The importance of science in high schools is clearer than ever as the US competes in the global technological economy and faces the challenges of developing a future STEM workforce. The university enjoys a tradition of preparing students for careers teaching high school physics, a discipline for which high schools often have difficulty finding qualified teachers. Nationally, an American Institute of Physics survey found that over 90% of physics graduates teaching in high schools report high job satisfaction. The Physics-IMAT program is an innovative, streamlined program where students begin graduate level coursework for the Masters in Teaching while they are still completing the undergraduate requirements, resulting in both the undergraduate BS and the graduate MAT degrees completed in only 5 years with teacher certification. Once certified in physics, students can become certified in other areas such as mathematics, biology, chemistry, or broad field science through certification testing. Many of the graduates from this program maintain professional contacts with our department and with classmates.
The BS Physics degree overall provides a robust, fundamental science education that can be applied effectively to nearly any career path. Graduates have extraordinary analytical, mathematical, and problem-solving skills including the ability to think abstractly and handle complex data. These skills that are developed by pursuing the physics degree are highly valued by employers. Graduates frequently choose to pursue further education in graduate level physics, engineering, or professional programs such as medical school or dental school. Physics majors are traditionally among the best prepared for professional programs as evidenced by MCAT scores higher than most other majors (second only to Economics in 2012 according to the AIP Statistical Research Center based on AAMC data). Demonstrating the broad applicability of skills, physics majors were second only to math majors in performance on the LSAT for admission to Law School (2012 Law School Admission Council data).
Physics is the study of the behavior of the world around us. It is the foundation of all other sciences with principles being essential to engineering, scientific research, healthcare, and manufacturing. Physics majors frequently become highly skilled at computer programming and some find employment opportunities in IT.
Physics graduates, like others in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) are not only in high demand by employers, but they generally command higher salaries regardless of the area of employment. A 2005 PricewaterhouseCoopers report found physics majors earn 30% more than other BS degree majors, with salary differences becoming more pronounced later in the career. A 2010 Institute of Physics survey found that 58% of physics graduates who were employed immediately after their BS degree worked in an occupation that was not related to physics, yet 79% of these employees reported that their physics background was useful to their job. From 1980-2008 the number of STEM majors in managerial positions increased 73% while the overall workforce increased by only 44%. You can usually use your physics degree to take you to a career that fits your passion.
Skills and interests suited to studying physics
Physics majors are generally very curious and are interested in learning how the world around them works. Physics majors must pursue and ultimately be comfortable with high level mathematics. In coursework, students learn to apply fundamental principles and problem-solving strategies to complex problems. While there is fundamental factual content, there is minimal use of rote memorization in course material. The department offers opportunities for students to develop teaching skills as paid tutors or supplemental instruction leaders. These experiences can assist students in determining whether they find working with others as a teacher and mentor fits their personality and provides satisfaction.
About the program
Upon completion of Calculus I, students are ready to begin the 2-semester introductory physics coursework. The advanced physics coursework is completed in the junior and senior years. Most of the advanced courses are currently offered only every other year, thus the juniors and seniors take the advanced courses together. Many majors participate in undergraduate research projects and present results at professional meeting. The physics faculty work closely with the majors to advise and mentor them through the program. The education courses include both undergraduate courses and graduate courses that are begun as early as the junior year. The final semester consists of a practicum of teaching in the high school environment.
For admission to the MAT program, faculty recommendation and interview with the College of Education IMAT program director is required