Double Majoring Physics/Math

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agelessdrifter
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Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby agelessdrifter » Mon Jan 25, 2010 5:04 pm UTC

I've been planning to major in physics for a long time now, and sort of considering a concentration or a minor in math, but recently I've been tossing around the idea of double-majoring. I strongly suspect that at least a handful of people on these boards have done this. Is it a good idea? What kind of difficulties might I run into besides the obvious (eg no underwater basket-weaving type classes to make the per-semester workload lighter)? To what extent (roughly) do the curricula over-lap? I imagine it's a fair amount. Any general advice is appreciated.

Also it's occurred to me that in the strictest sense this is more a question about college than it is about math specifically, so if this thread is misplaced, I apologize.

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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby Shadowfish » Mon Jan 25, 2010 5:20 pm UTC

At my school, the required classes for a physics major get you to 2 classes shy of a math minor. I ended up with a math minor without planning to get one. I know of two physics/math double majors that finished in 4 years(they were pretty smart, and spent a lot of time doing homework). So, yeah, there's a fair amount of overlap. I found that I got a lot more out of physics by taking extra math (especially linear algebra, which is oddly not required for physics).
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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby skeptical scientist » Mon Jan 25, 2010 9:04 pm UTC

I double-majored math/physics in undergrad. There is a fair amount of overlap, and at most colleges a physics major will get you most if not all of a math minor; turning it into a math major will require more classes, but maybe not that many more (depending on the program at your school). Presumably you will be taking fewer classes outside math/physics as a result, so you will be sacrificing, to some extent, a well-rounded education for more depth in your concentration area.

Whether this results in an increased or decreased workload depends on how easy/hard you find problem sets compared to writing papers, reading books, or whatever makes up the bulk of the work in the classes you would be taking if you were not taking math classes. Personally, I found that I was spending fewer hours per week on my math/physics classes than I was spending on my other classes, so taking almost all math/physics classes actually reduced the total time spent on coursework. Of course that was just my experience, and is probably not the norm.
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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby Birk » Mon Jan 25, 2010 9:15 pm UTC

skeptical scientist wrote:Whether this results in an increased or decreased workload depends on how easy/hard you find problem sets compared to writing papers, reading books, or whatever makes up the bulk of the work in the classes you would be taking if you were not taking math classes. Personally, I found that I was spending fewer hours per week on my math/physics classes than I was spending on my other classes, so taking almost all math/physics classes actually reduced the total time spent on coursework. Of course that was just my experience, and is probably not the norm.


I agree with this statement completely. I am in my first semester of classes without any gen eds such as History and English. While I loved my history classes but the amount of assigned readings and papers took considerably more time than, say, having an extra problem set or two a week.

I am not a physics/math double-major but it is my minor in addition to Physics/Astronomy as my majors. There is so much overlap at my school that it's fairly easy to get all three with only a little extra effort.

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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby gmalivuk » Mon Jan 25, 2010 10:40 pm UTC

Hell, math and philosophy wasn't at all hard to double major in, and there's a lot less overlap there among required courses. Considering the number of other, completely unrelated classes I was able to take, I strongly suspect that I could have added physics to that and triple majored without too much trouble.
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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby agelessdrifter » Tue Jan 26, 2010 3:55 am UTC

Thanks, all, your responses are helpful. I definitely have an easier time motivating myself to get through (as well as an easier time getting through, period -- I'm a bit of a perfectionist when I write essays and I'm never quite happy with things I have to write for classes) homework for math and science classes than for classes that require readings and essays thus-far, so I'm actually pretty excited about the possibility of replacing some of the latter with more of the former. I did some more looking today and it looks like, as has been said, a fair amount of the classes over-lap. I think it'll only be a difference of 4 classes or so.

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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby ian7208 » Sat Jan 30, 2010 1:32 am UTC

If you enjoy both of them, then a double major could be a good option. Some of the upper level math courses give a wider perspective on physics. Especially courses like computational programming and differential geometry. It also depends a lot on what you want to do after graduating. If it's grad school, then keeping your gpa up is #1. If it's getting a job, then making sure you have programming skills, or some background or experience in the relevant area, e.g. econ, will probably help a lot.

