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Is a Maths degree a logical way into theoretical physics?

I really enjoy maths and physics and at the moment my ideal career would be research in theoretical physics. The problem is I'm very indecisive and I can see this changing, and the reason why a maths degree seems good for me is that it can leed to other fields that I'm interested in and can imagine myself switching to (Computer Science, Pure Maths, Economics, Biology).

I keep asking students and other relevant people whether they think a maths degree is a sensible way to go into theoretical physics and most of the time they say thats fine but occasionally I'll get the feeling that they think it's a stupid idea and that I should just do a physics degree (or maths and physics etc...). What do you guys think? Has anyone done a maths degree and then done a masters or phd in theoretical physics and how did that fare for you?
Reply 1
Look at Mathematics with Physics degrees or Physical sciences degrees. Pure Mathematics isn't going to include much/if any physics and so i think it would be very hard to get a place on a masters when competing with people who have physics degrees

It appears that what I have italicised is not true (sorry... internet reaserch failure on my behalf). However i still believe that you would be better suited looking at maths with physics degrees rather than pure and applied maths degrees.
(edited 10 years ago)
Reply 2
Original post by Goods
No. Look at Mathematics with Physics degrees or Physical sciences degrees. Pure Mathematics isn't going to include much/if any physics and so i think it would be very hard to get a place on a masters when competing with people who have physics degrees.


Are you studying maths i.e whats your source? This is the masters lecture list for maths at cambridge. You choose 6-9 courses and quite clearly they could be all physics if you wanted

http://www.maths.cam.ac.uk/lecturelists/PartIIIWeb.pdf
(edited 10 years ago)
Reply 3
Original post by GoodDay
Actually, looking at Maths at Cambridge, I've heard people say by the third year you can be doing practically all physics courses and I think it's pretty similar at Warwick


It's probably the case they are talking about Mathematics with Physics courses.

At cambridge for instance you have the choice between:

option (a) Pure and Applied Mathematics, for students intending to continue with Mathematics.
option (b) Mathematics with Physics, for students who may want to study Physics after the first year.
Reply 4
Original post by Goods
It's probably the case they are talking about Mathematics with Physics courses.

At cambridge for instance you have the choice between:

option (a) Pure and Applied Mathematics, for students intending to continue with Mathematics.
option (b) Mathematics with Physics, for students who may want to study Physics after the first year.


Nope, cambridge only offer maths or physics. Maths with physics only differs in the first year after that its either just a straight maths or physics degree
Reply 5
Original post by GoodDay
Nope, cambridge only offer maths or physics. Maths with physics only differs in the first year after that its either just a straight maths or physics degree


Not true. If you apply for a pure Mathematics course you cut off lots of possible physics-y module choices. If you apply for Mathematics with Physics you take Physics modules and then have the choice to choose between either a predominantly Physics (with some maths) or a Maths degree for you second and third years..

My sources are purely through reading the prospectus for different courses. I am a year 12 student looking to apply for Natural Sciences next year ( I think I would prefer the wider field of study to Mathematics with Physics which is what I will apply for at my other choices most likely)
Roger Penrose has a degree in mathematics from UCL and has a PhD in algebraic geometry. He seemed to manage to make a contribution to theoretical physics.

I personally know plenty of mathematicians who are working in physics. I don't think it is any barrier at all as the lines between theoretical physics and mathematics are pretty blurred.
Reply 7
Original post by Goods
Not true. If you apply for a pure Mathematics course you cut off lots of possible physics-y module choices. If you apply for Mathematics with Physics you take Physics modules and then have the choice to choose between either a predominantly Physics (with some maths) or a Maths degree for you second and third years..

My sources are purely through reading the prospectus for different courses. I am a year 12 student looking to apply for Natural Sciences next year ( I think I would prefer the wider field of study to Mathematics with Physics which is what I will apply for at my other choices most likely)


With no respect whatsoever you have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. Please stop giving people bad advise without any knowledge.
Reply 8
Original post by SimonM
With no respect whatsoever you have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. Please stop giving people bad advise without any knowledge.


