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Would physics or math be the best choice major?

  1. Oct 11, 2014 #1
    Hi, I need some help from people who are currently in these majors/ fields.
    I just transferred to a university from a community college, with original interest of doing their Earth science program. But, the more I reevaluate my interest, and look into grad schools, the more it seems I should major in physics/math than Earth science.

    What I'm looking at is many different options, from engineering to geophysics. Pretty much everything that interest me seems to have so much math and/or physics requirements that I wouldn't be able to plug into my current program due to time (its a liberal arts school, so I still need to take 4 semester of language). Math/physics seems to a much better choice for undergrad no matter what you decide to do in grad school.
    I'm currently a "junior" because I transferred in with over 70 credits (I took a bunch of fun science courses: bio1&2, botany, zoology, chem1&2, physical geography along with the usual GERs), and need to declare this semester, so I really don't want to make the wrong choice.

    The issue is, I only have calculus 1 and no physics credits yet.
    I didn't initial think I'd like either, but after I took precalc/trig and cacl 1, I really like it. Then, my first semester at university (this semester), I'm taking astronomy just out of interest. I LOVE it, and the three physics professors I've had between that class and cosmology class are just so awesome.
    At the same time, I'm not really enjoying my geo classes like I thought I would. Categorizing rocks has become so boring and unstimulating. I also feel like I might pigeon hole myself into being able to only do geoscience in grad school if I just finish up with earth science.
    Any advice?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 11, 2014 #2


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    Categorizing rocks might be boring, but is probably important in terms of understanding the nature of rocks and their origin.

    One could certainly consider geophysics and geochemistry.

    On the other hand, one may have to explore other areas of physics in some aspects may be boring.

    On the engineering side, one could look at various disciplines in engineering, e.g., mechanical, civil/structural, and so on.

    In what areas is one interested?
  4. Oct 12, 2014 #3
    Not really. Best choice is to figure out what you want to do and major in that. Math and physics may be the most versatile in terms of grad school options, but they aren't that great in terms of jobs.

    Being a math major is pretty different from that kind of stuff. It gets to be mostly about proofs at the upper levels. Maybe a little less so if you do more applied courses. Same thing applies to physics, I think. Going to grad school is a pretty serious thing, especially PhD. Be very cautious of it. I have a PhD in math, but the process of getting it is not something I would recommend to anyone but the most extreme academic masochists.
  5. Oct 12, 2014 #4
    I think I might be able to provide some advice based on my own experiences. I am a senior physics major currently applying to grad school for geophysics/seismology. I started out the other way around--I was interested in physics and later found a love for geology/geophysics. If you are interested in geophysics, I think a major in physics (or math... but mostly physics) would actually be a better choice if you are serious about graduate school. Most geology or earth science programs are not nearly as quantitative as a physics program, and grad schools realize this. You can always take a few geo courses as an undergrad and fill any gaps in grad school. This is much harder to do with math and physics courses.

    As far as math vs. physics, I would definitely agree with homeomorphic in that math courses become very different at the upper level. I've taken a good amount of math (CalcI-III, ODE, PDE, Statistics, Linear Algebra), and I really loved these courses but I would not make a good math major because I'm not at all interested in proving abstract mathematics. It will be difficult to tell which is better for you until you actually try it out. I would agree though, that physics is a pretty safe bet *IF YOU ARE SERIOUS ABOUT GRADUATE SCHOOL*. You will have many more options when it comes to applying to graduate school, I think.
  6. Oct 12, 2014 #5
    Thank you jbrussell93! That's what I was trying to come at. I'm really into geophysics, and the geology program here is lacking in the quantitative aspects (they don't offer any geophysics classes either, much less a program for it). My advisor told me not to worry to much about the math and physics requirements right now, as I could always work o it after I graduate, but I feel like I'd just be so much more prepared if I went the physics/math route and filled in my gaps of geo classes later instead of the other way around.
    I also feel like if I ever got tired of geoscience, I'd be much easier for me to transition to something else, such as engineering (that's what I was trying to say).
  7. Oct 12, 2014 #6
    I have actually had at least 3 geophysics professors specifically tell me that students coming from a physics/math background generally have an easier time with geophysics in grad school than students with a strictly geology background. In fact, the seismologist in the geology department at my school did his undergrad AND PhD both in physics. Additionally, a seismologist I worked with for an REU did his bachelors in engineering physics and went to grad school for geophysics having taken only 1 geology course during the senior year of his undergrad. Obviously, this is just anecdotal evidence but these are instances that back up my earlier claim.

    Also, I would advise you to try out some upper division electives in the earth sciences before you decide that it is simply "categorizing rocks". I only had to do this in the intro physical geology course that I took, and I too absolutely despised it! The class that really got me hooked was plate tectonics. I love the large scale tectonic processes in geophysics, not really the hand-sample identification... I'm clearly not a true geologist :P

    That's the good thing about majoring in physics and just taking earth science courses. You can pick and choose exactly which courses you want to take. I never took historical geology, surficial, geochem, mineralogy, or sed. strat intro courses. Other than that physical geology course, every geo class I've taken has been 4000 level junior/senior and really interesting. Usually just having an intro course is enough to get you through the upper level geo courses in my experience.
  8. Oct 12, 2014 #7
    awesome advice, and yeah, I'm really into the large scale processes, not just for geology, but for earth science in general (hydrology, atmospheric science, etc.), not really into mineralogy or most of the core courses they have for this major.
  9. Oct 13, 2014 #8
    The thing with physics and math is, they're great at preparing you for graduate school, but you had BETTER go to graduate school after finishing your degree. Otherwise, there are not many career opportunities for someone with a math or physics major and no graduate degree or employable skills. Unless you can develop employable skills during your major that you can demonstrate to employers. I.e. keeping a portfolio of programming projects that you have done that you can show to potential employers.

    It's great if you want to go to graduate school, but always have a back up plan if for some reason that doesn't work out.
  10. Oct 13, 2014 #9
    Thank you for the advice Hercuflea, my school doesn't offer a geophysics program, just a general type geology with a stuffed schedule for geo electives (not too many in what I'm looking for, plenty for paleontology and environmental geology type interest) and then a regular physics program (they do have an applied math though). They also have a "design your own degree" type thing, have you heard of anyone doing well with that regarding a science/math field?
    I was also thinking of approaching my advisor with a plan for a geophysics program, by including the structural and surface processes geology (and hydrology, meteorology, and oceanography) with plenty of math and physics that would match what I'm seeing many geophysics grad programs want you to have. I just didn't know if this was a smart idea, and they might "look down" on a create your own program.
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