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Which way to go?

  • Thread starter Dougggggg
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Main Question or Discussion Point

So I have been completely undecided between going on in Math and going on in Physics. So I am currently majoring in both. I have really done a lot more thinking on the subject since the new semester began. I feel like I have finally gotten a true understanding of how my interest for each subject works.

I have always picked up Math a lot quicker, most of my life I have been the top student in my math classes. Despite, in many of them, not a lot of effort. It sometimes feels very effortless. I have always just seen the beauty in how it works. I have only found one area of Math that I didn't like, that was Statistics, I really really disliked stats. Other than stats, I could see myself going into just about any area of Mathematical research and being happy.

Physics has been a little more interesting to say the least. I can honestly say I like parts of Physics more than I do anything in Math. However, they are such small parts and not really parts that have big research efforts going on. Though, it is less working out of enjoyment of the subject, more of just obsession of finding the answers. Physics causes me to lose a lot more sleep than Math does. My biggest area of interest in Physics is Cosmology. The understanding of how everything came together to be what it is today is the most exciting knowledge I could ever gain. I can feel the desire for that knowledge greater than any desire I have had for anything I can think of. No woman, no championship in any sport, no election to some place of political power, no playing in a rock band in front of 100,000 screaming fans, nothing compares. I am not exaggerating, I just continue to run thoughts of these things all the time. Annoy the hell out of my friends by frequently turning the topic away from other things towards it. Problem, not the most graduate programs with research in cosmology, and I don't believe there is a lot of schools looking for a professor wanting to do research in cosmology.


Right now I'm in Physics II and Statics (not required to take, but trying to beef up my transcript) and I'm trying to care but I don't. During Physics I, I was actually fairly interested, Newtonian Mechanics are one of the things in Physics that I find truly beautiful. They are so harmonic. I do find interest in more than just Cosmology, just most stuff, I do not.

I am gonna talk to a few people in my life whose opinions I value greatly. Both of my advisors, a Physics professor that I do research with, TA for, and have had a few classes with, and a professor I had for a Philosophy course and a Religion course that I have talked to about so many different topics since I first took one of his classes (we have similar pasts and both suffer from bipolar disorder, thus very similar ways of thinking). However, I did want to get some other opinions from different perspectives other than just within this small isolated University that has 3 Math professors and only 2 Physics professors, then only 6 Physics majors and about 15 math majors.

So, play it safe with Math, or take the chance on Physics?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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I always say to people like you: do the thing you love. You obviously like physics more then mathematics. You're more "obsessed" by physics than you are with math. So I think you should continue with physics...

However, what's wrong with continuing the double major? If you end up with a double major in physics and mathematics, that will help you a great deal later on. A physicist who knows advanced mathematics is greatly valued. Similarly, if you end up doing mathematics, a physics degree comes in very handy!
 
  • #3
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The thing is just going through Physics courses on topics that I don't care about much. Like Physics II, mostly E&M. I love all of my math courses so far though. They have all been great. I also worry about my GPA, I haven't made even an A- yet in any major course and I worry my lack of interest in E&M and Statics could really hurt me in the long run. However, your advice certainly has some good points.

I should have put this in the original post, I am mainly thinking about dropping Physics because I am only interested in such a small part of it and I have to take many courses on things that I am not interested in, to get to something I am. So it was more of me questioning whether I should drop Physics and just do Math or keep Physics.
 
  • #4
Double major or at least minor and take extra classes, for undergraduate work, and for graduate work go with whatever interests you at the time and you see being sustainable in the future (the second part is the difficult one). You have to make the call on "how safe" to play it based on your personal situation, but neither physics or mathematics is exactly a "hot" money-maker field. For monetary survival, it's all down to whether what you're interested in and want to do is something that also makes money. Chances are it isn't, but at least if you double major you have more opportunities for that overlap to occur. On the down side, double majoring and having lots of classes severely limits your ability to explore and experience things unplanned. This could limit your ability to discover another path you didn't know existed.

I sense a majority of people in research at the university I go to wanted to do something sort-of related to what they do, but they couldn't do it because it doesn't get funded or it's not popular enough (same thing), while the slightly-related topic they actually work on is. Others never had an idea of what they wanted to work on, but they're not really passionate about anything either (so that's probably not you). The few people who work in the field they really wanted to work in are so much more passionate and successful in their chosen field than the rest of the researchers, it makes me weary of making any compromises for fear of becoming one of the researchers who just tries to "get by" working on the latest fad project in their field. Being a poor, happy researcher interests me more than a rich, unhappy one.

Oh, let me add one thing... you should try talking to some math grad/postdoc students or even those in industry (more difficult to track one down though). I have on occasion, although my background is engineering, and my experience with them is generally that unless you're absolutely brilliant (which you may be, but how about on a global scale?) at math you will need to USE math to get things done usefully - and applied or "useful" math is what you're saying you don't like (e.g. statistics). So while you SHOULD continue with both because without being interested and self motivated you will fail, but keep in mind that the more theoretical your work is, the more theoretical your paychecks will likely be. At least, if you look at the probability of making a decent wage in theoretical mathematics you can see.. oh wait you didn't like statistics. =)

--Bob
 
  • #5
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The thing is just going through Physics courses on topics that I don't care about much. Like Physics II, mostly E&M. I love all of my math courses so far though. They have all been great. I also worry about my GPA, I haven't made even an A- yet in any major course and I worry my lack of interest in E&M and Statics could really hurt me in the long run. However, your advice certainly has some good points.