If you would be kind as to enlighten me as to what i have said that isn't true? the post you negged if a direct quote from the cambridge course prospectus.

http://www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/courses/maths/

I said all my information was from reading the course prospectuses. Surely it would be better to tell me where I am mistaken than post such a useless response with the sole purpose of boosting your apparent superiority over a 17 year old (possibly misinformed) student ? Assuming that you are a Mathmo who is doing/has done the course...
Reply 9
With a maths degree you can normally do almoist all theoretical physics in the later years (3rd, especially 4th).
Reply 10
Original post by Goods
If you would be kind as to enlighten me as to what i have said that isn't true? the post you negged if a direct quote from the cambridge course prospectus.

http://www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/courses/maths/

I said all my information was from reading the course prospectuses. Surely it would be better to tell me where I am mistaken than post such a useless response with the sole purpose of boosting your apparent superiority over a 17 year old (possibly misinformed) student ? Assuming that you are a Mathmo who is doing/has done the course...


If it wasn't may week and I had the time and inclination to point out your errors I would. For now I just want to stop you confusing other people


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Reply 11
Original post by Goods
It's probably the case they are talking about Mathematics with Physics courses.

At cambridge for instance you have the choice between:

option (a) Pure and Applied Mathematics, for students intending to continue with Mathematics.
option (b) Mathematics with Physics, for students who may want to study Physics after the first year.


No, you can definately do almost all physics in 3rd and 4th year.
Original post by Goods
If you would be kind as to enlighten me as to what i have said that isn't true? the post you negged if a direct quote from the cambridge course prospectus.

http://www.study.cam.ac.uk/undergraduate/courses/maths/

I said all my information was from reading the course prospectuses. Surely it would be better to tell me where I am mistaken than post such a useless response with the sole purpose of boosting your apparent superiority over a 17 year old (possibly misinformed) student ? Assuming that you are a Mathmo who is doing/has done the course...


To be honest, it isn't about the minutiae of the Cambridge course it is about your assertion that getting into theoretical physics with a maths background is not possible/correct/easy even though many of the world's leading theoretical physicists (such as Roger Penrose) have maths degrees, not physics degrees.

So I'll state; it is perfectly possible and normal to go into theoretical physics with a maths background, in fact, many (if not all) of theoretical physics PhD programmes at Cambridge require you to have sat the CASM (part III) in advanced mathematics before you will be considered for entry.
My undergraduate degree was in Chemistry and my PhD was essentially Experimental Physics. Although what I was doing was very near to the 'Chemistry end' of Physics, if you know what I mean.

Although it's different areas, it's a similar situation. Clearly Theoretical Physicists need a very strong background in Maths and Physics so I would imagine that if you did a Maths degree and managed to do a good bit of Physics (and as much programming as possible), you should be able to do some kind of postgrad degree in Theoretical Physics without much problem.

This is just my opinion but I think someone who's done a pure Maths degree and very little Physics would struggle to get a PhD position in Theoretical Physics.
Hi, I know this was literally 10 years ago, so you likely won't reply, but what did you end up doing? Cause I'm in a very similar predicament, in that I'm also quite indecisive and enjoy maths and physics - I'm planning to apply for the maths with physics stream of maths at cambridge, but still quite unsure of whether thats the right decision
Original post by Random11_206
Hi, I know this was literally 10 years ago, so you likely won't reply, but what did you end up doing? Cause I'm in a very similar predicament, in that I'm also quite indecisive and enjoy maths and physics - I'm planning to apply for the maths with physics stream of maths at cambridge, but still quite unsure of whether thats the right decision

Yes, maths at Cambridge (either by itself or the "with physics" first year option) is perfectly fine for going into theoretical physics - notably at Cambridge theoretical physics is part of the maths department and consequently many of the theoretical physics options are offered via maths anyway.

Also please don't bump old threads!

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