Undergraduate Program FAQ
What kind of Job can I get with a B.A. in physics?
Physics boils down problem solving to its essence. In this program of study, the methods of problem solving (theory, computation, and laboratory investigation) are employed to solve complicated problems that we face today. You will find computer programmers, analysts, engineers, entrepreneurs, Wall Street analysts, data scientists, professors, lawyers, and industrial researchers on this list. Prominent physics majors outside of academia include Elon Musk (CEO), Jimmy Carter (former president), Sally Ride (astronaut), Angela Merkel (German Chancellor), and Brian May (guitarist for Queen).
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. 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.
What is the "problem solving" skill which distinguishes people with a background in physics?
Physics majors learn the ability to break down complex, quantitative problems into simpler steps to be solved. These skills can be applied to any number of fields – even those you might not associate with quantitative skills. For instance, if you are a restauranteur, and you need to estimate the cost of carrots you need for your salads, soups and entrees, estimating the rate of carrot consumption for your dishes each week or month will enable you to purchase the right amount and save money doing it. Someone with a physics degree will have an easier time breaking down this difficult quantitively problem and ultimately save money running their restaurant efficiently and effectively.
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 (most recently updated in 2018). The percentage of physics bachelors who go directly to the work-force is 67%. For Physics Bachelors going into private sector STEM jobs, the median starting salary is $60,000; for private sector non-STEM, it is $48,000; for those who went into high school teaching (12%), the median starting salary was $40,000; for those working for civilian government (8%), the median starting salary was $50,000.
How can I get involved in research on campus?
The physics department is full of research-active faculty working on a variety of research subfields. See this list of research programs: https://thecollege.syr.edu/physics/research-areas/ The best way to get involved is to send an email to a professor and ask. If you do not hear back, the professor is probably just busy. Either try again, or try another research group.
How can I become a peer coach to teach other students in physics classes?
The physics department values excellent teaching, and often the best teachers are the students themselves. We have created a program, for peer coaches. To apply, email Prof. Walter Freeman: firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to the professor of the class you are interested in coaching. We have a limited number of paid coaching positions, but you can also earn credits for coaching by taking PHY399 Practicum and Seminar in Physics Education for 1-3 credits
Where do I go for physics-related career advise?
The physics department advising uses cohort advising where all students expected to graduate in a certain year are served by the same faculty who stay with you throughout your academic career. They can get to know you and offer you the best advice. You will also get to know your peers in your cohort, and they are a great source of information.
Advising information: https://thecollege.syr.edu/physics/undergraduate-overview/advising/
We have collated a lot of opportunities here: https://thecollege.syr.edu/physics/undergraduate-overview/internship-and-career-resources/
You can also talk to the College of Arts and Sciences Advising: https://thecollege.syr.edu/student-success/
Are there summer research opportunities on campus?
Many faculty do have the ability to host summer students in their research labs. We do not provide housing regularly, and instead offer an hourly rate that depends on the faculty member. Please reach out to the faculty early in the year (around February) to inquire about summer research opportunities in their research group including the expectations, pay rate, and ability to help with housing.
What is a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU), and how do I get one?
The National Science Foundation funds summer research opportunities for undergraduates called Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU). A summer on campus may be an REU, or there are many opportunities available off campus as well. Applications for REUs are typically due between January and March. There is a list of current REUs here: https://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/
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. At Syracuse University, there are courses that focus on astronomical and astrophysical questions: the general astronomy courses (AST101 & AST104), Relativity & Cosmology (PHY312), Astrophysics (PHY317). 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. See the bottom of the page for the Physics BA for an example track focused on astronomy and astrophysics: https://thecollege.syr.edu/degree-programs/physics-bachelor-arts/
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 both a science and a "liberal art": it is concerned with fundamental aspects of the physical world, the process of increasing our understanding of it, and of creating devices that aid in our exploration. Engineering is more vocational: it aims to train students who can enter the work force as working electrical, chemical, and mechanical engineers. Many physics majors are hired into engineering firms directly from undergraduate because of their general problem-solving skill set. Engineers often learn specific programs, techniques, and equipment skills, but physicists are seen as generalists. The physics majors who have gone to engineering report being given the most interesting and challenging problems in the field - the problems where they need to invent new ways of thinking, approaching, and designing the solutions.
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. The following are examples of different options that students pursue. Working with an academic advisor in physics at S.U., students can decide what is the best option for them. 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.) In this way you earn one degree with two majors.
The dual degree option allows one to earn two degrees from the two colleges. For engineering and physics, you need to satisfy the degree requirements, including core courses, for both programs.
You can also minor in one of the fields while completing a degree in the other. Information on the physics minor is here: https://thecollege.syr.edu/degree-programs/physics-minor/
How do I reach other students in physics?
The physics department has an undergraduate lounge located in Room 206B. Physics majors hang out there regularly and any physics major can get the key code to access the room. There is also a Society of Physics Students (SPS) student organization that you can join.
Study Abroad for Physics Majors
Study abroad is a great opportunity for students, and can be combined with majoring in physics in several ways.
- The first option is the Discovery Program at Syracuse. With this program, you go abroad for your first, fall semester after enrolling at Syracuse. You spend the second, spring semester at the main campus in Syracuse. There are many SU sites abroad. At most sites you'll be taking liberal arts courses instead of the specific courses that are required for the B.A. or B.S. degrees. The site in Madrid, Spain does offer a calculus course, MAT 295, which satisfies a requirement for physics majors.
- A second option available to physics majors is the fall semester engineering program at the Strasbourg, France site. It is designed for students in their third semester and is offered through the College of Engineering and Computer Science. This program assumes that a student will have taken MAT 295 in the first semester at Syracuse, and MAT 296 and PHY 211 in the second semester. The Strasbourg site offers two courses that are taken next by many physics and engineering majors: PHY 212 and MAT 397. There are also some other courses offered that are tailored more specifically for engineering students. These could be a good option for some physics students as well.
- With some careful planning, a third option is to go abroad for one of the semesters of your third year. You'd plan to take some more advanced courses that satisfy liberal arts core requirements. The specific advanced physics and math courses required for the B.A. or B.S. degrees will probably not be available abroad.
Your home college academic advisors are happy to help you develop a plan for your study which incorporates a semester abroad. To find the contact information for your specific advisors, review your “Success Network” page within Orange SUccess.
If you have declared a physics major, you should also discuss your plans for study abroad with your physics faculty advisor.
What else should I know about the Department of Physics?
We are working on building our positive community culture, and you are a major part of that! If there are questions, comments, concerns, or problems in the department, please let us know at this anonymous feedback form: https://syracuseuniversity.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_9pORpTKnq6pLeyF