I should have put this in the original post, I am mainly thinking about dropping Physics because I am only interested in such a small part of it and I have to take many courses on things that I am not interested in, to get to something I am. So it was more of me questioning whether I should drop Physics and just do Math or keep Physics.
I see, that puts your OP in a complete different perspective. It now seems that you love mathematics more than physics, so you should totally continue in mathematics then. But what about dropping physics? Well, if it really doesn't interest you, then you shouldn't continue in it. You could still take physics courses which interest you (and I encourage you to do this!!), but you don't have to major in it. That's my advise.

I know this is a tough decision. Talk to a lot of people before deciding, and take your time!!
 
  • #6
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Well, I do enjoy other forms of applied math, I really enjoy my Differential Equations course, despite the teacher being an idiot (in many senses of the word, possibly the worst teacher I have ever had at any level of academia). In fact, every math, applied or pure, I have usually really liked, statistics is the one exception. It didn't work in a way that I do math. Perhaps it was just because the only experience I have had was AP Statistics in high school with a poor teacher, during my senior year (bad case of senioritis), and that I felt I should have been in Calculus instead but my guidance consuler thought Statistics would be more useful and that I would struggle in Calculus... Well, I failed stats and made an A when taking Calc I in college.

Getting a little off topic there, sorry. Yea, I couldn't see myself enjoying research in very many fields in Physics, in Math, other than Statistics, I couldn't see myself being unhappy. However, in the right fields, Physics would be the best thing I could imagine. Money is not a big motivator for me to be honest. In fact, I very difficult to motivate for many things. Though I become greatly motivated for things that I really care about. I am a bit weird. Money has never been something I cared too much about, I am very cynical about me ever getting married and having a family, I don't really care about the things most care about. I just want to study Math or Physics for the rest of my life. Not for the sake of glory or anything like that, but I want to discover something that causes my name to be one of the names that people see in their textbooks. Just for the sake of making the difference I feel like I am capable of. In fact, it doesn't need to be my name. Someone else can have all the credit for my work. I just wanna make those steps of progression in human knowledge. I see Math as the language of logical thought. An expression of the world that we live in. I see Physics as the very physical principles of the world around us. Now, I realize that those two statements are basically textbook definitions of those two things. I just find those as the only things I could ever imagine wanting my life to be focused on. Granted, I am also a person who believes in a God. So I live by a type of faith of why else would God have given me this interest and this natural skill (not to be arrogant, but I feel like I stand out in a group if those are the topics).

That was a really long rant I am very aware, but hopefully, by seeing a little bit of how I work, it can help you in saying what would be better for me in the long run. I feel weird being that personal on a public forum, but I don't feel like this community is overly judging.
 
  • #7
In fact, I very difficult to motivate for many things. Though I become greatly motivated for things that I really care about. I am a bit weird. Money has never been something I cared too much about, I am very cynical about me ever getting married and having a family, I don't really care about the things most care about. I just want to study Math or Physics for the rest of my life.
I would not call you "weird," in a positive or negative sense. By the meaning of "care," you are just like everyone. Everyone has trouble being motivated by things they do not care about. The fact that money does not motivate you only says something about you, and there are many people who have that in common. Many people make the mistake of associating money with life goals, but I think not as many as it is popularized. Most people I know have made the mistake not of assuming money was what they wanted, but something else was and later found out that (as popular movies show you for people who want money) the thing they wanted did not make them happy.

I just wanted to make this point, because math could be your money (mistake). It is very difficult to understand and see the difference between what makes you happy now and what will make you happy in the future. The people who make mistakes are not idiots, don't assume they are. If anything they are unfortunate, and it's sobering to remember you could be just as unfortunate as them.

Math may make you happy now, but be careful not to overly idealize what your life will be like as a mathematician or physicist. Especially when it comes to you "naturally," you need to be careful that later when you get into things that DON'T come so naturally, you still need to have the ability and self motivation to work through them. That is just being practical, you can't just do what you want. And of course, interests do shift. Maybe choosing to forgo any sort of family life for math and physics will be a big mistake for you. And of course, to complete the seeming paradox, that choice could very well make you very happy in the future.

Like in many things, the best solution here is a function of immeasurable quantities.

--Bob
 
  • #8
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Bob, I truly appreciate your prespective and ability to really point out potential issues I could face. As far as having math come naturally, in fact, that is something I do worry about. I know a wall will come. I don't know when, I don't know how it will go. I think part of the reason it does come so naturally is partly due to the way I think about it. When I learn something new in a math class, I really cannot use it to any effectiveness until I have thought about what it is I'm doing, and why it works. So I spend a lot of time thinking through these things. So even without looking at homework or a book, I am still "studying" the material.

As far as things like a family and stuff is concerned.... Well, I'm not the best at relationships. I am not very stable person. What I have in Mathematical ability I lack in emotional consistency. Plus, I just grow unhappy with people. I mentioned this before, I am very cynical with relationships. They always crash in a flame of glory with me. I am not on good terms with a single one of my ex's. I usually do not have the same group of friends for more than a year or two. Either they get sick of me, or I get sick of them.

Finally, I must say, the money metaphor with mathematics is something that will wiggle around my head for a while for sure. I can't even think of a response that would add anything to it, or argue the point you were trying to make. The best I can say is that I have no idea what my future self will care about. I have a small backup plan, which was simply getting a masters in education and teaching high school math. Let someone else find the joy in numbers that I had once found. I have done tutoring at many different levels and enjoy that moment when someone gets something for the first time. I know that feeling of seeing something so beautiful amongst the letters, numbers, and symbols. I enjoy passing it on.
 

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