international student with a major in math

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sexwithparticles
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Joined: Sun Nov 13, 2011 6:27 am

international student with a major in math

Postby sexwithparticles » Sun Nov 13, 2011 10:18 am

My interest in physics started after my after the first semester of my sophomore year when I took a class called philosophy of modern physics. Since then I've been taking physics classes but never quite enough to make the major nor the minor since my uni does not grant minors (though I think I would have the equivalent of a minor)

As in the title I'm an international student completeing a degree in pure mathematics. I really want to go to grad school in physics for particle theory.

My relevant courses for admission are as follows

Physics: General Physics I and II (standard calc-based physics sequence), Modern Physics I and II (covering bit of optics, nuclear physics, electromagnetism, and quantum mechanics), Special Relativity. I'm too late for a major in physics because I didn't take the sequence that the physics department requires for a major, instead I took Modern Physics I and II for a broad peak.

Mathematics: Several Variables Calculus, Probability and Statistics, Discrete Mathematics, Graph Theory, Analysis I (Real), Analysis II (Measure, Lebesgue, Fourier, with a bit of Probability Theory), Analysis III (Functional Analysis), Complex Analysis, Algebra I (Group Theory), Algebra II (Rings/Fields with a bit of Galois), Algebra III (Representation Theory), Point-Set Topology, Analytical Mechanics, and Differential Geometry. All my mathematics courses are honors sequences.

Next year, I intend to take a electrodynamics class using Griffiths book, Thermodynamics class, and a Quantum Mechanics course using (Liboff and Joachin’s books). I wouldn’t have taken a course specifically on experimental physics though my modern physics I and II had a little bit of experimental component in it.

And the math courses that I’ll take are Algebraic Topology, Commutative Algebra, Lie Algebras, Algebraic Geometry, Spectral Theory, Elliptic PDEs, and maybe Algebraic Combinatorics.

And I am planning on getting some research experience in physics. I have agreed to do a project in quantum information theory, and am going to ask for another one in experimental particle physics during summer.

In addition, I can get another research project on something done (don’t know which) if I don’t take the Thermodynamics class. Do you think this would be wise? What is the absolute minimum physics coursework that the admissions committees want to see?

Also for my major in pure mathematics, I have to do a senior thesis and I’m planning on doing it on lie theory with connections to mathematical physics under a mathematical physicist at my university.

How competitive do you think I’ll be for physics graduate school? I have good GPA, some physics coursework and research experience (though limited to project experience with no possibility of publication), extensive pure mathematics background, but still without a formal background in experimental physics (which schools seem to want to see)

I believe that there’s a way for math grad students to work for a physics advisor or do some physics coursework at graduate school but I think I would enjoy the physics side of particle theory a lot more.

So to sum up, should I be cut off because of not majoring in physics? Should I try to get a masters degree in physics or something to leverage my lack of background? Or is there any other suggestions?

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grae313
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Re: international student with a major in math

Postby grae313 » Sun Nov 13, 2011 10:51 am

sexwithparticles wrote:How competitive do you think I’ll be for physics graduate school?


I think you may be OK. Graduate schools want you to have a degree in physics or something equivalent -- they don't actually care about the piece of paper. I wouldn't drop thermodynamics though, as you'll need to show the committee that you'll be prepared for your graduate coursework in physics and most programs require a statistical physics course that will build on your thermodynamics course. Your competitiveness will depend on a) how successful you are at physics research (try to get a publication or at least some posters to present at conferences) and how good a letter of recommendation your research adviser writes you b) your grades in the core upper division physics classes you will take and c) your score on the physics GRE.

Max out these things and I think you'll have a decent shot at top 20. Most applications give you an option to specify another department to which your application should be sent if you are rejected from your top choice, so you should be sure to take both the math and physics GREs and apply to programs where it would be possible to get into physics from the math department just in case.

You'll improve your chances with more coursework in physics. You might even be able to talk some professors into guiding you informally through self-study courses during the summer or something. Then they could write your letters of recommendation to tell the committee that, though you don't have a formal letter grade in a class, you have good preparation in the subject. I'm not sure if upper division mechanics is vital (though you should at least self study what you'd need from upper division mechanics on your own), but I'd look to get more than one semester of quantum under your belt and maybe try and get into some field theory or GR. The professors would then know you well and could write detailed letters, and it shows a lot of dedication and self-motivation. If this fails, consider calling up a few programs to see if your application would be considered with the courses you intend to take.

