and I would hate to just stop around calculus when there is so much more out there.

    I have always leaned towards the theoretical (I am absolute rubbish at labs).

    To be honest I am considering making the switch from Physics to math because um. there is more math.....yeah it seems rather obvious now hahaha.

    I think I just find pure math terrifying since I am not incredibly good at it, and that sort of thing requires something of a natural aptitude (to some extent).

    Are you planning on going into a more theoretical area or experimental?
  5. Feb 7, 2010 #4


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    I once chatted with the great physicist John Ellis. He offered the following advice: "Do as much math as you can!!!". I think it is good advice. But at minimum, one should take a PDEs course and a complex analysis course as well as the ones the OP mentioned.
  6. Feb 8, 2010 #5
    I have had the same question since I began to see the end of my required maths this year. I will "technically" be done with all my maths this semester; with two+ years left of school! It bothers me a little since I, too, also enjoy math. I have talked to a number of professors who directly recommend the following additional courses:
    -Numerical Analysis (Numerical Methods)
    -Complex Analysis (Functions of a Complex Variable)
    -Differential Geometry
    -Partial Differential Equations
    -Vector Analysis
    I have also read that some of the following are used in statistical physics, quantum field theory, relativity, etc:
    -Topology/Advanced Geometry
    -Probability Theory
    -Group Theory
  7. Feb 9, 2010 #6


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    As https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=76454" before, get a copy of Mary Boas's "Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences". This is your survival kit as an undergraduate physics major. It should cover practically all of the "normal" math requirements.

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  8. Feb 9, 2010 #7
    I will definitely check this book out, especially since my school has no

    general mathematics course for Physics majors that I am aware of :P,

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  9. Feb 9, 2010 #8
    i'm a sophomore studying physics and im taking a courses on dynamical systems, complex analysis, a couple advanced algebra courses, PDE's, and differential geometry to give you a sense of what other students are doing
  10. Feb 12, 2010 #9
    For a (free) introduction, you could also look at the Methods of Theoretical Physics pdf files on Chris Popes's page at http://faculty.physics.tamu.edu/pope/ . Although they apear a bit more advanced than what is discussed here, they are clearly applied to physics, while in many math courses you'll have to figure the "how do I use this in physics" part out by yourself.
  11. Apr 14, 2010 #10
    Definitnely Complex Variables and Abstract Algebra.

    I also recommend Mathematical Methods for Physicists by Arfken. It would be great for you, since you taken your math coursework.
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