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Programs Yet Another Double Major Question

  1. Dec 20, 2017 #1
    I know we get a lot of these here, and the general consensus is that stellar performance in one major (Physics), is better than average performance in two majors. However this question isn't exactly in regards to graduate school admissions. It's more of a question is regards to the usefulness of a secondary degree which may supplement a Physics degree.

    The secondary degree in question, is called "Mathematics/Statistics (Composite"). It's an "applied mathematics" degree geared toward the sciences. If one was to leave the performance aspect out of it, and assume that someone got great grades in both degrees, how useful would this secondary degree be in the field of Physics?
    Here's a listing of some of the courses. These are the REQUIRED classes, but 15 additional required credits are spent on electives. 6 from Math, and 9 from Statistics.

    Calculus I
    Calculus II
    Calculus III (Multivariable)
    Linear Algebra
    Foundations of Analysis
    Intro to Algebraic Structures
    Introduction to Analysis
    Introduction to Probability
    Introduction to Mathematical Statistics
    Statistics for Scientists
    Linear Regression and Time Series
    Design of Experiments

    As you can see, many of these are already required for the Physics degree. From a strictly useful standpoint, how much would one benefit from these additional classes in the field of Physics? Keep in mind there are a lot of options for electives such as Topology, Differential Geometry, PDEs, etc. With only a Physics degree, the only math classes that would be seen would be Calc 1-3, LA, ODE.
  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 20, 2017 #2
    A description of the degree from the university:

    The mathematics/statistic (composite) major allows students to reap the benefits of applied mathematics and also the benefits of statistics, keeping both doors open for greater marketability and graduate school options. Through the program’s coursework, students can gain essential knowledge in both areas, giving them a greater knowledge base.

    Through the mathematics portion of the curriculum, students gain a solid education in areas including algebraic structures, analysis/advanced calculus, complex variables, partial differential equations, and more. They also take courses in computer science and physics to learn how to use mathematics in applied settings solving real problems

    In their statistics coursework, students study areas like probability, linear regression/ time series, experiment design, quality control, and various areas in statistical analysis. Essentially, statisticians can work in any career or for any company where data is collected or analyzed, making it a smart career choice with lots of possibilities.
  4. Dec 20, 2017 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    If you go into experimental physics, the classes related to probability, statistics, regression and experimental design would probably be useful. If you go into pure theory, probably not so much.
    Why? Does your university forbid physics majors from taking other math classes as electives?
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2017
  5. Dec 21, 2017 #4
    Thanks for the reply. At my university, Physics majors are given 6 credits to use as electives. They specify that it has to be upper division Phys courses, but I'm sure they would allow those credits for math as well. However, 6 elective credits is two classes, and that's not even enough for just the Phys classes that I want to take, such as Quantum Mechanics, Plasma Physics, Statistical Mechanics, and more. So I don't have the credit budget to use my electives for math.
  6. Dec 21, 2017 #5
    Put the idea on the back burner until you've posted great grades for a semester or two in a physics major. It isn't safe to assume great grades in a double major until you've at least posted great grades in one.

    Also, there is only so much time in a week. A Physics major plus 10 hours per week of research (more in summers) leading to publications and good letters of recommendation is a better path than a double major.
  7. Dec 21, 2017 #6


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    Staff: Mentor

    This is within the physics major, right? But don't you have space in your schedule for other courses besides major requirements and general-education requirements? Otherwise, how would you fit a math major in, too?

    At the schools that I've attended or taught at, students need something like N = 120 to 122 credits ("semester hours") to graduate. X of them go to general education requirements (this varies according to things like AP credit and scores on placement tests), and Y go to the minimum requirements for the major. N - X - Y always leaves something which can be used for more electives in the major (over and above Y) or in other subjects.
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2017
  8. Dec 21, 2017 #7
    I have been out of school for decades, and I am not in academia, so this might be ignorance on my part, but...

    I think these kinds of questions seem much more important to the students than anyone else. Nobody "in the real world" cares if you double-majored or not.

    Suppose you finish your bachelors in physics without taking, say mathematical statistics (just to pick one off your list). So what? If you find that you're interested in mathematical statistics, get some books and learn it on your own. You've just spent four years learning how to study and how to figure things out.

    You have your whole life ahead of you to keep on learning new stuff. There's no reason to think you have to cram everything you're interested in, into your time in school.

