transitioning from experimental physics to math

elliott34
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transitioning from experimental physics to math

Postby elliott34 » Tue Jun 14, 2011 9:27 am

Hi all,

I recently had an about face and decided that experimental physics is not for me; I want to apply to math phd programs. I have two summers of research in atomic physics, but both summers were mostly mathematical modeling along with other "working with my hands" type research. I am a double major in math and physics.

Do admissions officers for math phd programs care if my research is not in pure math? Or does it only matter that I have good research (and good recs from it) under my belt?

Thanks

I realize this isn't the "right" forum for this question but I was hoping someone would have some advice

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grae313
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Re: transitioning from experimental physics to math

Postby grae313 » Tue Jun 14, 2011 9:29 am

Why don't you call up a random math department that you're interested in and ask them how your application would be received?

elliott34
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Re: transitioning from experimental physics to math

Postby elliott34 » Tue Jun 14, 2011 9:33 am

grae313 wrote:Why don't you call up a random math department that you're interested in and ask them how your application would be received?


What do I say, "Hi, can I speak to someone on the admissions committee" ?!?!

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grae313
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Re: transitioning from experimental physics to math

Postby grae313 » Tue Jun 14, 2011 9:38 am

Hi, I have a question for your admissions coordinator

I will be graduating with a degree in physics next year but have decided I want to pursue graduate study in a math department like yours. I have research experience and experimental physics doing mathematical modeling and was wondering if I would be considered a competitive applicant and if not, what I would need to do in order to be considered one.

Before you do that, it would be a good idea to review the admission requirements in the department and make sure you at least have the core coursework covered. It would also be helpful if you took and scored highly on the math GRE.

elliott34
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Re: transitioning from experimental physics to math

Postby elliott34 » Tue Jun 14, 2011 9:42 am

grae313 wrote:Hi, I have a question for your admissions coordinator

I will be graduating with a degree in physics next year but have decided I want to pursue graduate study in a math department like yours. I have research experience and experimental physics doing mathematical modeling and was wondering if I would be considered a competitive applicant and if not, what I would need to do in order to be considered one.

Before you do that, it would be a good idea to review the admission requirements in the department and make sure you at least have the core coursework covered. It would also be helpful if you took and scored highly on the math GRE.




Thanks! Yeah I'm going to take a year off and get all my eggs in a basket...study for the math gre, do applications, work or maybe do research. I actually have all the standard courses, real/complex/numerical analysis, topology/group theory, butt load of calculus...


I was actually going to do a year-long honors thesis making BEC but now may have to break it to my advisor that I should do something more math oriented....I feel bad

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grae313
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Re: transitioning from experimental physics to math

Postby grae313 » Tue Jun 14, 2011 10:16 am

Heh, yeah that'll be tough. If you have a graduate math department at your current school you should certainly walk in and ask for advice there. I just reread your original post and saw that you'll also have a degree in math so I think you'll be perfectly fine (degree: check, MGRE: check, math-related research: check). There is a lot of math research that overlaps with computational/mathematical physics research so if you aim there with your application your background shouldn't hurt you, and you can write it like a strength (gave that department diversity... departments love diversity).

bfollinprm
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Re: transitioning from experimental physics to math

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Jun 14, 2011 11:03 am

My girlfriend did something similar, it wasn't a big problem. There is a bigger distinction between pure and applied maths than there is between theory and experiment for physics; which one are you interested in? If it's the modelling/systems research you did that interests you, you should look at programs in computational science. These programs seem to be heavy on maths subjects with intersections with physical/biological systems: check out, for example http://csc.ucdavis.edu/Welcome.html at my (soon to be) grad school, or physics groups like this one at Pitt http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/people/fprofile.php?id=373 which work closely with statisticians. Groups like these will prefer someone with a physics background, and can be found at most schools from nos. 1 to 100.

If you want to do pure maths (proofs), though, then just rock the math GRE and apply to maths programs. You should have no trouble with the prerequisites. You also wont have trouble applying to applied math programs if you want to go that route, but the funding isn't as solid in that field, so sometimes it's better to do your applied maths under the umbrella of computational physics. The average faculty member in a maths program has many fewer students than in a physics program, so getting into maths programs are correspondingly more difficult (and you often TA for longer).

