Most community colleges and universities ask for PhD / Master's in Mathematics in order to become a Assistant Professor / Instructor in mathematics. I know that this will greatly depend on the particular school, but do people in academia view theoretical physicist (someone with a PhD in theoretical physics) as equivalent to someone who has a PhD in mathematics? It's not mathematical physics, but I would expect theoretical physics to be a mathematical science too.

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    Since you seem interested in community colleges in particular, I will mention my own situation as a data point. As an undergrad I double majored in math and physics, and I have a PhD in experimental physics. I primarily teach physics at a community college in California, but I have also taught freshman calculus a couple of times. Community colleges in California are governed by the state's absurdly lengthy education code, which lists, e.g., what qualifications are necessary in order to teach vending machine repair at a community college. I meet the minimum quals because of my background.
    – user1482
    Commented Nov 18, 2016 at 21:18
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    I can't answer your question directly, but I can answer the relevant question "Can people make the switch from mathematical sciences to math" with a yes. There is a professor in my school's math department whose Ph.D is in computer science. Is a Ph.D in theoretical physics equivalent to a Ph.D in math? Maybe if you're Ed Witten, but generally no, you'd have to make up for that deficiency in some way.
    – Dunka
    Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 3:43
  • My mother had a Ph.D. in experimental physics, but (after raising 5 children) taught mathematics courses at a couple of colleges. Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 7:20
  • Daniel Kaplan at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota is a professor of mathematics whose Ph.D. is in physics. Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 20:17
  • Sir Harold Jeffreys got a Ph.D. in mathematics and became a professor of astronomy and published research in seismology, and wrote a book on probability that took a particular philosophical position and was a bit contemptuous of logical rigor, and a book on scientific induction, in whose third edition there is a one-page appendix that is our only historical source for Mary Cartwright's proof of the irrationality of pi. (Possibly someone digging in archives could find the thing that Cartwright herself wrote.) Commented Nov 19, 2016 at 20:29

3 Answers 3


Can somebody with a PhD in physics become a mathematics professor? Yes. My department has (at least) four such people.

Is this common? No, not particularly. I think my department is rather unusual in that respect.

do people in academia view theoretical physicist (someone with a PhD in theoretical physics) as equivalent to someone who has a PhD in mathematics? No, as a general rule I don't think anybody will say that they're equivalent - theoretical physics is certainly very distinct from math, and most theoretical physicists will not be seriously considered for a position at most math departments. Nonetheless, some theoretical physicists publish work that is close enough to pure math, or even outright do a career change after their PhD and start publishing exclusively in math journals, to make them a good fit for a position in a math department.

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    I second this: it is extremely rare to meet a physicist (experimental, theoretical, any) with enough background and training in mathematics to be able to provide elementary proofs for elementary propositions. Commented Nov 20, 2016 at 22:50

As you said, every School is different, but generally it is not unusual that a Professor in Theoretical Physics to belong to a Mathematics school. In my limited experience, though, it is perhaps more common for these faculty members to focus on research (as Theoretical Physics is in fact a very advanced mathematics), rather than on teaching, particularly on undergraduate level.


I have definitely seen folks with PhDs in physics work as lecturers in math departments, where they typically teach things like the calculus sequence, introductory linear algebra, and Boyce & DiPrima differential equations. I think it would be much harder, today, to get a tenure track positions in a math department without a math or statistics PhD, though I can think of a few senior figures in the field whose degrees are in physics and not math.

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