    Dr Courtney's advice seems very sound to me. Concentrate on the physics requirements.
  9. Dec 21, 2017 #8
    This was the plan, however I would further it to not getting into another major until I completed all the required math courses for Phys as well, since they're all required for the Math degree as well. A secondary degree won't even be considered unless I get great grades in Phys and understand the material. And I completely agree on the time issue. If I did do it, it would be something like 3 classes of Phys, and one from Math/Stat. My long term plan has been to go no more than 4 -5 classes per semester (depending on which classes are being taken) as I want to not just pass the classes, but get really good grades and most importantly understand the material. In not exceeding 4 classes per semester, I would be on track to graduate with a Phys degree in three years (all my generals are completed). If I tacked on the second major, it would be 4 years for completion of both. But, I understand that this extra degree is not necessary. My interest for a second degree in Math/Stat is two fold- one is to potential use I may have for it to supplement the Phys degree, and the second is that there are Math classes that I really would like to take that are not required for a Phys degree. I do have 6 credits of electives to use, but I want to use them for additional Phys classes.

    To clear things up, I've attached a pic of the required classes to obtain a Phys degree at my university. I have 6 elective credits to choose additional classes. So only two additional classes can be taken. This creates a problem because I want to take more Math classes, and more Physics classes. If I opted for the second degree, I could use my Phys elective credits for Phys classes, and the Math/Stats degree would give me many more (potentially) useful Math classes without having to take away from my Phys selections.
    Bottom line, is there are a ton of Phys and Math classes that I want (and may need) to take, that aren't required for the degree. So this additional degree isn't because I think it would look good on a resume, but rather that I want to take these classes for not only interest but because of the potential use in them to supplement the Phys degree.

    I entirely agree. My want to possibly do a second degree is not because I think others will care. It's because I want to take the classes for academic and interest purposes. And I am a big proponent on self study as well, and would have no issue in self studying a subject. However, how much time will I really have in graduate school to self study all of these extra courses?
    Your last sentence is a good point as well. But I'm not sure as to what classes are important in the immediate future, and which ones I can put off until later to study on my own. Say I was to ask you to pick 3 Math classes that aren't required for my Phys degree. Which do you think would be of most use?

    Attached Files:

  10. Dec 22, 2017 #9


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    Staff: Mentor

    Where does it say that you're restricted to only two additional classes?

    I'm assuming you're in the US, because of the terminology you're using. At the colleges and universities in the US that I'm acquainted with (e.g. by having been a student or taught there), requirements for a major are the minimum set of classes that you must take in order to receive a degree in that field. Students aren't restricted to taking only those classes.

    And a student usually doesn't have to take an additional major (or minor) in a field in order to take classes in it that aren't required for his/her (primary) major. A department may restrict certain classes to students to students who are majoring in that department. However, in my experience this affects only a few classes, if any. Also, if the class has a limited capacity and is likely to fill up, majors may have priority when registering.
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2017
  11. Dec 22, 2017 #10
    Ohh I understand what you're asking now.
    So here's my situation. I'm using the GI Bill to pay for my tuition at this time. The GI BIll has certain restrictions. One of these restrictions is that you cannot take classes that don't contribute directly to your major. In other words, if a class such as PDEs isn't required for a Phys degree, it will not be paid for and the student is left to pay out of pocket.
    However, once a student goes over full time (12 credits or 4 classes), any additional classes after that are almost free (student only pays class fees, tuition is waived). This is a really great opportunity, however there's a drawback- having to take too many difficult classes at the same time due to the 12 credit minimum. Taking 15 credits of purely science and mathematics credits at the same time rubs me the wrong way.
    The alternative would be to take the second degree in conjunction with the first. In doing so, I could stay at or under 12 credits, because the non essential "extra" classes that I would have taken, would now be required due to the second degree. The drawback with this option is that I would be at school for 4 years instead of 3. I don't mind this part, because if it means being better prepared and equipped, I would have no problem spending an extra year.
  12. Dec 23, 2017 #11


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    Staff: Mentor

    Now I see your situation... you're doing this as a part-time student.

    Doesn't your degree require a bunch of general-education classes that can be interspersed among the physics and math to "dilute" the work a bit? That was the case for me. Also I had to take some "free electives" to get up to the required total of 120 credits or whatever it was. I was interested in languages, so I took more German classes than needed for my foreign-language requirement, plus History of the English Language.

    Those classes were still work, of course, but it was different than in the physics & math classes.
  13. Dec 23, 2017 #12
    Part time for now. The reason is because I dont have the math prerequisites for Physics yet. In the Fall Ill be full time and will be able to declare my major from General Ed to Physics.

    As far as generals and electives, theyre all completed. This Spring will be College Algebra and Trigonometry, which are requirements obviously for Physics. So when I declare my major after these two classes, it will be strictly Phys and Math courses from then until graduation. So essentially I did all my generals as I did my Math prerequisites for Phys. Im actully glad to have done it this way because all the obligatory "be well rounded" classes are done with, and I can focus on science and math now.
    One way that Ive been thinking of it, is that since all my generals are done, I could maybe consider these extra math classes as "generals". In doing so I could take my Phys classes, and each semester add one of the extra math classes in where the general would normally be. On the flip side, having the generals done would give me more time to focus on Phys classes than I otherwise would have if I had to do generals. This is why I ask if these extra Math classes are useful or worth taking.
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