EDIT: One more thing: I'm (technically) an experimentalist, but I never work with an instrument, and my lab is just a computer. If it's just the time messing with the electronics that puts you off of experimental physics, consider something outside of accelerator physics or AMO, like (in my case) astrophysics, or complex systems research.

elliott34
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Re: transitioning from experimental physics to math

Postby elliott34 » Tue Jun 14, 2011 8:28 pm

bfollinprm wrote:My girlfriend did something similar, it wasn't a big problem. There is a bigger distinction between pure and applied maths than there is between theory and experiment for physics; which one are you interested in? If it's the modelling/systems research you did that interests you, you should look at programs in computational science. These programs seem to be heavy on maths subjects with intersections with physical/biological systems: check out, for example http://csc.ucdavis.edu/Welcome.html at my (soon to be) grad school, or physics groups like this one at Pitt http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/people/fprofile.php?id=373 which work closely with statisticians. Groups like these will prefer someone with a physics background, and can be found at most schools from nos. 1 to 100.

If you want to do pure maths (proofs), though, then just rock the math GRE and apply to maths programs. You should have no trouble with the prerequisites. You also wont have trouble applying to applied math programs if you want to go that route, but the funding isn't as solid in that field, so sometimes it's better to do your applied maths under the umbrella of computational physics. The average faculty member in a maths program has many fewer students than in a physics program, so getting into maths programs are correspondingly more difficult (and you often TA for longer).

EDIT: One more thing: I'm (technically) an experimentalist, but I never work with an instrument, and my lab is just a computer. If it's just the time messing with the electronics that puts you off of experimental physics, consider something outside of accelerator physics or AMO, like (in my case) astrophysics, or complex systems research.




Interesting. Actually,maybe I'm better for theoretical physics. This is what I expect to learn about myself in the next year or two. Life is about the journey, I'm not in any rush. I think I've already made HUGE progress in that I've discovered that I hate aligning optics and fussing with amplifers. As for the astrophysics suggestion: just not my bag. I am much more a fan of the physics of the small. I've been to astrophysics talks before, and it's mostly just slides of stars with names like XNFGG9454954-osiris with auto-shapes drawn all over the place showing how a particular blurry pixel is the source of all that mighty. I just don't get it. Alas, I am naive re: astro so i hope this doesnt incite anger.

Does anyone know the relative competitiveness of theory programs to math programs? At, say, any given "top" school? I guess this question doesn't make much sense, but it appears to me that to get into a theory program at a top school, one could simply have worked very hard,etc, whereas to even be considered at the top 20 math schools you basically should be dominating the graduate math courses at your school senior year i.e. multi variable calculas in high school, etc.

Any insight?

bfollinprm
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Re: transitioning from experimental physics to math

Postby bfollinprm » Tue Jun 14, 2011 10:49 pm

elliott34 wrote:
As for the astrophysics suggestion: just not my bag. I am much more a fan of the physics of the small. I've been to astrophysics talks before, and it's mostly just slides of stars with names like XNFGG9454954-osiris with auto-shapes drawn all over the place showing how a particular blurry pixel is the source of all that mighty. I just don't get it.


I'd call that astronomy. Not my bag of tea either. But I just used astrophysics (cosmology, statistical astronomy) as an example, not really a specific suggestion.

elliott34 wrote:Does anyone know the relative competitiveness of theory programs to math programs? At, say, any given "top" school? I guess this question doesn't make much sense, but it appears to me that to get into a theory program at a top school, one could simply have worked very hard,etc, whereas to even be considered at the top 20 math schools you basically should be dominating the graduate math courses at your school senior year i.e. multi variable calculas in high school, etc.
Any insight?


Maths is harder b/c of the dearth of funding. Though in general the difficulty of getting into a school is mostly sensitive on how good a fit you are for the program, so if your interests really are the maths, apply for maths. Both are much harder than experimental physics.




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