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Working in the field of theoretical physics

  1. Aug 25, 2004 #1
    I am doing my undergrad degree with the goal of working in the field of theoretical physics. I'm starting my third year and I don't know if I should do a physics/math degree or math/minorphysics degree. The difference would be more advanced courses in advanced algebra and the cost would be a physics lab course and a optics course. I'm kinda of leaning towards the math degree in order to really prep me for grad school in physics. Any input would be appreciated.

    Peace
     
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  3. Aug 26, 2004 #2

    selfAdjoint

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    Mmm, tough. What are the algebra courses in detail? What topics does the optics cover? I actually think that later in your career as a theoretician you would regret skipping the lab and if the optics introduces you to dispersion it would be valuable. On the other hand if you could get up to speed on Lie groups and algebras as an undergraduate, that would be a big help.

    Have you any focus yet on what area of theory you are looking to go into?
     
  4. Aug 26, 2004 #3
    Well I am interested in getting into quantum gravity, string theory or cosmology. As my education progresses I will see what fits best. In terms of the algebra courses, one course is intermediate algebra (group theory). The other course is an advanced course in groups, fields and galois theory. I have taken an intermediate physics lab but that was not very enjoyable. The optics course is on physical optics (polarization, fourier optics, etc.). I can see the advanced math helping me later in grad school, but I figure I can self-study optics rather then the other way around. I guess it's a question of well-roundeness versus more specialized. Anyways thanks for the input.

    Peace
     
  5. Aug 26, 2004 #4

    selfAdjoint

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    I wouldn't think the Galois theory would help you much. Of course if you want to see the famous proof that solutions in radicals won't work in general for fifth degree polysomials and higher (Galois, genralizing Abel), then go for it. The optics course I see as primarily experience in playing around with integrals, something you just can't get enough of if you're going to be a physics grad student. Look at any book or paper in the fields you mentioned. How did they get from 3.5 (or whatever) to 3.6? Nine times out of ten, by an integral transformation. Oh, look at this paper. It's only one page, and billed as being elementary, but just look at it. Notice halfway down the first column, the statement "Observe that (3) can be rewritten as" between two integrals. You are expected to find the accompanying transformation obvious.
     
  6. Aug 27, 2004 #5

    Fredrik

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    I would choose the math courses, but that's me. I don't know what's right for you. I think it's usually a good idea to study more math courses even if it's about something that isn't used much in physics. The reason is that every math course you take will improve your general understanding of mathematics. It would of course be even better if you could find a math course that will also increase your understanding of physics.

    I think you should definitely take the first algebra course (especially if it covers representation theory), but the second one sounds less useful. It would be better to take a course in advanced calculus or Fourier analyis. (Both would increase your understanding of mathematics, and the latter would also teach you about Fourier series and Fourier transforms). Another excellent option is to take a course about differential geometry. It would significantly improve your understanding of mathematics AND gravitation.
     
  7. Aug 27, 2004 #6

    quasar987

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    I had this dilemna too and what has mostly helped me solve it was hearing one of my physics teacher at college (who is also teaching quantum mechanics at the university of montreal and working on very abstract topics of theoretical physics such as Fractional Superspace Formulation of Generalized Super-Virasoro Algebras [I have not a friggin clue what that is])... hearing one of my teahcer at college say how he regrets having taken physics instead of math-phys.

    So I say if you know what you want to do and that is abstract mathematical physics, there's no hesitation needed!
     
  8. Aug 27, 2004 #7
    I think I have decided to take the group theory course but not the second course. I figured out I don't need to take the second course, but rather I will take a second sequence in real analysis (measure theory, functional analysis) and a sequence in classic and modern differential geometry.

    Also, I don't think I will get straight A's in these courses since they are cross-listed as graduate courses. Does anyone know if graduate admissions look at grades only or do they look at course difficulty and content also.

    Thanks
     
  9. Aug 28, 2004 #8

    selfAdjoint

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    I think they would look at the course titles, at least. Your selection is really a good one by the way. You should have a chance to write a letter to the department as part of your submission, and then you can explain your strategy. I think it would impress the profs that you were willing to risk your GPA to get a better grounding for grad work.
     
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