What classes would be necessary for a Math guy to apply to PhD programs?

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Joined: Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:43 am

What classes would be necessary for a Math guy to apply to PhD programs?

Postby Bluhmann » Thu Feb 08, 2018 10:19 am

Hi all,

About a year and a half ago I had a realization that my whole life I've loved physics, and it's something I want to try to pursue and see where it takes me. I bought a physics text book and started teaching myself for about a year, got up through Thermodynamics with that book. I then talked to the local community college about taking courses there to help guide me along through the process a bit. They told me if I could pass the Physics I final, I could enter into Physics II since I have a math degree already. I passed the test, got an A in their Physics 2 class (Electromagnetism) and am now enrolled in their final Physics 3 course (Thermodynamics, optics and modern physics.)

I'm not quite sure where to go from here. I've been doing all of this while working a full time job, so finding classes at a real university may be hard due to conflicting schedules. Do I even need further classes? Would these classes be enough to help me get a good grade on the pGRE if I started studying after completion of this class?

In terms of applying to eventually, would I need more classes if I did very well on the pGRE? I've always been in the 99th percentile my entire life on standardized tests, so I envision scoring in at least the 90's, if not upper 90th percentile on the pGRE, would that, plus my math degree and a couple of A's at a community college in Physics help me get into a good school, or would I need to "prove" myself by taking a class at a 4 year university, and if so, what class (or classes) would that be?

Some guidance would be super helpful here! I'm kind of lost if you can't tell!

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Joined: Tue Feb 06, 2018 8:44 pm

Re: What classes would be necessary for a Math guy to apply to PhD programs?

Postby chris314 » Thu Feb 08, 2018 11:30 pm

I think you are off to a good start and would have a pretty good chance at getting into a theoretical program assuming you are a decent programmer. The physics GRE mostly covers material from the first 2-3 years of physics courses and you have access to the first two years. There's plenty of old practice exams with worked out solutions to study from, but I would recommend taking one first to see how you do. You might be surprised to find that your score doesn't match up to your other standardized test scores. The new scoring method does not take off points for wrong answers, but the old practice exams online did. When you take the exam, take it under the original scoring method so you don't have an inflated score.

I imagine you already know but a good place to start studying is with Conquering the Physics GRE by Yoni Kahn and Physics: A Student Companion by Lowry Kirby. You can find additional textbooks for detailed explanations http://www.physicsgreprep.com/Resources.pdf and there are plenty of upper division courses that have been recorded and are available online.

I'm sure you'll do well and I've found that the people who did best in my graduate courses were the people with a degree in math. The physics majors get the concepts, but some of us get lost in the math.

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Joined: Thu Feb 08, 2018 9:43 am

Re: What classes would be necessary for a Math guy to apply to PhD programs?

Postby Bluhmann » Sat Feb 10, 2018 4:27 pm

I’m currently working for one of the better tech companies in my city as a programmer, so I’ve got the programming skills down!

Would you recommend other classes that would be helpful to take, or do you think if I’ve got the stuff I’ve learned after this semester (all the way through modern) down and can take a look at the GRE topics and think I can handle them, I’d be good to start studying for the GRE? I feel like I need more physics courses before a grad school would look at me seriously, but I could be wrong on that topic?

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Joined: Thu Jan 04, 2018 12:20 am

Re: What classes would be necessary for a Math guy to apply to PhD programs?

Postby WashU2468 » Fri Feb 16, 2018 3:07 pm

***I am just a student currently applying, so can't give you perfect advice.*** The best advice on this subject you can get will come from actual professors who probably don't browse this forum.

However, if you want a fellow student's opinion: I'd bet that it depends on what you want to research and where.

If you want to do mathematical physics, and are okay with not going to Harvard, then you only need to do well on the PGRE and have the minimum coursework suggested by the program. For example, a strong program like CMU (https://www.cmu.edu/physics/graduate-pr ... ssion.html) would still suggest you take Quantum Mechanics, Laboratory, and Electronics. BUT most schools don't require/suggest specific courses, and if you are missing one or two that that a program suggests it may not be a problem.

However, if you want to study a subject that you have little coursework preparation in, indeed you may want to take a few more courses in that subject. I feel like my own lack of astro courses is hurting my applications to astronomy programs, even though I’ve taken graduate courses in advanced quantum subjects. Like me, to study astro you'd probably want GR and some other astro courses.

Finally, if you want to go to a top program, they are looking for any reason to deny you -- not in a bad way, they just receive hundreds of applicants. You could certainly get into a grad physics program as you stand. However, I don’t see MIT etc. letting in anyone who hasn’t taken the core coursework (Full semesters of advanced: Stat/Thermo, Mechanics, E&M, Quantum, and Lab) and above, unless you have outstanding research experience (likely a strong publication; your coursework isn't so important if you've actually done impressive, notable research).

If you are really concerned, try emailing a professor at your own school or, even better, a professor at another school who you could see working for as a grad student down the line.

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