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Other Would it be prudent to double-major in physics and mathematics?

I am currently studying physics as an undergrad, and I intend to pursue a PhD in theoretical physics. My intention in obtaining a math degree is simply to enhance my mathematical capabilities and thus make me better at solving physics problems. Furthermore, I hoped having this increased mastery of mathematics would make me a more appealing candidate when it comes time to apply to grad school. It has occurred to me that the math degree may be redundant because the most relevant math courses are already included in my physics degree plan. All advise is appreciated.
 

Dr. Courtney

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Most students don't have the time and study habits to double major in math and maintain the GPA needed to get into the grad schools to which they aspire.

A second major is not worth the significant hit to the GPA or the time away from research that should be the higher priorities for most students.

GPA, Research, GRE scores, and recommendation letters are far more important than a second major.
 

Choppy

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You might want to spend some time with your course calendar and map out what either option would look like for you in terms of courses. As a single major, you'll have more flexibility in the courses that you can take as options. Maybe you can fill those with some of the math courses that you'd really like to take or those you fell will be really useful. With the second major, what I would be concerned about is that you may end up having to take some courses you really don't have much of an interest in just to get that second major and those may squeeze out room for some of the courses that you'd really rather be taking.

On the other hand, if your ideal electives with only one major would put you essentially on par with the courses listed for the double major, then go for it. Or, if you want to keep graduate school in mathematics open as a option, that double major might be the way to go.
 

DEvens

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Different university systems mean different things by "major." In some cases it means there is a certain set of required classes that you must take, pass all of, and get a specified average. In others it means other things.

There could be conflict between the two. In some cases, certain courses may not be taken for credit in certain degrees. Carefully read your course catalog.

The physics degree is very likely to have lab requirements that the math degree does not. Other than the labs, 1st and 2nd year there will be a large amount of overlap between the two. Even after that you may have substantial overlap depending on the subjects you emphasize.

You might benefit from talking to a prof about what courses you should take. Particularly, you should discuss this with both a physics prof and a math prof. Not necessarily at the same time. Tell them what you are considering. Ask if it is a good plan. Ask if there are different plans that might be better.

Otherwise, my suggestion is to take physics if you want to go on to a physics PhD. But while you are taking physics, treat university as an "all you can learn" buffet. Read that course catalog. If a class looks interesting, and you can fit it in your time, and it can be taken for credit to your degree, take it. Most of the time you can take all the math you can handle as a physics major. Don't neglect the computers part of the catalog. And do have a look at the other sciences and the humanities. It's probably the best chance you will have to take some of those classes.

But don't overload. Note your work load in first year. It is unlikely to be less per class in later years. If your course catalog and profs suggest 7 classes (or whatever number) then taking many more than that is probably overloading. My first year the catalog said take 7 classes. I signed up for and was permitted to take for credit a total of 9 classes. I wound up with 37 contact hours per week including labs and tutorials. (A contact hour is an hour where a prof, lab instructor, or TA was in the room telling us stuff.) It was too much, especially considering I was commuting first year and had nearly 2 hours per day in the car. It led to me skipping tutorials and being strategic about which assignments I skimped on.
 
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I am currently studying physics as an undergrad, and I intend to pursue a PhD in theoretical physics. My intention in obtaining a math degree is simply to enhance my mathematical capabilities and thus make me better at solving physics problems. Furthermore, I hoped having this increased mastery of mathematics would make me a more appealing candidate when it comes time to apply to grad school. It has occurred to me that the math degree may be redundant because the most relevant math courses are already included in my physics degree plan. All advise is appreciated.
Major in physics, you'll ideally get an education in the relevant mathematical techniques for physics inside of your degree; you can fill up any additional stuff with a dedicated minor in math.
 

ZapperZ

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I am currently studying physics as an undergrad, and I intend to pursue a PhD in theoretical physics. My intention in obtaining a math degree is simply to enhance my mathematical capabilities and thus make me better at solving physics problems. Furthermore, I hoped having this increased mastery of mathematics would make me a more appealing candidate when it comes time to apply to grad school. It has occurred to me that the math degree may be redundant because the most relevant math courses are already included in my physics degree plan. All advise is appreciated.
I will repeat the same question I ask whenever we get question like this: Have you talked to your academic advisor and ask this exact question?

Zz.
 

Dr. Courtney

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I will repeat the same question I ask whenever we get question like this: Have you talked to your academic advisor and ask this exact question?
Yes, it is good for students to seek advice from faculty in their home departments. But I've been increasingly underwhelmed with some of the guidance students I mentor have gotten from their academic advisors. Bad guidance is most common when the faculty member serving as a student's formal advisor is changed, so they are suddenly getting advice from someone who does not know them very well. Had a student a couple weeks ago whose advisor was pressuring to change their concentration in order to "graduate in December and get a job" even though the student's goal was to complete their original concentration, graduate in May, and attend graduate school. The student has a strong enough academic record to be an appealing candidate to all the grad schools on their short list. Since the academic advisor was unwilling to sign a needed document affirming the course schedule, the student had to appeal to the head of the department. It was more than an inconvenience, since the student's financial aid was jeopardized by the delay. This student's research goals for the year as well as their grad school plans both require two more semesters as an undergrad.

