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I don't know where to ask this question and I have found this site. If this is not the right place to ask it, please tell me and I will delete it.

I've been a computer engineer for 20 years but my true vocation is astronomy and astrophysics.

This autumn I'm thinking to start an astrophysics degree but I don't know if I need to do a transition year because I don't remember a lot of the mathematics and physics that I studied 20 years ago.

I'm interested in studying mathematics at university also, so I thought that I could start off studying mathematics first and then physics.

What do you think?

I ask it because physics has a lot mathematics and I don't know if it is better to study mathematics first and then physics.

In a nutshell:

I'm a computer engineer that has ended his studies twenty years ago (I don't remember a lot of things about mathematics and physics) and I want to learn astrophysics. Do I need a transition year or maybe I can start studying mathematics (that is something that I want to do) first and then astrophysics?

  • Do you mean that you're interested in a Master's or PhD in Math or Physics? Also, typically, you'd just do one or the other; physicists spend lots of time practicing the math relevant to their field, so you needn't get a degree in Math just to prep for a degree in Physics. – Nat Apr 4 '18 at 18:24
  • @Nat I want to study astrophysics at the university, maybe this is a degree. And after that, I can do a master's degree and then, if I have more time, the PhD. – VansFannel Apr 4 '18 at 18:27
  • So a Bachelor's degree first? – Nat Apr 4 '18 at 18:28
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    It's particularly unusual to get a PhD before going back for a Bachelor's, especially with the intent of then getting another PhD after that. Well, it'd help folks respond if you include these details in your question. There's probably some risk of the question being closed due to being overly specific to your situation; this risk might be reduced if you can word the question to be more generally applicable to a situation others might encounter. – Nat Apr 4 '18 at 18:47
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    @Nat Well, you can forget what I'm doing now and keep to my question: I'm a computer engineer that has ended his studies twenty years ago (I don't remember a lot of things about mathematics and physics) and I want to learn astrophysics. Do I need a transition year or maybe I can start studying mathematics (that is something that I want to do) first and then astrophysics? – VansFannel Apr 4 '18 at 18:56
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Speaking from my experience of doing an astrophysics degree in the UK, I would say that you don't need to do a transition year beforehand.

University lecturers are aware that students will be coming from a variety of backgrounds and structure the course to accommodate that. In particular, there will be at least one or two mathematics courses in the first year designed to get everyone on the same page mathematically. For example, in the first semester of my degree I had a module called "Algebra and Calculus" which covered things like set theory, matrices, differentiation, integration etc. Then we had "Further Algebra and Calculus" in the second semester and "Mathematical Physics" (this was about modelling heat transfer, waves on a string etc) in the second year.

Furthermore, if you've already been accepted by a university, then they clearly think you are mathematically prepared enough. If you're still not sure, get in touch with a lecturer or two there and ask about suitable preparation materials; for example, a textbook or old problem sheets you could work on over the summer. If you're in the UK, take a look at the A Level Maths syllabus. This will give you an idea of the typical maths knowledge a first year physics undergrad will be starting with.

Also note that unless you go into very theoretical parts of astrophysics, you won't need that much complex mathematics, and certainly hardly any pure maths, so I wouldn't recommend studying too much of that beforehand, it's not necessary. If you can differentiate, integrate and know what a Fourier transform is, you're basically set.

One caveat: don't go into an astrophysics degree expecting every lecture to have an astro angle. The first half of my degree was almost purely maths and "classical*" physics-- you need that solid foundation before moving on to the specialised topics. Having said that, it makes it all the more worth it when you get there.

*Thermodynamics, optics, lab work etc.

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