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What to do with my life?

  1. Dec 11, 2007 #1
    Guys, I have a lot of questions. The time to really think about where to apply to university has arrived and I am not able to fully commit to a decision. Firstly, I want to be either a mathematician or a physicist.

    A question that I think others have wondered but never asked explicitly (that I've seen) is: is it is easier for a mathematician to pick up relevant physics or for a physicist to pick up relevant mathematics?

    My second question is how much math must/should a physicist know? Specifically, what classes should I look for (complex analysis, functional analysis, diff. equations...)?

    Once I sort some of these things out, it will be easier for me to choose a university.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 11, 2007 #2
    most places that will give you a quality education in math will do the same for you in physics and vice versa..

    "is it is easier for a mathematician to pick up relevant physics or for a physicist to pick up relevant mathematics?"

    the reason why you don't see an explicit answer for this is because there is no such relationship between the two subjects...ie it all depends on the strengths/weaknesses of the student

    being an undergrad myself, i'd also recommend that you learn as much as you can about the town/city that the university is in...this will probably affect your university life moreso than the courses offered or the faculty at the school
  4. Dec 11, 2007 #3


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    It really depends on the individual. I did both early on, with emphasis on the physics side, then switch to nuclear engineering.

    All of those. Depending on where you want to go as a physicist, you'll probably need linear and abstract algebra, topology, differential geometry and tensor analysis, and starting with a strong background in calculus, ordinary and partial diff eq, complex analysis.
  5. Dec 11, 2007 #4
    I am always wondering how much math I will need. This is because I see that a lot of "brilliant" mathematicians are largely responsible for major contributions to physics. (John Von Neumann, P. A. M. Dirac, Isaac Newton).

    I am also aware that modern quantum theory is essentially all mathematical. Will my success as a theoretical physicist be based more on (besides the obvious: work ethic etc.) my ability as a mathematician, to see possible improvements or consequences of the math or as a physicist to understand what is going on?

    If I decide to do a bachelors degree in mathematics, will I be too ignorant of physics and unable to work in the field?

    I know of few physics programs that offer those options, would I be better off with joint honours math/physics?

    As a mathematician in physics, will I be stuck in string theory or something like that?
  6. Dec 11, 2007 #5
    i'm not sure how being trained as a mathematician would make you a better physicist than if you went to school for physics. a double major in math and physics is always possible, if that's your thing.

    of course it's way too early for you to be feeling that you HAVE to choose between math and physics. you will have all the time in the world once you start your studies in college.

    don't feel too pressured to figure everything out right now. read about math or physics or whatever you want to over the summer, or just have fun with your friends (while you still can!) no pressure, my two cents
  7. Dec 12, 2007 #6
    My opinion is don't bother making a definate decision. 200% of people change their major at least 15 times. You probably need a lot of the same class for your first year in math and physics, so take those and see what interest you more. I don't think you can make an educated guess until you study each more indepth.
  8. Dec 12, 2007 #7
    I disagree with Astronuc. Tensor analysis, diff. geometry, and topology are all high level mathematics (for undergraduates), and for the physicist, these topics are only required if you plan to go into any sort of theoretical/mathematical physics. Any applied physics and you would never need those courses (i.e. plasma physics, medical physics, etc.) Also, for physics undergrads anyways, I'm sure any university that offers a half decent physics program will automatically provide the relevant math classes you'll need to take. Just pick a university and check their requirements for a physics degree.

    Standard: lin algebra, calculus (1/2/3), ODEs, PDEs, Complex variables.

    I'm just finishing my B.Sc. Honours Physics, and will do a one year after degree to obtain my B.Sc. Hon. Math degree... so again, whichever route you choose, it's only an extra year to get that 2nd one since they are (in the applied mathematics sense) closely related.

    As for the physics before math, or math before physics... IMO, the more math you know, the easier and quicker physics will be (mind you, the more abstract you go into math, the harder it might be to accept some physical concepts-- i.e. approximations). Knowing multi dim. calculus, lin algebra, and ODE's would jumpstart a physics degree big time.

    EDIT: Just saw Astronuc's "depending". So I guess more proper would be: "To clarify what Astronuc means..." heheh.
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2007
  9. Dec 12, 2007 #8
    Thanks guys. I talked to a theoretical physicist that I know today and he convinced me to go to my local university (really small classes, research, good program, good professors, 4 experimental physics classes!). There are too many major plusses going for that institution. It's intense though, I will have no non-physics/math options or courses (after 1st year).
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