Having bad Physics grades, should I change my undergrad degree to Maths to apply for Physics grad school?

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alwayssi
Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Jul 02, 2015 12:20 pm

Having bad Physics grades, should I change my undergrad degree to Maths to apply for Physics grad school?

Postby alwayssi » Mon Jul 13, 2015 2:25 am

I have 1 year left in college and am planning on studying theoretical Physics in grad school. Since I want to work theoretical Physics in a rigorous approach, I want to take a lot of courses from my college's Maths department. Also, I feel that at the moment I need help from formal courses to effectively learn Maths, while regarding Physics I am confident in my self-study abilities.

I made the decision of taking Maths courses quite late, so completing a double major would be extremely difficult for me. It is not a problem to complete a Maths degree, however. I did some research and got the impression that a Maths degree can apply for theoretical in Physics grad school just fine. However, I got quite bad grades in Physics courses (due to a combination of slacking-off, not fitting in the Asian-style teaching and testing, and wanting to spend time self-studying).

So should I switch major to Maths as I am preparing my grad school application? I believe that is the best technical decision, i.e. serves my research best in a long term, but I am afraid my bad Physics grades and my incompletion of the Physics degree would instill much doubts in those who read my application.

Some information:
- Research interests: Mathematical GR, Quantum Gravity, and the early Universe
- Research experience: has been in an early Universe project for 6 months. The project might get result before the application deadline.
- PGRE: haven't taken, but I am confident of getting high enough score
- Got some prizes in an international university Physics competitions

Thanks in advance!

TakeruK
Posts: 812
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Having bad Physics grades, should I change my undergrad degree to Maths to apply for Physics grad school?

Postby TakeruK » Mon Jul 13, 2015 1:53 pm

In many schools, such as my current school and my previous schools, Math and Physics are considered very closely related fields. For example, for physics degrees, both math and physics courses count as courses "in your major/field of study".

So, I don't think the name of your degree is going to make a huge difference. It doesn't really matter if your degree says BSc Math, or BSc Physics. What does matter is the courses you took and how well you did on these courses. If you are applying to Physics PhD programs, you should make sure that you take almost all the same courses as a typical Physics major (especially the "core" upper level Physics courses, such as two semesters of EM, two of QM, and stat mech). You should also have similar numbers of upper level courses in physics or math.

If you don't do well in these courses, it will be a concern whether or not your degree says Math or Physics. Also, even if you are only applying to theoretical mathematical physics programs, your other physics courses would likely play a role in your admission decision too. Most physics departments I know would want their students to have a strong and well rounded foundation in physics, not just the tiny area of expertise. Of course, if you are working on Mathematical GR, then perhaps your Electronics Lab grade won't be weighted as much, but it will still be part of the consideration, in my opinion.

alwayssi
Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Jul 02, 2015 12:20 pm

Re: Having bad Physics grades, should I change my undergrad degree to Maths to apply for Physics grad school?

Postby alwayssi » Tue Jul 14, 2015 6:34 am

TakeruK, thanks for giving me your opinion on this. Please let me clarify more my situation:

- I have completed all those typical major Physics courses, with quite bad grades (the average <3.0).
- I believe my advisor can give some words in his recommendation letter, explaining why I got quite bad grades in those major courses (my advisor is against the Asian teaching and testing philosophy here).
- If I switch my degree to Maths, then the only important courses I would miss are 2 labs, which are also the heaviest courses in the Physics curriculum. I would be free then to take some Maths courses like manifolds analysis, matrix groups, Riemannian geometry, etc.

So does the name of degree make a difference here then?

TakeruK
Posts: 812
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Having bad Physics grades, should I change my undergrad degree to Maths to apply for Physics grad school?

Postby TakeruK » Tue Jul 14, 2015 10:23 am

Just my opinion, but no, I don't think the name of the degree will make much of a difference. But it sounds like you will be able to take more Math courses, and doing well in your Math courses can help increase your GPA.

Are you an international student? In the North American system, a GPA < 3.0 will make it tough to get into grad school, and being an international student will make it tougher. However, GPAs mean different things in different countries. What is a 3.0 GPA in your country? If you were to compare yourself to your classmates, how would you rank yourself (e.g. top 50%? top 30%? 10%? etc.)

alwayssi
Posts: 3
Joined: Thu Jul 02, 2015 12:20 pm

Re: Having bad Physics grades, should I change my undergrad degree to Maths to apply for Physics grad school?

Postby alwayssi » Sat Jul 18, 2015 9:43 pm

Thank you for giving your opinion, and sorry for my late reply.

Yes, I am an international student, studying in a top Asian university. Usually the edge of top 50% in my university will get 3.0 or 3.3.

I am weighing a new plan at the moment: taking an extra semester to complete a double degree (and after one more year applying to grad school). This plan will give me the benefits of:
(1) having more time to boost my GPA,
(2) getting help from taking formal courses to study important Maths pieces, while still having a Physics degree to avoid the dilemma I mentioned above
(3) more likelihood to have at least one publication,
(4) getting better recommendation letter from my project's advisor - he has been away since I joined the project and been giving 'distant' instructions/advices

On the other hand, I guess I will have to brace my application for more detailed examination from the committee, and perhaps be put in a (slight?) default disadvantage. But I think the pros far outweigh the cons. Can you judge this plan of mine?

Thank you in advance.

TakeruK
Posts: 812
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Having bad Physics grades, should I change my undergrad degree to Maths to apply for Physics grad school?

Postby TakeruK » Sun Jul 19, 2015 10:07 pm

alwayssi wrote:On the other hand, I guess I will have to brace my application for more detailed examination from the committee, and perhaps be put in a (slight?) default disadvantage. But I think the pros far outweigh the cons. Can you judge this plan of mine?

Thank you in advance.


I don't think you need to worry about the "more detailed examination" being a bad thing. In fact, if you are worried about things like your Physics GPA, having the more detailed examination will help the committee find your strengths, rather than dismissing your application due to GPA.

I don't think I'm qualified to help you decide between your new plan vs. your original plan. You should do what you feel is best for you! Good luck :)




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