Also, I'd suggest taking a couple courses around the university in whatever else you find interesting. It's not something you'll have the chance to do later, and you'll probably meet people you'd never run into otherwise.

I double majored in math and physics, but if I had to do it over again I probably wouldn't have taken more than one grad course as a senior. If you go to grad school you'll retake those courses anyway, so you're better off spending more time on your senior thesis/project and getting the rest of the college experience.

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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby mdyrud » Wed Feb 03, 2010 8:57 pm UTC

Have any of you ever triple majored? The reason I'm asking is because I am undecided what I want to do. Looking at the Math Ed, Math, and Computer Science requirements, there is a ton of overlap. My question is, would it be worth it?

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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby romulox » Wed Feb 03, 2010 10:01 pm UTC

Some US universities have an upper bound on the number of courses you can take at an in-state tuition rate. This may or may not be a factor for you. Since I had changed majors five times this was a consideration for me, and I was unable to double major in History and Mathematics (had to minor in history). Other universities have restrictions on which majors can be paired to form a double major. See an advisor about this.

Other considerations include what you want to do with your degree. If you plan to go to graduate school in some field {math, math ed, comp sci} most schools care that you did one thing really well (almost all A's), and not 3 things fairly-moderately well (some A's mainly B's and maybe worse). Also note that math undergrad feeds into math, math ed, and comp sci grad programs quite well.

If you know you want to do grad school in Applied Math or Discrete Math or Comp Sci I would major in math and comp sci.

If you plan on being a teacher after graduating, I would go Math and Math Ed. If you plan on going the programming route after graduating I would do Math and Comp Sci.

If I were you I would try to find a second major or minor in something completely different from mathematics, such as: history, creative writing, pol sci, etc. It will help you think about the world and mathematics in very different, and nontrivial ways. Also it is harder to take interesting classes outside your field once you get into graduate school.

hope this helps.

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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby DavCrav » Thu Feb 04, 2010 10:47 am UTC

romulox wrote:If I were you I would try to find a second major or minor in something completely different from mathematics, such as: history, creative writing, pol sci, etc. It will help you think about the world and mathematics in very different, and nontrivial ways. Also it is harder to take interesting classes outside your field once you get into graduate school.


This might be nice from a well-roundedness point of view, but I should caution against appearing well rounded to prospective grad schools. Here in the UK, every time we have university admissions, all these people come in with their application forms bursting with well roundedness, thinking that we care the slightest little bit about it. In general, well-rounded = indecisive and/or uncommitted. You should be well rounded enough to not look like a breakdown risk, but any more and grad schools don't care. This is paticularly important the better the university.

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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby andrewxc » Thu Feb 04, 2010 12:04 pm UTC

mdyrud wrote:Have any of you ever triple majored? The reason I'm asking is because I am undecided what I want to do. Looking at the Math Ed, Math, and Computer Science requirements, there is a ton of overlap. My question is, would it be worth it?

Yeesh.
I don't know, man. I majored in Math Ed: Secondary concentration (we had a ton of classes in each school) and I ended up having four elective spots. I used these to explore things that I wanted to take but never had the time: German, CompuSci & Physics. Personally, I felt that learning about other things outside of my major was really important and helped broaden my education, particularly those classes that didn't count for anything (not GenEd, not major-related).
My wife ended up double-majoring in Math and Theater, and minoring in Psychology, all within five years, so it is possible to triple-major, I'm sure, but just think about other opportunities you might miss.
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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby mdyrud » Thu Feb 04, 2010 8:44 pm UTC

Thanks for the advice. I looked into it further, and I think I will plan on Double-Majoring Math and Math Ed and getting a minor in CompSci. That will still leave space for me to be in choir.

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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby skeptical scientist » Thu Feb 04, 2010 11:19 pm UTC

Here's another point of view on the triple majoring question: take the classes you want to take, and if that happens to meet the requirements for three different majors, get a triple major. Otherwise, don't.
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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby BlackSails » Fri Feb 05, 2010 12:39 am UTC

Nobody is going to care if you do math/physics as opposed to math or physics. Grad schools will assume you either know or will learn the math or physics you need to know, and you already know a certain amount based on your GRE and research.