At the beginning of a new academic year especially, it seems that academic advisors are overwhelmed and often unable to give each student the care and individualized attention needed to offer good advice. They seem to do a better job ensuring students meet the graduation requirements of the department and institution than optimizing the path for a given student's abilities and goals while still meeting those requirements. A book of ancient wisdom says, "Many advisers make victory sure." I encourage students to get second and third opinions from professionals who demonstrate both personal success as well as a willingness to understand a student's goals, dreams, aspirations, abilities, and weaknesses. If a student has a research supervisor, my experience has been that their research supervisor knows them much better and gives better advice than the academic advisor assigned by the department. Even a classroom instructor who has taken an interest in a student often gives pretty good advice also.
 

Vanadium 50

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The fact that one might get bad advice from the person who is charged with one's success in school seems not a very good reason to avoid it. Want a second or twelfth opinion? Fine. But get the first.

I believe the second or twelfth opinion would be better anyway if we knew what the first advisor said. Isn't "that doesn't seem right to me because of X, Y and Z" more powerful than starting from scratch?
 

Dr. Courtney

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The fact that one might get bad advice from the person who is charged with one's success in school seems not a very good reason to avoid it. Want a second or twelfth opinion? Fine. But get the first.
While I agree in principle, in practice, getting the academic advisor's input "first" is often a constraint that puts a time squeeze on getting additional input from other parties and timely decision making. Students I mentor are usually trying to get course schedules squared away well in advance and are duly diligent in seeking meetings with both formal and informal advisors. However, it is often the case that formal advisors are changed late in the game, and also that they are unavailable for in-person meetings and unresponsive to emails until right before the semester starts or has already started. If the formal academic advisor is unresponsive to emails and unavailable until right before the semester starts, it would be unwise and imprudent to wait to solicit advice from other parties.

If we want the academic advisor's advice to be sought and considered "first" we need to make sure all the advisors in our home departments are available in a timely manner and respond quickly to student emails throughout the year.
 

ZapperZ

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Yes, it is good for students to seek advice from faculty in their home departments. But I've been increasingly underwhelmed with some of the guidance students I mentor have gotten from their academic advisors. Bad guidance is most common when the faculty member serving as a student's formal advisor is changed, so they are suddenly getting advice from someone who does not know them very well. Had a student a couple weeks ago whose advisor was pressuring to change their concentration in order to "graduate in December and get a job" even though the student's goal was to complete their original concentration, graduate in May, and attend graduate school. The student has a strong enough academic record to be an appealing candidate to all the grad schools on their short list. Since the academic advisor was unwilling to sign a needed document affirming the course schedule, the student had to appeal to the head of the department. It was more than an inconvenience, since the student's financial aid was jeopardized by the delay. This student's research goals for the year as well as their grad school plans both require two more semesters as an undergrad.

At the beginning of a new academic year especially, it seems that academic advisors are overwhelmed and often unable to give each student the care and individualized attention needed to offer good advice. They seem to do a better job ensuring students meet the graduation requirements of the department and institution than optimizing the path for a given student's abilities and goals while still meeting those requirements. A book of ancient wisdom says, "Many advisers make victory sure." I encourage students to get second and third opinions from professionals who demonstrate both personal success as well as a willingness to understand a student's goals, dreams, aspirations, abilities, and weaknesses. If a student has a research supervisor, my experience has been that their research supervisor knows them much better and gives better advice than the academic advisor assigned by the department. Even a classroom instructor who has taken an interest in a student often gives pretty good advice also.
You seem to have made a very narrow "reason" for why I ask such a thing, and why I consider this to be something the student should do first.

Let's get this out of the way and see if you agree with me. You and I know NOTHING about (i) the student's situation (i.e. his or her grades, his/her current performance in classes, etc.), and (ii) the school's standard, competitiveness, requirements, etc... We also do not know many things about the school, i.e. how many other students have attempted the same thing and failed or succeeded.

I put it to you that two identical advisors, one at the school and one here on PF, will NOT end up giving the same advice, and that the advisor situated at the school will give a significantly BETTER advice to the student than the one who is solely here on PF.

Now, where here do we disagree?

BTW, when I said "academic advisor", I do not simply restrict this to the person who has been officially assigned to the student. I consider a faculty member there as an "academic advisor" as well, because chances are, he or she may be an advisor to other students, or have been one.

Zz.
 

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