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Who's more well rounded, a physics major or a math major.

  1. Nov 6, 2013 #1
    I've recently stumbled upon this thread and one of the replies says that physicist tend to be more smarter/well rounded then mathematicians.

    In your opinion, who's more well rounded?
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 7, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 6, 2013 #2


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    "Well rounded"? What does that mean?

    Having been a math major, with graduate degrees in physics I can say that "it depends". For some work physics is more useful; for other work skill with mathematics is more appropriate.

    I have a son who was a math major, and is now an actuary. He has no doubt which category is smarter, taller, and more handsome ... OTOH I know many people in both fields. I'd hesitate to guess; they are all pretty smart.
  4. Nov 6, 2013 #3
    Physicists have to learn both math and physics but math majors only have to learn math, MAYBE that's my definition of well rounded. What do you guys think about this.
  5. Nov 7, 2013 #4
    I would say that, in general, they might be a bit more well-rounded because of some of the more applied stuff they do but that doesn't necessarily mean smarter. In your first post you said "smarter/well rounded" but those are totally different categories.

    Realize that even though a degree in Physics does require upper level math, a (theoretical) Math major is going to take some advanced pure math courses which the physics major will likely never touch.
  6. Nov 7, 2013 #5


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    Depends on the category. An applied mathematician is more "well rounded" IMHO than a theoretical physicist. An applied physicist is more "well rounded" than a theoretical mathematician. Here I define "well rounded" as "most able to easily get, and keep, a career outside of their field of expertise".

    Having said that, from my own observation albeit limited, I'd speculate that the majority of math PhD's, maybe 70/30, are focused on more theoretical work versus applied, while the majority of physics PhD's (80/20) are focused on either solid-state, medical physics, experimental particle, etc. versus just theoretical work. This means from a numbers perspective, physicists in general would be more "well rounded", as experimental work usually demands one to be able to use many programming languages, as well as a bit more hands-on experience.

    Keep in mind all numbers presented are completely made up and arbitrary, based on a loose "feeling" I have of a sample size of two universities. I myself am a theoretical physicst PhD, but I have a bachelors in applied physics, and minors in computational and statistal mathematics, and most of my electives were in electrical engineering. Thus, from a practical perspective I consider myself "well rounded", but I do not believe I would have a chance at an engineering position when put up against an equally skilled applied mathematician or experimental physicist.
  7. Nov 7, 2013 #6
    Thanks for sharing
  8. Nov 7, 2013 #7


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    I think physics scholars tend to be well rounded in general (there's always exceptions). They're usually more grounded by experiments.

    There are also exceptions where mathematics scholars can be very well rounded (polymaths).
  9. Nov 7, 2013 #8


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    That's what happens if they spend too long studying spherical cows.

    But it was a mathematician who said (and proved) ""if [physics] experimenters have free will, then so do elementary particles." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Horton_Conway#Theoretical_physics
  10. Nov 7, 2013 #9

    D H

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    Very nice.
  11. Nov 7, 2013 #10
    After switching from physics to math undergrad, I feel like I am in la-la land playing a fun game. I still talk to a lot of physics majors and they're always stressed out about solving these things called "problems."
  12. Nov 8, 2013 #11


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    What does well rounded mean in this context? Where I'm from it means someone who has good general knowledge, is sociable and has a good temperament I.e. A nice person who is reasonably intelligent/knowledgable and never seems unbalanced.
  13. Nov 8, 2013 #12
    By well rounded I mean one who is good at multiple subjects not just their own area of expertise. I think physics majors are more rounded because they not only have to learn physics but, also some high level math,engineering,programing and can visualize problems easier I think then math majors. Maybe engineering majors are more well rounded then physics and math majors?
  14. Nov 8, 2013 #13


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    I doubt you could make a fair case either way. A physics degree might involve more sub fields than a mathematics one but if it does then the education in each is going to be broad rather than deep. Not having done either I can't really say.

    However it is important to remember that in science nowadays researchers are highly, highly specialised. Just because you have a physics degree doesn't mean you know physics, it means you've studied generally and later specialised in one tiny aspect.
  15. Nov 8, 2013 #14


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    That's really only on the official academic/professional level. On a personal level, different personalities just tend to be more interested in broader aspects of science, and tend to spend more of their free time studying them.

    The question, then, is really about which disciplines tends to attract more of this kind of personality. I think, on the one hand, physics tend to attract more of these types, but I think on the other hand, math tends to enable these types more (particularly applied math).
  16. Nov 8, 2013 #15
    This is a really stupid question.

    Anyway, obviously engineers are the smartest, most well rounded, handsome and richest of those mentioned in this thread.
  17. Nov 8, 2013 #16
    There are many things in lab that you simply can not learn in a text book, especially when it comes to instrumentation and technique. You have to learn it through experience or by having someone else teach it to you with hands on work. I studied math as and undergrad, did chemistry for a living until I became unemployed, and now do engineering. There's so much you can't learn from a text book which is how you can learn a lot of math.

    You can have all the elaborate mathematical models you want, but many times they fall apart in the real world because you have to make many outrageous assumptions. Our quantum/theoretical chemist always used to run virtual libraries for us to screen for molecules that were supposed to be "good" molecules against our target according to theoretical calculations utilizing extremely powerful quantum software. Many times though the best molecules according to the virtual screen were the worst in terms of potency when we tested the molecules in real life, and sometimes the best molecules we screened against a target were supposed to be the worst molecules according to virtual screens. Sometimes manipulating nature to do what you want it to do requires experimental finesse that is simply extremely difficult to mathematically model or can't be modeled at all.
  18. Nov 8, 2013 #17
    lol, in no interpretation of the question can that be considered true. From my experience, roughly half of engineers know the order of operations, and about 1% know that "derive" doesn't mean "take a derivative."
  19. Nov 8, 2013 #18
    By this thread I mean

  20. Nov 8, 2013 #19


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    He's clearly just mocking the ridiculous question posed by the OP...
  21. Nov 8, 2013 #20
    The engineers are the most well-rounded, because they study many other disciplines like management, economics along with mathematics, physics and topics in math and physics are more applied. But, of course, they don't know physics like physicists. For example, they aren't taught special relativity or group theory at all. I think that a narrow area of specialization is better because in order to solve a problem one must work hard only on it (but there are exceptions).

    I've already noticed that mathematicians, physcists dislike engineers, like physcists dislike mathematicians and vice versa. And everybody (mathematicians, engineers etc.) dislike scholars.
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