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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby stephentyrone » Fri Feb 05, 2010 1:07 am UTC

skeptical scientist wrote:Here's another point of view on the triple majoring question: take the classes you want to take, and if that happens to meet the requirements for three different majors, get a triple major. Otherwise, don't.


Very much this. (Essentially) no one cares what specific degree you have. They care about what you know and what you've done. (And who you know, but that's a subject for a different thread.)
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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby skeptical scientist » Fri Feb 05, 2010 6:28 am UTC

BlackSails wrote:Nobody is going to care if you do math/physics as opposed to math or physics. Grad schools will assume you either know or will learn the math or physics you need to know, and you already know a certain amount based on your GRE and research.

I don't think that is really true. Given how important math is for physics, I can't imagine that admissions for grad schools in physics don't take what math classes you have taken, and how well you performed, into consideration. The same is less true in reverse, since you can do math without knowing any physics, but I imagine having a strong physics background in addition to a strong mathematics background would be helpful when applying to graduate schools, especially if you want to do applied math, and would be necessary for someone who wants to do mathematical physics.

What probably is true is that they will look at the courses you took, and evaluate on their own what that means, and not pay a great deal of attention to whether that program happened to satisfy a mathematics major. Someone who took a more focused selection of math classes and did not get a math major may be just as attractive as someone who took a more broad selection and did get the major, as long as they took the courses that matter to the admissions committee.

Remember that graduate schools have your whole transcript to look at, and decide for themselves what to make of your course selection. Once you meet your degree requirements, they probably don't care a whole lot about what exact course-load is required for this or that major or minor, since such things vary enormously from school to school. What they will care about is what your course selection says about your depth of interest, and your ability to succeed at their school.

This is less true for employers, who likely just look at your resumé, and don't have your school transcript. Who can really say what an individual employer will and will not care about? But taking a class that you don't want to take on the off chance that some employer at some point will be impressed that you had three rather than two majors and will decide to hire you on that basis? The cost/benefit analysis doesn't seem very promising. It may be better for a second major rather than a third, depending on how many extra classes you will take. I ended up taking one extra physics class because the courses I wanted to take anyways left me a single one-semester class short of a physics major, and I decided that the cost/benefit analysis (80 hours of work to learn something interesting and turn a math major/physics minor into a double-major) worked in my favor.
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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby agelessdrifter » Fri Feb 05, 2010 6:14 pm UTC

I'm glad I checked this thread again -- I thought it'd be way back on page 3 or 4 of the forum by now.

I don't have any really concrete plans for the long, long-haul, but I do know for sure that I want to go for a doctoral degree in physics, and that I'd like to do research of some kind (I haven't really settled on a specific subject area of physics I want to ultimately focus on yet).

I'm pretty ambivalent about the well-roundedness thing -- I do have passing curiosity directed toward other subjects outside of math and physics, and I can definitely imagine that it is easier to pursue those curiosities during undergrad, but I tend to lean toward DavCrav's stance, ultimately. I would like to take a few language courses, though -- probably pick one language and take as many courses in it as I can squeeze in, and try to become fluent before grad school. I was thinking about picking one of the official languages of Switzerland since that seems to be where the science is at right now.

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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby DavCrav » Fri Feb 05, 2010 7:07 pm UTC

agelessdrifter wrote:I'm pretty ambivalent about the well-roundedness thing -- I do have passing curiosity directed toward other subjects outside of math and physics, and I can definitely imagine that it is easier to pursue those curiosities during undergrad, but I tend to lean toward DavCrav's stance, ultimately. I would like to take a few language courses, though -- probably pick one language and take as many courses in it as I can squeeze in, and try to become fluent before grad school. I was thinking about picking one of the official languages of Switzerland since that seems to be where the science is at right now.


I should point out that this is not my stance, in the sense that I do not personally think solely in terms of maths, and would advise others not to. However, if your goal is to get to a good grad school, and you aren't a genius, you will have to do a lot of maths courses, and this necessitates that you don't take other courses. Maybe you can learn 17th century Italian poetry in your spare time.

