CM’s Guide to the Physics Major

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Physics explores the forces that affect every aspect of human activity, from a foot sinking into sand to the sun’s endless white-hot burn in a pale-blue sky. It takes life’s fundamental mysteries and attempts to uncover the secrets buried beneath them. Studying matter, energy and the interaction between the two, physics speaks to the scientific miracles we witness daily. For those who want to engross themselves in a science that spans across galaxies and sub-atomic particles, majoring in physics is for you.

What You’ll Be Doing

Because physics deals with all types of matter, classes included in undergraduate programs vary significantly. Nuclear physics, geophysics and astrophysics all function independently of each other and thus require separate curriculums. Before narrowing your niche, some basic science and math classes are required. “In my final year of classes, I took electricity and magnetism, optics, mechanics, quantum mechanics, observational astrophysics, three separate advanced lab courses, a mathematical methods in physics course and a senior survey course on science in culture,” said University of Colorado alumnus Dr. Evan Smith, a researcher at the Ohio Air Force Laboratory. These classes prod students not just to learn, but also generate new knowledge.

Upsides

1. “The best I can explain majoring in physics is to describe it as a crash course in everything science related. So with that being said, it has made me extremely adaptable to learning new things on the fly.” – Dr. Josh Webster, Florida State University, Interim High School Physics Teacher

2. “There’s no way that the major can’t prepare you for a future job. It’s not one of those majors where the knowledge is subjective and can be determined by the professor; the exact and precise science of physics will be applicable to anything and everything you do post-college. You’re really qualified for almost any career.” –Dr. Ron Weiss, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Post-Doctoral Research in Plasma Physics

3. “If your teachers are engaged and excited to teach you the material, you’ll want to go to class more than you’ll want to sleep in. You either love physics or you hate it; and chances are, if you love it, you’ll spend every day psyched to learn new information about how the world works.” -Dr. Evan Smith, University of Colorado, Researcher at Ohio Air Force Laboratory

Downsides

1. “The thing to consider about the physics major is whether you’ll be taking classes at a large university or not. Being at a liberal arts school, I had less opportunities for research than had I gone to a larger school with a robust graduate program.” – Dr. Evan Smith, University of Colorado, Researcher at Ohio Air Force Laboratory

2. “The problem with the physics major at the undergraduate level comes from the depth of knowledge you’re required to have to be successful, and not just what is required to fulfill graduation requirements. Sometimes you’re required to learn and use various mathematical techniques that aren’t taught in any of the prerequisite math courses. So as a physics major, you’re urged to take extra math courses that aren’t required, but are very helpful to solving problems.” – Dr. Josh Webster, Florida State University, Interim High School Physics Teacher

3. “You may find it hard to narrow your specialty while taking classes. Because my physics program was such a broad, general curriculum, I was never inspired one way or another to go into a particular physics field and ended up feeling clueless after I received my degree. After a few internships and research opportunities, I was on my feet again, but that’s something to think about while you’re finishing the major, not after.” -Dr. Ron Weiss, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Post-Doctoral Research in Plasma Physics

Career Opportunities

1. Geophysicist

As a geophysicist, you’ll delve into earth’s darkest mysteries and explore for oil, gas and minerals during site investigations. Chances are, you might even be employed at archaeological excavations to locate buried historical remains.

2. Nuclear physicist

Yes, you can actually become one of these. Nuclear physicists study particles in an atom’s nucleus, working mostly in research for the electronics, aerospace, communications, energy and healthcare industries, as well as in research laboratories and government agencies.

3. Meteorologist

Put on your best weatherman voice, because as a meteorologist you’ll research information about atmospheric conditions like temperature and pressure and how they create weather and climate.

4. Higher Education Lecturer

Should you want to pass on your hard-earned knowledge to impressionable youths, these lecturers teach academic and vocational subjects to undergraduate and graduate students at univerisities.

5. Seismic Interpreter

Seismic interpreters combine the use of 2-D, 3-D and 4-D models with their geological knowledge to calculate the depth and outline of underground formations in order to estimate mineral or carbon deposits. Energy or mineral extraction companies use this data to make informed environmental assesments or analyze geological research depending on the work setting.

Student, musician, and writer who loves binge-watching shows on the Food Network and reading any and every book she can get her hands on. Senior at Florida State University studying Editing, Writing, and Media.

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