Applied Mathematics vs Physics for Grad School

Forum for the GRE subject test in mathematics.
Trigmaster15
Posts: 2
Joined: Sun Sep 18, 2011 5:38 pm

Applied Mathematics vs Physics for Grad School

Postby Trigmaster15 » Sun Sep 18, 2011 5:40 pm

Hi, I am a senior, triple majoring in Mathematics, Physics, and Electrical Engineering at Penn State University (undergraduate). I am preparing to take the GREs (both general and subject), and I am looking for some advice on what direction to take. Here is some very brief background about myself:

-My GPA is about 3.6 - I have a 3.9 in Mathematics, and about a 3.5 in Physics.
-I have worked many internships during the summers, ranging from Aeronomy to Quantum Psychology research for DoD labs. I am currently in the process of publishing my second undergraduate paper.
-I can't stand theoretical stuff; I realize you have to take some pure things (analysis and such) to get through these degrees, but I am strongly attracted to physical applications and direct use of what I'm learning.
-I really enjoy Quantum Mechanics and its various applications

Okay, so here's my dilemma - as most people know, the GRE Subject Tests are available only 3 times a year - October, November, and April. In my original plan, I was going to apply to Grad Schools for both Math and Physics areas, but now that the October Late Registration has passed, I really have no choice but to choose only one subject test if I want to apply to Grad Schools for next Fall (2012). In addition, I've also heard that trying to take two subject tests can be a very daunting task - therefore, I'm trying to figure out what the best choice to go with is (Physics or Math). I personally think that I can score a little higher on the Math Subject test, but most of what I'm interested in is more Physics related, and I don't want to get stuck in one area and not be able to pursue what I'm interested in.

Can anyone give me any practical advice/experience about this? Will my options be hurt by choosing Applied Math over Physics? Are there more job options available for one over the other? Do more people generally choose one over the other?

I hope that some of you can give me some help on this - I won't lie, it's causing me a small bit of stress and I'm desperately trying to find some direction here. Any and all help is extremely appreciated. Thank you,

Jon Ore

owlpride
Posts: 204
Joined: Fri Jan 29, 2010 2:01 am

Re: Applied Mathematics vs Physics for Grad School

Postby owlpride » Sun Sep 18, 2011 10:05 pm

If you want to take both subject tests, you could probably take the October one as a stand-by. That might be a good idea if want to leave all options open *and* you are ready to take one of the two tests without much more preparation.

But I personally think that you would be a lot better off to decide what you want to do. May I ask what attracts you to applied math? What sort of applied math are you interested in?

To me everything you wrote about your interests screams physics.

Now, as far as your admission and career prospects in both fields are concerned, I would encourage you to discuss your options with your professors. They know both you and their field a lot better than any one of us.

Trigmaster15
Posts: 2
Joined: Sun Sep 18, 2011 5:38 pm

Re: Applied Mathematics vs Physics for Grad School

Postby Trigmaster15 » Sun Sep 18, 2011 10:17 pm

Thank you for your advice, I really do appreciate it. My only hang ups with speaking to professors is the issue of "field-egocentrism" - I've found that quite a few of my math professors seem to think isn't worthwhile unless you study that, and vice versa for physics. However, I do agree with you - physics really does interest me a great deal. In particular, I am fascinated by quantum mechanics and its potential applications - ranging from heat converters to psychology. However, I have noticed that much of it relies on the use of partial differential equations - an area I'm sure I'll encounter a lot if I study applied mathematics. After reading some other forums, I've also heard people say that often times the two fields can become quite interchangeable if you go high enough anyways. In short, I'm trying to determine whether it will make a big difference which field I choose if they really are that connected anyways.

owlpride
Posts: 204
Joined: Fri Jan 29, 2010 2:01 am

Re: Applied Mathematics vs Physics for Grad School

Postby owlpride » Mon Sep 19, 2011 1:16 am

I wouldn't recommend asking your advisers "should I go into math or physics?" because that decision is yours and yours alone. But you can ask them more specific questions about their own field:

What graduate programs would I be competitive for in applied math/physics? What are my career prospects with a degree in applied math/physics? How much physics and what sort of physics could I do as a graduate student in applied math?

Have you given any thought as to whether you want to go into more experimental or more theoretical physics? Applied math wouldn't be a good option if you wanted to be in a lab, for instance.

Another way to go about this decision is to look at the courses you would be taking in each track. You might end up working on the same questions, but you would be doing it from vastly different perspectives. For example, an applied math graduate student would usually take an assortment of courses in statistics, numerical analysis and numerical linear algebra, differential equations, algorithms and complexity theory, combinatorics, algebra and logic. The coursework of a physics graduate student would look very very different: electrodynamics, quantum mechanics, statistical physics, solid-state physics, computational physics, etc. Does one track look vastly more appealing to you than the other?




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