For the longest time, as a university student, I have been hovering between my 2 favourite fields of study, namely physics and math. To distract myself from this dilemma, I wasted time completing courses in fields like economics. Frankly, no one needs a physicist or a mathematician with a sub-specialty in economics. So, I'll get some econ qualifications to make that time worthwhile, but now I need to face my bigger problem. Choosing one field of study over the other means closing off number 2. That's what scares me so much. I could do both math and physics, but then I feel I'd be wasting my time. The world doesn't need another jack of all trades know-it-all when all we need is competent specialists.

Help me please. Those who've figured out your career path in life, what was your aha moment and how did you find the courage to kiss all other topics of study goodbye? How did you know that this was the one and only thing you were meant to study on the planet? Thanks and hope this is a relevant question, as the physics stack exchange community re-directed me over here.

  • 1
    What career stage are you in? Just starting college, or about to finish?
    – cag51
    Jan 21, 2023 at 1:35
  • 3
    A mathematician with an economy background is called a "quant", and they are very much in demand -- and make a lot of money. Jan 21, 2023 at 2:19
  • 2
    I highly disagree with you upon this statement "Frankly, no one needs a physicist or a mathematician with a sub-specialty in economics."
    – Neuchâtel
    Jan 21, 2023 at 3:28
  • this is like applied maths vs theoretical physics right? or theoretical maths vs theoretical physics? or what?
    – BCLC
    Jan 21, 2023 at 4:49

1 Answer 1


There are few suggestions (based on my own experience):

  1. Compare yourself and other top students in your M-classes and P-classes: Are you head and shoulders above everybody else in one area and only one of many in the other? (Or something like this.)

  2. Do you find that you have a "raw" intuition for physics problems (you "just see" the right answer without having a formal argument)? Ditto for math problems.

  3. If you find that you really like formal proofs, where every single step is justified, your choice is likely to be math over physics. If you like working in a lab and like to see how "real" things are being built, then your choice is likely physics.

One more advice, if things are still unclear: Talk to some professors in your physics and math classes and see what they say.

And one last thing: Much of the research in mathematical physics requires you to know comparable amount of both. If you go and get a PhD in a physics department with a math physicist as your adviser, you will learn more physics than math; the reverse is true in you go to get PhD in a math department. However, in both cases, you will be taking classes in both departments.