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Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of job can I get with a B.A. in physics?
What are the advantages of a physics major in competing for jobs?
Do I need a graduate level degree to get a job in research?
Do I need a graduate level degree to get a job teaching?
What is this "problem solving" skill which distinguishes physics education?
What are the job statistics for physics bachelor's recipients?
How can I pursue my interest in astronomy?
What's the difference between engineering physics and engineering?
How can I pursue my interests in both engineering and physics at the same time?
How do I reach other students in physics?
What else should I know about the Department of Physics?

What kind of job can I get with a B.A. in physics?
Because it will provide you with a broad range of job opportunities, we think physics is one of the best subjects you can study in college. An undergraduate degree in physics is not specific preparation for any job which exists today, but it may be the best preparation to enter fields which do not yet exist and to enter fields which are constantly changing. There is a list of some of Syracuse's physics graduates and the jobs they have now. You will find computer programmers, analysts, engineers, entrepeneurs, professors, lawyers, and industrial researchers on this list.

What are the advantages of a physics major in competing for jobs?
Employers value the deep understanding of fundamentals and the skillful approach to problem solving which physics majors bring. There is also a second advantage to a physics education that we expect to grow in importance as you move through your working life. Highly educated people entering the workforce in the 21st century should expect to change fields and jobs, perhaps several times. Photonics and world-wide-web technologies, which developed from physics research, were not predicted before they exploded into prominence -- and it is such rapidly changing fields which offer the best opportunities to advance your career. A physics education prepares you to exploit new opportunities by providing a strong basis in the foundations of science and technology and to deeply cultivate your problem-solving abilities.

Do I need a graduate level degree to get a job in research?
Basically, yes. Research jobs involving physics do generally require that you get a doctoral degree in physics. A degree of growing importance is the Masters, which gives one a bit more independence in the world of research, though usually not as an independent scientist. Many people with bachelors degrees do work in research labs as part of a research team, sometimes returning for graduate work. Getting a doctorate in physics takes about five more years of university education after the bachelor's degree. The good news is that nearly all students pursuing a doctorate in physics receive stipends and tuition scholarships as part of "graduate assistantships," so there is little additional cost or debt for you or your family for this further education.

Do I need a graduate level degree to get a job teaching?
The exact requirements vary from state to state, but teaching in schools (K-12) usually requires a Masters Degree in Education at some point. Many people start teaching and complete this degree, but most take about a year or two to complete their education beforehand. More states are increasing the technical requirements to teach a science and look quite favorably on those who have completed a degree in science. At this time, the demand for physics majors to teach is quite high.

What is this "problem solving" skill which distinguishes people with a background in physics?
Perhaps the main reason why students major in physics is that they have a deep interest in the subject. It is wonderful to be able to study the nature of the physical universe for four years as an undergraduate, exploring subjects such as space and time, biological physics, quantum mechanics or astronomy. However, while an intuitive feeling for physics is very valuable in many contexts, perhaps equally important to your job prospects is that a physics education is as much about learning to do physics as it is about studying the great discoveries of the past.

This aspect of a physics education is often described as "developing problem solving skills." The term "skill" is probably not the best word for what's involved here. "Problem solving skill" is not about learning calculus or how to wire up the electrical circuits for an experiment -- although you will do both of these things as a physics major. Instead, "problem solving" involves confronting problems which no one has told you how to solve -- and finding in yourself and in the resources around you some way of cracking the problem.

What are the job statistics for physics bachelor's recipients?
The most recent American Institute of Physics survey of physics bachelor's degree recipients contains the relevant job statistics For salaries and other job statistics, visit http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/emptrends.htm. In 1998, slightly over half of physics bachelor's recipients immediately enter the job market after graduating: for those who went into industrial jobs (61%), the median starting salary of these bachelors was $40,000; for those who went into high school teaching (12%), the median starting salary was $30,000; for those working for civilian government (8%), the median starting salary was $37,000. Over the 90's, starting salaries rose from 8% to 13% a year, depending on sector. Presently, about 1/3 of physics bachelor's recipients enter graduate school in physics; most of these students are interested in research and development jobs in industry or in jobs as professors at colleges and universities. About another 1/6 of physics bachelor's recipients will enter graduate school in other fields such as law, medicine, and the other sciences or engineering.

How can I pursue my interest in astronomy?
Today, astronomy and astrophysics are some of the most active and interesting fields of science. There is not a separate "astronomy major" at most universities. There are courses that focus on astronomical and astrophysical questions: the general astronomy courses (AST101 & AST104), Relativity & Cosmology (PHY312), Astrophysics (PHY317), and Astrobiology (PHY316). Other physics courses provide the important scientific background (such as mathematical methods, electromagnetism, and modern physics) that are necessary for pursuing astronomical research in graduate school or for having a strong background in the "astro" area. Research opportunities are also available in gravity wave detection and laboratory astrophysics. So if you are interested in this type of science, the SU Department of Physics can provide the courses and research opportunities for this area.

What's the difference between majoring in physics and in engineering?
There are many courses which engineering students and physics majors both take, so there is naturally some confusion about the differences between them. Basically, physics is a science and a "liberal art": it is concerned with the most fundamental aspects of the physical world and with the process of increasing our understanding of it. Engineering is professional education: it aims to train students who can enter the work force as working electrical, chemical, and mechanical engineers. Of course, many physics majors do indeed end up taking engineering jobs -- but employers understand that these students are not specifically trained for them.

How can I pursue my interests in both engineering and physics at the same time?
A combination of engineering and physics is attractive to some students. Several students at any time are pursuing degrees that combine the two fields. This combination makes sense intellectually, as much technological progress takes place and some basic questions are asked in this area of intersection. Graduating with strength in both areas also can be useful to one's career. There are at least three ways to do this (please see your advisor to complete the paperwork for one of these options):

  1. One can earn a double major by satisfying the degree requirements of one college (Arts and Sciences or Engineering and Computer Science) and satisfying two major requirements (e.g., engineering courses and physics courses.) You earn one degree with two majors.
  2. The combined degree option allows one to earn two degrees, say from two colleges. To complete this in Engineering Physics, you need to satisfy the degree requirements, including core courses and the A&S 96 credit rule, for both programs and complete 150 credits altogether.
  3. You can minor in one of the fields while completing a degree in the other.

How do I reach other students in physics?
Names and pictures of some students are posted outside of Stolkin Auditorium. Contact the Society of Physics Students here at SU. The 3rd Floor lounge in Room 377, Physics, often has a couple of students hanging out. Also meet your peers in classes: in class or out of class, people often work in groups.

What else should I know about the Department of Physics?

  • The glass case on the first floor is filled with demos and maintained by Sam Sampere.
  • Come see the pool table and undergraduate rooms on the third floor.
  • For information about research, teaching, and other opportunities, see the opportunities page.
  • Get your questions answered by visiting any faculty member or see the contact page.

Last revised April 17, 2002

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