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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby imatrendytotebag » Sat Feb 06, 2010 9:34 am UTC

It's your undergraduate experience, you should take the classes you want to take. If you feel passionate about math and physics, taking the required courses should be no problem. If you're a physics major and feel you would need to "force" the math major, it's probably not worth it (although maybe it'll help your grad school chances significantly- talk to an advisor?). I'm a math/physics major and loving it, but when I've finished them I'm going to free up a little space in my schedule for other things I'm interested in.
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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby Andvari » Sat Feb 06, 2010 10:21 pm UTC

agelessdrifter wrote:I've been planning to major in physics for a long time now, and sort of considering a concentration or a minor in math, but recently I've been tossing around the idea of double-majoring. I strongly suspect that at least a handful of people on these boards have done this. Is it a good idea? What kind of difficulties might I run into besides the obvious (eg no underwater basket-weaving type classes to make the per-semester workload lighter)? To what extent (roughly) do the curricula over-lap? I imagine it's a fair amount. Any general advice is appreciated.

Also it's occurred to me that in the strictest sense this is more a question about college than it is about math specifically, so if this thread is misplaced, I apologize.


I'm pretty sure I want to do this too. I think about half the physics majors at my school double major in math, so it's definitely do-able. Although I've been told that while you will satisfy the requirements for a math major, you might miss out of some of the cooler abstract math classes you could take if you were solely majoring in math.
By the way, you're the first person I've met who uses the word concentration as opposed to minor, I didn't know many schools used that term.

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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby agelessdrifter » Sat Feb 06, 2010 11:00 pm UTC

DavCrav wrote:I should point out that this is not my stance, in the sense that I do not personally think solely in terms of maths, and would advise others not to. However, if your goal is to get to a good grad school, and you aren't a genius, you will have to do a lot of maths courses, and this necessitates that you don't take other courses.


That was more or less my understanding of your stance, and I agree. Sorry if it didn't come across in my post. I meant that there are other classes I would probably be very interested to take outside of math and physics, but not so much that I would want to take them in lieu of math and physics courses, A) because I find maths and physics more interesting anyway, and B) because (to use your example) 17th century Italian poetry isn't conducive to my progress post-graduation.

imatrendytotebag wrote:It's your undergraduate experience, you should take the classes you want to take. If you feel passionate about math and physics, taking the required courses should be no problem. If you're a physics major and feel you would need to "force" the math major, it's probably not worth it


Yeah, I honestly think that if I hadn't planned to double major I might have wound up coming pretty close by pure mistake, just because my interests would have led me to take most of the required courses anyway. I suppose I won't really know for sure until I try some of the upper level stuff, though, but I'm pretty confident that I won't have to force myself.

Andvari wrote: you're the first person I've met who uses the word concentration as opposed to minor, I didn't know many schools used that term.


I'm not positive, but I think they are distinct from one another -- that is, I believe a concentration requires fewer courses in a subject than an actual minor.

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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby RabidAltruism » Sun Feb 07, 2010 2:07 am UTC

My undergraduate university offered (at least some) concentrations (in philosophy, iirc) as elaborations on majors; that is, you could acquire a generic philosophy B.A., or a philosophy B.A. with a concentration in (e.g.) eastern thought.

Minors occupied their usual role in our academic structure (as miniaturized versions of majors).
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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby Dason » Sun Feb 07, 2010 2:18 am UTC

RabidAltruism wrote:My undergraduate university offered (at least some) concentrations (in philosophy, iirc) as elaborations on majors; that is, you could acquire a generic philosophy B.A., or a philosophy B.A. with a concentration in (e.g.) eastern thought.

Minors occupied their usual role in our academic structure (as miniaturized versions of majors).

This is the impression I've always been under. Concentrations were what they sounded like... they were what you concentrated on in your major. So you could be a math major with a concentration in statistics (this is more common when a statistics major isn't offered). At least that's the impression that I got.
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Re: Double Majoring Physics/Math

Postby agelessdrifter » Mon Feb 08, 2010 4:04 am UTC

That does sound more sensible.


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