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Torn between two majors

frogfriendfrogfriend Registered User Posts: 8 New Member
Hello everyone, I was just looking for some guidance. Lately I've been struggling in my choice between two majors. Currently I am a dual major in mathematics and philosophy with a minor in physics. I am unsure as to whether I want to change physics to my second major and just make philosophy a minor. I finished the introductory courses in calculus based physics and found out that I really love physics. I've always read the popular science books on physics such as brian greene and micho kaku and been fascinated by them. I bought some textbooks on thermodynamics and eletrodynamics as well and I find them very interesting. The thing is that if I major in physics in I doubt I would get into any grad schools for it. My GPA just would not be good enough and while I'm sure I can get great letters of recommendation I'm unsure of how much research I could get. I can probably do research in mathematics and as a senior we are required to do a project in physics and present a paper on it but I doubt that will be enough. On the philosophy side of things I have always liked philosophy ever since I was a kid. I would probably have a good shot of grad schools in philosophy as well. The thing is though will I be able to study what I want in grad school. I want to find a way to unite my love of physics and philosophy. I want to take philosophical questions that arise about the origins of our world and attempt to empirically prove them. On the other hand I want to take questions that arise from physics and mathematics and work through those. I'm pretty confused, I feel like I am trying to pick between which parent I love more. Truthfully, the physics minor seems perfect. I can take a lot of physics classes while avoiding classes I don't want like computational methods and so forth. The only thing that makes me hesitant is I am unsure if I can pursue my interests to the fullest in philosophy grad school. Sorry for the huge wall of text, I hope it is at least a little coherent. If anyone has any advice I would really appreciate it. Thank you.

Replies to: Torn between two majors

  • halcyonheatherhalcyonheather Registered User Posts: 8,987 Senior Member
    I've considered majoring in all these subjects at different points in my life. In the end I'm a math major, which is sort of a compromise between computer science (a "practical" major) and philosophy (an "impractical" major). I think it's important to pursue my intellectual interests and my career interests without sacrificing too much of one group for the other.

    How far have you gone in math, and how do you feel about writing proofs?

    What kind of graduate programs (if any) are you interested in? What careers are you interested in? What are your backup plans?

    What subfields of philosophy do you like? Are you primarily interested in topics related to math and logic?
  • frogfriendfrogfriend Registered User Posts: 8 New Member
    I've done up to calc 2. I'll have my first proof based class next semester so I'll get a taste of that. In regards to what grad programs I am interested in I'm really sure. Right now I'm not really sure I want to go to grad school for math or physics. I'm not really sure if I want to spend six years of my life studying partial differential equations or something like that. For careers probably academia is my best bet. I don't really have a back up plan besides that. I'm sure I can figure something out. With regards to philosophy I like metaphysics, and anything like the history and foundations of math and physics. I would love to grad school for philosophy and work on topics like the nature of reality, space, time, etc. I want to use my background in math and physics to try and empirically answer these questions but also have the opportunity to step back and look at these problems as a philosopher and not just as a mathematician. Basically I want a grad program that lets me play the role of mathematical physicist and a philosopher if that is possible.
  • halcyonheatherhalcyonheather Registered User Posts: 8,987 Senior Member
    The proof-based class should give you perspective. You might find that you like math best in the context of physics applications, and that would help you narrow down your choices.

    I ask about subfields of philosophy because I think the field is really diverse in scope, and I've found that I'm way more interested in some branches than others. I've chosen to take classes in those areas whenever they're offered, rather than trying to get an official minor or double major. If you're fairly interested in everything, that's when it would make the most sense to major or minor in philosophy.

    I've read that philosophy at higher levels is significantly different from beginning philosophy classes, so it might not appeal to everyone who expresses interest initially. I know this is true in math, but I'm not sure to what extent it's true in philosophy. What kinds of philosophy courses have you taken?
    For careers probably academia is my best bet. I don't really have a back up plan besides that.
    It's very difficult to find good jobs in academia, which means it's important to think about alternative careers even if you decide to work toward becoming a professor. Philosophy, physics, and math are liberal arts majors that won't prepare you for any specific career, but each subject has a set of careers that are common and typical for its majors to pursue (with differences depending on your level of education). It might be a good idea to research what kinds of careers are attained by your university's graduates in these majors.

  • frogfriendfrogfriend Registered User Posts: 8 New Member
    Yeah these are all things I have been thinking about over the last few weeks. As I make my way through my math major I will see if I view math as something I want to do all my life or something that I just use as a tool. I'm definitely doing the major in math just because I see math as one of the most beautiful fields of study. As I take my upper division classes I'll see if I want to study pure math or if I will just use math to solve other problems. As far as careers go I realize that academia is very hard to get into. I don't really want to do anything else though. I thought about doing computer related careers since I will have some programming experience but it just doesn't appeal to me. If not academia then maybe just teaching at a high school level. I'm still unsure. As far as philosophy goes I've only had the intro courses. I've done a lot of reading on my own though, the majority of my reading is philosophy related. I feel like I will enjoy the subject matter but maybe actually taking courses and doing the homework won't appeal to me. That is something that I will have to see as I progress through my next semester.
  • frogfriendfrogfriend Registered User Posts: 8 New Member
    Oh and one of the reasons I am leaning more towards philosophy is the diversity of the field. I feel that if I do math or physics then I will be locked into a singular field. I think with philosophy I can explore the sciences but also switch gears and do cognition, or maybe some other sub fields.
  • juilletjuillet Super Moderator Posts: 12,618 Super Moderator
    OP, have you done any research assistance or scholarship with a professor in either of your preferred fields? Actually getting some experience in what scholars of philosophy or academic scientists in physics do might help you make your decision.

    As far as I know, philosophers do not try to provide empirical evidence in the traditional sense (as far as doing experiments) to do their work. I am not a philosopher, but randomly choosing a top philosophy program that I thought of (Rutgers) and looking at the work of some of their philosophers that do philosophy of science, they seem mainly concerned with posing questions or arguments and then developing, theoretically, an evaluation of that argument. They might use published research from scientists to do that, but they don't do the science on their own. The example I used first, Martin Bunzl, conducts scholarship on the intersection of philosophy of science and climate change policy. Here's an excerpt from a current project:

    The logic of this argument leads to an inevitable conclusion: to avoid doom we have to recognize that we need to develop technology to remove greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere in the future. I lead the reader through an evaluation of this argument and then examine the prospects for the technology of carbon capture from the air. Although there is consensus that current technology does not allow this to be done effectively at the scale required, I ask what it is going to take to address the problem. This challenge calls for a breed of speculative scientific thinking that rarely takes place in public. I pursue it by engaging in conversation with well-known scientists who are “big thinkers”.

    If you want to provide empirical evidence to answer questions in the sciences - math and physics - you would need to go to graduate school for one of those fields. But that doesn't mean that you have to completely give up on your interest in philosophy; the humanities can bring much to bear in the sciences. You can still use your philosophy background to influence the kinds of questions you ask and the ways in which you answer them. You could also do collaborative projects with philosophers of science - like Bunzl - who are interested in big-picture questions that affect humanity on a large scale. Your role might be providing the empirical evidence for the arguments they make, or you could write collaborative papers helping them examine and evaluate the current scientific literature.
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