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Will double majoring in economics diminish grad school chances?

  1. Aug 16, 2013 #1
    I'm a junior doing a physics major. I've almost finished the physics major and I've taken more than the required electives, and as I'm not 100% sure whether I want to go to graduate school, I'm considering double majoring in economics.

    I know that a double major in economics will open more doors for me, particularly internationally, where what you major in seems to matter more in recruiting than it does in the US. As I'm not a US citizen, I'm considering moving back to my home country after graduation and seeking work there.

    However, I'm not sure whether I want to do a PhD. I know for sure that I don't want to do an experimental PhD; I would prefer to do something theoretical or computational in something like geophysics (or something else equally applied). Double majoring would only allow me to take two or three physics electives in addition to the major and in addition to what I've already taken (I've taken three electives even though only one is required). On the other hand, I've had two summers and a school year of research so far, and my grades in physics are good.

    Therefore, would double majoring mean that I can't take enough physics classes to pursue graduate school at a top place? I'm still not sure what I want to do after graduation and don't want to close too many doors off.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 16, 2013 #2
    As long as you get the proper physics stuff done (classes, research, etc.), I can't imagine that doing a double major will hurt your chances in grad school. In other words, if you are substituting elective non-physics/math courses with econ, then sure.

    If you are interesting in computation, then there could very well be courses that aren't econ that would help you either to get into grad school or once you are actually there. Computer science courses, certain types of math, etc. Needless to say, if you are interested in computation, there are lots of opportunities in many different areas of physics; the sky is the limit almost.

    As far as grad school goes, if you are unsure whether or not you want to go, you probably don't want to go.
  4. Aug 16, 2013 #3
    Thanks a lot for your quick response, kinkmode.

    I can code (I've done several research projects that have been computational), but my concern is that if I use my general elective classes for economics instead of applied math/more physics/computer science, I'll be ill prepared for computational work.

    In terms of graduate school, I was set on the idea until about a month ago, when I realized that I don't enjoy lab work and that it's not my strength. I figure that the skills needed for physics also exist in other fields (finance, economic modelling, operations research...) so I'm also looking into these for the first time. I can see myself enjoying a PhD in computational physics in some way, but I'm not sure whether it's the only way in which I can use those skills. If I can find another way of using those skills which has better job prospects/geographic flexibility, I'd be happy.
  5. Aug 16, 2013 #4
    I used my electives on Anthropology and Philosophy and did fine in graduate school. As long as you cover the basics of math (up to linear algebra and vector calc), pick up a math-physics course (kind of crappy, but introduces you to ODE/PDEs, tensors, complex integration, etc.), and cover the core physics curriculum, you should be fine. More always helps obviously.

    I define the core curriculum as Classical Mechanics, E&M, Quantum, and Statistical Mechanics/Thermo. Most of the programs I respect take you through each of those topics more or less twice, once in your 1st two years, and once more in the last two. The second time through you should be using books like Griffiths for E&M, Reif (or whatever the modern equivalent is) for Stat Mech, etc. For quantum, we went through Liboff (ehh) and Sakurai (Modern Quantum Mechanics). The specific book here isn't all that important, you just want to be working through at the level.

    Of course, so much depends on which school you go to. If you go to a top tier liberal arts school like I did, the second time through those courses was at a pretty high level, but we didn't have the option to take grad level courses. That preparation was good enough to get into a good graduate program and graduate. If you go to a larger university, sometimes the second time through those courses isn't as rigorous as it could be, and you see a lot of undergrads taking graduate level courses to cap things off. So I can't really give you specific advice...

    As for graduate school, like I said, there are plenty of areas of physics where you can do computation. It's quite popular, and you get a bit more flexibility in your work too. After all, if you can code up and run complicated simulations on fusion plasmas, doing the same thing in astrophysics or solar physics isn't that much different. It's also not too hard to move into other fields. I have an associate who was doing fusion simulations and is now doing particle simulations for medical physics. I also wouldn't worry about being ill prepared for computational work. You'll pick up what you need in graduate school. More important for your sanity is making sure you like computational work and for career purposes, getting into the right graduate program/area of research. If that requires you to take more courses debugging Fortran or something, then by all means, take those courses. If not, learn Fortran if and only if you need to *while in* graduate school. I hope I am making sense here.
  6. Aug 16, 2013 #5


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    When I was a double-major in physics and math, I would routinely petition to overload each semester. [Admittedly, my choice of majors had overlapping classes, which made this double major easier.]

    Having a double-major might help you stand out among other single-major applicants... all other things being equal.
  7. Aug 16, 2013 #6
    Thanks everyone for the responses.

    kinkmode - it's hard to tell whether graduate classes are needed at my university. It's a top tier private research university and quite a few students take graduate classes during undergrad (I've taken a couple of graduate level classes already). However, I'm not sure if that's a function of the sorts of students that end up enrolling here - a lot have done a lot of physics during high school so enter with advanced standing, and others just really like physics. That said, the regular undergrad physics classes are generally pretty rigorous and a lot of my friends restrict themselves to two physics classes a semester given the workload. And thanks for all of your advice - I'm gathering that I don't really need to take more computational classes, given the fact that I've already done a bit of coding work (and can discern whether I enjoy it).

    rophy, thanks for that. I'm not sure whether a double major in econ would actually help admission, given that it's not really relevant to physics :/
  8. Aug 16, 2013 #7


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    I recall browsing the library stacks once and was pleasantly surprised at the time [although I guess I should have expected it] to find the Lagrange Equations in a textbook on theoretical economics.


    Progress in fields can occur when there is importing of ideas among "Interdisciplinary" or "Multidisciplinary" studies.
  9. Aug 16, 2013 #8
    If you've already taken some grad level courses, I'm sure you'll be fine. But if not, don't blame me :)
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