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For starts, I'm a math major and physics minor.

TLDR:

I'm applying to math graduate schools. Should I submit a letter of recommendation from a physics professor?

Longer version:

I'm applying to math graduate schools. More specifically, I'm applying to math programs that do research in the realm of mathematical physics (e.g., string theory & algebraic geometric, TQFT, ect.). As typical, every school I'm applying to wants three letters of recommendation (LOR). I currently have two strong LORs from math professors. I could get a third LOR from math professors, but admittedly it will not be strong (i.e., it would be the standard "he made an A", "was a good student", and since I wrote lecture notes for the course they would perhaps mention this).

On the other hand, I took a physics course (Lagrange mechanics), and always scored around 40 points higher than the class average. The professor commented on my scores a number of times. So, I'm curious, would it be worth submitting a LOR from this physics professor, or should I just get another LOC from a math professor? Also, it seems to make sense to show the graduate schools I do well in physics, since I'm interested in mathematical physics.

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    and always scored around 40 points higher than the class average --- As a side issue (important for what a letter writer should say), probably more relevant is how how you compare with the top two or three students in the class, not with the average student in the class. That said, when I was applying similarly to mathematical physics programs (Fall 1980), I included a physics professor as one of my letter writers. Nov 12 '21 at 20:07
  • @DaveLRenfro: Thanks for the comment. I agree with what you say.
    – D.Math
    Nov 12 '21 at 20:36
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    Sincere congratulations for putting yourself in a situation where you have four very good letter-writers to have to choose three from! Nov 13 '21 at 17:45
  • @GregMartin: Thank you for the nice comment!
    – D.Math
    Nov 15 '21 at 23:34
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You should pick references who know you best and can report observations of your performance in greatest detail in support of their recommendations. An LOR from a physics professor who knows you well and can describe your performance in a course in Lagrange mechanics is perfectly appropriate for someone interested in graduate work in mathematical physics. Good luck.

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  • Thank you for your input.
    – D.Math
    Nov 12 '21 at 20:38
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You want letters of recommendation that say the most about what you will bring to the program. In this case it seems clear to me that a strong physics letter for a program in mathematical physics is (much) better than a ho-hum good third math recommendation.

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  • Thanks. It seems yours, together with other comments and answers, have swayed me to get the LOR from the physics professor.
    – D.Math
    Nov 12 '21 at 20:38

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