Theoretical Physics vs Applied Mathematics (Help please!)

mork
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Jan 23, 2008 1:05 am

Theoretical Physics vs Applied Mathematics (Help please!)

Postby mork » Wed Jan 23, 2008 1:46 am

Hi everyone,

First, sorry for the extremely long post; I wanted to provide as much relevant as possible, but I may have exceeded the limits of relevance at times.

I'm currently a junior dual majoring in Chemical Physics and Mathematics, and trying desperately to figure out what to do after getting my BS. I have it narrowed down to (as the title suggests) graduate studies (towards a PhD) in theoretical physics (perhaps my strong chemistry background would help in condensed matter physics?) or applied mathematics.

I'm thinking very hard about which I should go for, and I was hoping you guys (and perhaps girl[s]) could give me some advice.

Some general information about me:
-I prefer theory to experiment absolutely; I basically want to make a career out of thinking.
-I prefer working alone or in small groups to working in large groups; actually, I can often get lost in the shuffle of larger groups. I am not sure if this would have much bearing on what sorts of research groups I could/should get involved in.
-In general, I prefer the abstract to the concrete. Often what I enjoy most about physics is the correlation to mathematical abstractions (e.g. application of vector spaces in quantum mechanics, group theory in molecular bonding theory).
-I do want to relate what I'm doing to the physical world somehow, so that rules out pure math.

Academic info:
-I have taken/am taking two semesters of honors general physics, two semesters each of physics lab, classical mech., quantum mech., and E&M, plus a semester of modern physics.
-Additionally, I have taken the Chemistry dept's version of Thermodynamics, Quantum Chemistry and Inorganic Chemistry, which seem to apply quite well to physics.
-I have taken/am taking such math classes as: Calc, ODE, PDE, Analysis, Complex Analysis, and honors abstract algebra.
-I currently have a GPA of ~3.96; I am a very good test taker and expect to get very high scores on the relevant GRE exams.
-I have been a research assistant in a psychoacoustics group for the past year and a half. I may do some research in a more independent form for this group this summer and next year, or I may do some other REU program this summer.

Additionally:
-I am very interesting in teaching. I was a math TA for one semester already, and will most likely serve as such for two more semesters my senior year.
-I am somewhat concerned about finding a position after graduation. Is there there a substantial difference in this regard between physics and applied math? Or in, ahem, future earning potential?

It seems like if I went the math route first, and then decided I really wanted to do physics, I could bail with a Masters in Applied Math and transfer to physics. This even seems like it could be helpful.

Also, I have heard about dual major PhD programs in Physics and Math. Does anyone have any opinions or information on those?

At this point, I plan to take the general GRE this spring, and the math and physics subject GRE's this fall, although I really hope to have this figured out by that time.

Has anyone else here wrestled with this question as well? Is there any point that I am obviously (or not so obviously) overlooking? Any advice at all (please)?

If you've made it this far, I owe you a lot already! Thank you very much for any help you may provide!
Last edited by mork on Wed Jan 23, 2008 3:06 am, edited 1 time in total.

nvanmeter
Posts: 100
Joined: Mon Nov 05, 2007 6:16 pm

Postby nvanmeter » Wed Jan 23, 2008 2:50 am

well, i was in the same exact boat....i ended up choosing theoretical physics. i think the main reason i chose physics was that i thought the field sounded cooler...wish i could give a better reason but i don't have one. well, that and i figured that the applied math route was a subset of theoretical physics, in the sense that a theoretical physicist can choose to work on the rigorous foundation of the applied math he is using OR solve some specific useful problems relating to experiments, whereas the applied mathematician is confined to the former area. always wanting to keep my options more open, i stuck to theoretical physics. truth be told, i think it's somewhat arbitrary...both can work on the same problems usually if they choose to and both can be hired for the same jobs...

surjective
Posts: 39
Joined: Thu Jan 17, 2008 1:16 am

Postby surjective » Wed Jan 23, 2008 3:42 am

nah. I disagree. There are way more jobs (relative to the number of ppl) in applied math than phys, so it's easier to get a job. So I'd say go for app. math...

User avatar
twistor
Posts: 1531
Joined: Thu Apr 13, 2006 2:47 pm

Postby twistor » Wed Jan 23, 2008 9:02 am

I agree. You can always be an armchair theorist. Go for something you can work in. It sucks, but there aren't many jobs for theorists.

User avatar
twistor
Posts: 1531
Joined: Thu Apr 13, 2006 2:47 pm

Postby twistor » Wed Jan 23, 2008 1:50 pm

Look at it this way.

You could go to school for theoretical physics, graduate, and not be able to find a job.

Then you'll be homeless and jobless.

But don't worry.

Maybe some nice person on this forum will take some time to send you 20 grains of rice. Then you'll be on easy street.

mork
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Jan 23, 2008 1:05 am

Postby mork » Thu Jan 24, 2008 11:26 am

Hmm, so there is a much better job market for applied math? I think that's enough to push me in that direction, really.