You should apply ambitiously but realistically if you can afford it. If it doesn't work out and you really don't want to do physics research through a math department, then you are right that a masters in physics would be a good option for you. With an advanced degree in physics and a demonstrated success in graduate physics work, I don't see you having any trouble getting into a full PhD program (assuming you are able to get good letters and score well on the physics GRE).

sexwithparticles
Posts: 2
Joined: Sun Nov 13, 2011 6:27 am

Re: international student with a major in math

Postby sexwithparticles » Mon Nov 14, 2011 2:11 am

Thank you for your thoughtful reply.

I don’t know about the GRE Physics much yet but my grades are competitive (I will probably graduate near the top of my classes possibly top 1 or 2 %) and I think if I can do the senior thesis well and nail the research projects about to come, I can get some good letter of recommendations as well.

I would very much like to take another course in quantum mechanics, general relativity, quantum field theory, etc.

But the more advanced quantum mechanics and general relativity classes are only offered for those enrolled as physics majors and my university does not offer a subject in quantum field theory. . . (it does not have a single professor working on high energy theory) though we have some professors working on quantum information theory and condensed matter theory.

I have looked at my options, and it looks like I can take some physics field classes instead of some of my maths subjects. I can take one maybe two units from plasma physics, condensed matter physics, astrophysics, biophysics, and particle physics (introduction by griffiths).

Will these courses be helpful for admission at all? I can see how particle physics would help me given my interests but given that the course is only a rudimentary introduction to the field, I don't see how much signal it can send to the adcoms about my ability to do particle physics research.

Given my lack of physics background I am willing to do a one year masters degree. But how much would this help? It seems like the most useful masters degrees to be doing are U.K. masters in physics (Part III Maths at Cambridge or MSc Quantum Fields at Imperial) but given that the deadline for the applications will be only like 3 months after the start of the courses, there won't be any grades or recommendations to help my application wouldn't it? Do people wait a year after doing the masters degree and apply once they have their grades and everything sorted?

To sum up,
These courses are available for me to take. Out of those which would be most helpful besides the particle physics unit?

And how much would a UK masters be worth it?

I don’t know if you know a lot about these courses but if you do know, which one would be better for me, the Part III maths at Cambridge or the MSc Quantum Fields at Imperial? The course content will be quite similar since I’m intent on taking mostly the theoretical physics units when I do Part III maths, I can understand how it will be similar but the Imperial Course is offered via the physics department which might be what the admissions committee would look for instead of one year more of math math math.

Thanks a lot in advance

cryingsun
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Joined: Wed Apr 07, 2010 2:59 pm

Re: international student with a major in math

Postby cryingsun » Wed Dec 21, 2011 2:12 am

As long as you can get a good score in PGRE, say 900, I don't think your math background would be any disadvantage, if not an advantage for particle theory. Studying hard for PGRE will help you fill in your gaps in physics as well.

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

Re: international student with a major in math

Postby pqortic » Wed Dec 21, 2011 9:56 am

sexwithparticles wrote:These courses are available for me to take. Out of those which would be most helpful besides the particle physics unit?

And how much would a UK masters be worth it?

I don’t know if you know a lot about these courses but if you do know, which one would be better for me, the Part III maths at Cambridge or the MSc Quantum Fields at Imperial? The course content will be quite similar since I’m intent on taking mostly the theoretical physics units when I do Part III maths, I can understand how it will be similar but the Imperial Course is offered via the physics department which might be what the admissions committee would look for instead of one year more of math math math.

Thanks a lot in advance


for graduate school admission you don't need advanced courses (QFT, CMP ...) in your transcript. neither you have to have a physics degree. admission committees look for fundamental courses such as E&M, quantum/classical/stat mechanics, optics and thermo. so try to take as many of these courses as you can. 1 year master degree might help but as cryingsun said having a good score in pgre helps a lot.




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