Advice for Changing Fields in Graduate School (physics to math)

  • As many already know, studying for the physics GRE and getting accepted into a graduate program is not the final hurdle in your physics career.
  • There are many issues current physics graduate students face such as studying for their qualifier, deciding upon a field of research, choosing an advisor, being an effective teaching assistant, trying to have a social life, navigating department politics, dealing with stress, utilizing financial aid, etc.

Post Reply
Russiankid
Posts: 3
Joined: Fri Dec 27, 2019 12:50 pm

Advice for Changing Fields in Graduate School (physics to math)

Post by Russiankid » Thu Jun 04, 2020 9:27 pm

Hi all. I hope that this is a reasonable question for this forum; if it is not, please let me know!

I know that this question has been asked before, but I think my situation is somewhat unique. I am an incoming physics graduate student to a top 5 institution in physics (and math). I had initially applied to a physics subfield that is 1) very related to work I was doing as an undergraduate, and I could therefore portray myself and my skillset as attractive to professors in this field and 2) something that I enjoy and am good at. This past year, I took a reading course with a mathematics professor. Before taking the course, I was dead-set on physics and had no inclination of doing mathematics for the rest of my life (or even in graduate school) at all. However, after completing this course, I realized that I had enjoyed it so much that I would love to work in this subject/field for the rest of my life. I was wondering what your experiences and opinions are on the possibility of changing from physics to math during my PhD. The subject matter of the reading course is widely used in physics, and there are math professors in this subject who work on physics problems (though more from the mathematical side). Therefore, perhaps an option is to work with a mathematics professor while getting a physics PhD (rather than switching to a mathematics PhD entirely). I would also like to hear your views on this option.

Another concern I have is that I recognize/know that my undergraduate physics education was significantly more advanced than my mathematics (even though I will be receiving bachelors degrees in both). This is mostly due to the math department (and its students!) being much weaker than the physics department at my undergrad institution.

Thank you in advance for your responses and your time!

User avatar
Nishikata
Posts: 228
Joined: Sun Sep 23, 2018 6:37 am

Re: Advice for Changing Fields in Graduate School (physics to math)

Post by Nishikata » Sat Jun 06, 2020 11:35 pm

Russiankid wrote:
Thu Jun 04, 2020 9:27 pm
. Therefore, perhaps an option is to work with a mathematics professor while getting a physics PhD (rather than switching to a mathematics PhD entirely). I would also like to hear your views on this option..

Thank you in advance for your responses and your time!
I suggest u do this option first for a year and see if you still like it.
I guess many professors can deliver ONE course to a “new” audience very well, but in every field there are good and bad stuff, so maybe you need to give yourself some time to know all the bad stuff before making a full switch.

It’s like marriage, i think.
Don’t divorce the first wife for a one-course-stand.

Russiankid
Posts: 3
Joined: Fri Dec 27, 2019 12:50 pm

Re: Advice for Changing Fields in Graduate School (physics to math)

Post by Russiankid » Thu Jun 25, 2020 10:49 pm

HI Nishikata,

Thank you so much for your response (and apologies for my delay)! I'll try this and see how I feel; that is a good way of thinking about it. I am going to attend Part III before starting my physics course, so I'll get a better idea of whether I like the (advanced) mathematically-oriented side of things there. Of course, there is no telling how research will go. I'll test the waters as you say before making any concrete decisions; thank you.



Post Reply