Well, thanks for the advice!. Any other opinions?

tomar
Posts: 19
Joined: Thu Nov 08, 2007 5:28 pm

Postby tomar » Fri Jan 25, 2008 9:17 pm

Hey,

I am actually doing my undergrad in Applied math, but have applied to grad schools for theoretical physics. For me, I love math, even pure math, but when I think about it, I would rather apply it (directly) to something useful, e.g physics. Yes applied math is "applied", but theoretical physics should be even more "applied", in theory :) They also work in a physics environment and are more aware of what the physics problems are being worked on these days

That being said, I hope to stay on the mathematically rigorous side of theory physics, because as I said, I like pure math and basing things on a logical foundation.

Hope you find the best for you

Peace

larry burns
Posts: 77
Joined: Wed Jul 02, 2008 1:12 pm

Re:

Postby larry burns » Fri Sep 24, 2010 3:13 pm

twistor wrote:I agree. You can always be an armchair theorist. Go for something you can work in. It sucks, but there aren't many jobs for theorists.


I was told that this isn't always the case if you do theoretical physics and also do alot of computational work. If you pick up alot of different programming and computational skills, then you can still have job opportunities

User avatar
twistor
Posts: 1531
Joined: Thu Apr 13, 2006 2:47 pm

Re: Theoretical Physics vs Applied Mathematics (Help please!)

Postby twistor » Fri Sep 24, 2010 4:22 pm

Yes, but if you really want to be a programmer then be a programmer with a BS and not Ph.d. You don't need to spend an additional 4 - 8 years in school to be a programmer.

larry burns
Posts: 77
Joined: Wed Jul 02, 2008 1:12 pm

Re: Theoretical Physics vs Applied Mathematics (Help please!)

Postby larry burns » Fri Sep 24, 2010 11:51 pm

twistor wrote:Yes, but if you really want to be a programmer then be a programmer with a BS and not Ph.d. You don't need to spend an additional 4 - 8 years in school to be a programmer.


I meant that those jobs are available as fallback options in case those theorists don't work in academia. Theres got to be some engineering-related jobs for theoretical physics phD guys who have good computational skills, right?

User avatar
grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

Re: Theoretical Physics vs Applied Mathematics (Help please!)

Postby grae313 » Sat Sep 25, 2010 1:07 am

larry burns wrote:
twistor wrote:Yes, but if you really want to be a programmer then be a programmer with a BS and not Ph.d. You don't need to spend an additional 4 - 8 years in school to be a programmer.


I meant that those jobs are available as fallback options in case those theorists don't work in academia. Theres got to be some engineering-related jobs for theoretical physics phD guys who have good computational skills, right?


Of course. There is plenty of programming to do that requires more than a BS in computer science. Lots of research in industry and government labs like NASA etc is done through computer modeling and simulations to basically solve complex physics problems.

Carter
Posts: 1
Joined: Tue Jun 21, 2011 8:26 pm

Re: Theoretical Physics vs Applied Mathematics (Help please!)

Postby Carter » Tue Jun 21, 2011 8:32 pm

Poster, Mork, I felt like I was reading my own journal when I read your post! I couldn't help notice you posted as what appeared to be a undergraduate rising senior in the summer of 2008, I am also a rising senior double physics/math major in the summer of 2011.

I would be very interested to know which choice you ended up making, and why, as well as how things have progressed in the past few years! Thank you so much

User avatar
HappyQuark
Posts: 762
Joined: Thu Apr 16, 2009 2:08 am

Re: Theoretical Physics vs Applied Mathematics (Help please!)

Postby HappyQuark » Tue Jun 21, 2011 9:01 pm

Carter wrote:Poster, Mork, I felt like I was reading my own journal when I read your post! I couldn't help notice you posted as what appeared to be a undergraduate rising senior in the summer of 2008, I am also a rising senior double physics/math major in the summer of 2011.

I would be very interested to know which choice you ended up making, and why, as well as how things have progressed in the past few years! Thank you so much


I hate to break it to you, but the OP posted his/her question over 3 years ago and the two posts in this thread represent the only contribution Mork ever made to the forum. There is a very good chance Mork doesn't frequent the forum.

pqortic
Posts: 398
Joined: Fri Aug 29, 2008 9:24 am

Re: Theoretical Physics vs Applied Mathematics (Help please!)

Postby pqortic » Mon Jun 27, 2011 1:08 pm

Carter wrote:Poster, Mork, I felt like I was reading my own journal when I read your post! I couldn't help notice you posted as what appeared to be a undergraduate rising senior in the summer of 2008, I am also a rising senior double physics/math major in the summer of 2011.

I would be very interested to know which choice you ended up making, and why, as well as how things have progressed in the past few years! Thank you so much


I were you I would PM him to come by and share some info.




Return to “Transitioning to Physics from a non-physics field”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest