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Physics What to do with Theoretical Physics

  1. Jul 14, 2012 #1
    Right, so I intend to do a masters in Mathematics but all the modules I'm gonna take are in theoretical physics. I'm gonna take a mix of everything from QFT, GR, Fluid Mechanics and Astro, just cause I find it all interesting, but not really specialising in any particular area.

    Basically, my question is, what to do next? I think because I'm not really specialising, I probably won't be able to do a Phd so I'm wondering what else there is? Are there any jobs in industry where I can put my knowledge to use or am I better of just doing something completely different like finance?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 15, 2012 #2
    I am not aware of a masters in mathematics program that will allow you take many courses in theoretical physics, but if one does exist (and you are accepted), then I am sure that upon completion of the degree you would be able to pursue a PhD in either mathematics or physics. In most physics graduate departments, you can easily change your "specialized field" after your masters. For example, I know someone who got her masters in solid state, then immediately switched over to nuclear physics. At the most, it added maybe 1 semester onto her PhD degree. As long as you have the required courses to begin your PhD, it doesn't matter what research/"specialized field" you had in your masters program.

    Now, if you are set on studying either math or theoretical physics and you don't want to continue to a PhD, your job choices may be rather limited. You could, of course, go into finance - but then you should have just majored in finance in the first place because those job applicants will probably get hired before you. As far as "industry jobs" go, that normally refers to engineering positions, which you will be totally unqualified for as a theoretical physicist/mathematician. You may be able to find a position in industry, but my guess is that it would be quite difficult since there are so many engineers and experimental physicists out there. Jobs that you are qualified for (and will probably have no problem securing) include teaching at the high school or community college level. Some research universities even hire a couple instructors with only masters degrees (at least in the USA). The problem is that you cannot go too far in a university without your PhD.

    I hope I helped some! Good luck with whatever you decide to do. :)
  4. Jul 15, 2012 #3
    Basically it's the fourth year of the undergrad maths degree (upon completion you get both the bachelors and the masters) and for the first two years you do mainly maths but in the second two years you can specialise in theoretical physics. The only thing is I'm doing a mix of courses from different areas as opposed to doing all the courses in one specific area (e.g. Particle Physics).

    You mention teaching at high school or college, but what about lecturing at university? I quite enjoy teaching but usually find anything short of calculus based mechanics is not particularly interesting and involves more fact throwing than actual understanding.

    As for industry, would it be possible for me just to pick up the engineering side of things somehow? I mean, I'd know all the maths and physics quite well, I just need to learn how to put it to practical use, lol.
  5. Jul 15, 2012 #4
    In my experience, lecturer positions at universities are very hard to get, unless you know people. Almost all hirings in these positions at my current university are internal, either a PhD/Postdoc already at the university, or the spouse of a professor. If you are in a country that is currently reducing science funding, you may be in a worse position for such jobs. As professors get reduced funding for their research, they'll have to teach more courses, so lecturers may not be necessary.

    As far as engineering jobs are concerned - it's a lot more than just being good at maths. There are a lot of standards, regulations, and jargon that you simply will not be familiar with unless you sit down and study it.
  6. Jul 15, 2012 #5
    Its actually a very smart idea to get a broad masters degree. This way you will not "pigeonhole" yourself into a career path. Go for your PhD in a subject you find particularly interesting.
  7. Jul 15, 2012 #6
    There is a demand in finance for people with masters degrees in mathematics, but they if you want those jobs, you are studying the wrong things. The types of experience that employers want to see in people with masters degrees in mathematics are "applied" things like statistics, optimization, or algorithms.
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