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Admissions Will bad math grades hurt my chances at grad school given...

  1. May 14, 2017 #1
    So here's the deal: I have nearly all As in my physics courses (this includes As in the following graduate courses: mechanics, em w/ jackson, quantum 1, quantum 2, Biophysics, Stat Mech, and Adv Stat Mech. I go to an Ivy league school with a what most would consider to be a competitive undergrad and graduate physics department / program. AND I have a perfect physics gre score. Additionally (if it matters), I've taken and received As in 12 different bio classes mostly upper division / grad level.

    BUT! I skipped out of all the computational math (calc, diff eq, linear algebra, and stats) to take harder proof based courses (single var analysis (C), complex analysis (C), algebra (C), and grad math methods (B)). I did poorly in these: my math gpa is a 2.25. I'm just not cut out for those types of classes - if I use it in a physics context, I can readily apply it even the abstract concepts (Group theory etc).

    Am I screwed for getting into a biophysics grad school/program? I have one year left - should I just eat the bullet and take the earlier math courses where I know I'll get an A in (I'm afraid this might be frowned upon as gpa buffering)? Does my unusually difficult and extensive physics background innately show that I can do the math that will be required of me? If you were me what would you do to minimize the impact this will have on admissions? Additionally for professors who are writing my recs, how should I broach the subject with them about my bad math gpa before they see my cv - as its very discordant with their image of me?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 14, 2017 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Forget the GPA buffering and do it because you need it. You really need a solid foundation in math in general not just in a physics context to do well in physics. Physicists sometimes play fast and loose with the math leaving it to the mathematician to make it sound and bulletproof. A physical theory based on some shaky math premise won't stand for long.
  4. May 16, 2017 #3
    So I should take linear algebra, diff eq, etc. even though I already know the material?

    Would it be better to take things like combinatorial topology and graph theory - as these are used in molecular biophysics and computational biophysics respectively? The only downside to this is that both of these classes are proof based, and I'm genuinely worried I won't be able to get an A in them. I seem to have no problem with physics "proofs" but when it comes to math "proofs" it seems like I miss minor details in notation that bite me and/or the topic is purely theoretical/abstract and I can't wrap my head around it.
  5. May 16, 2017 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    I'd take the practical Math courses that you know you'll get a A in. With a great GRE and Physics scores take those to keep your GPA up. You could provide a note in your application that the proof-based math courses were an attempt to extend your self but that the practical courses needed for physics shows that you have skills in math.

    You should talk to your academic advisor about your concerns as they may have a better plan of action. In any event, the advisor's advice will probably include taking those courses you will do well in as they also support your physics work.
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