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Career Guide to JMU Majors

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Career Guide to JMU Majors: Physics

Career Guide to JMU Majors

The Major

Who Succeeds

Careers

Internships

Learn More


The Major

The Physics major is offered by the Department of Physics and Astronomy within the College of Science & Mathematics.

Options:
Applied Physics
Fundamental Studies
Individual Option
Multidisciplinary(Tracks in Business, Technical and Scientific Communication, Biophysics, Geophysics, Secondary Education)
Physics and Engineering Combined Program
Physics and Philosophy

Admission and Progression Standards:
Visit the Major Snapshots site to learn more about the admission and progression standards of this major.

Description of Major

Physics is offered as a major and minor at JMU. The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers a multi-track program of study leading to a Bachelors Degree that allows each student the flexibility to choose a suitable set of courses for their chosen career goal. The Applied Physics Option is designed to prepare students for careers in a wide variety of scientific areas including laboratory and industrial settings. Students in this concentration will select options which include Computational Physics, Materials Physics, and Electronics & Instrumentation. The Combined Physics/Engineering Option (wUVA) is a dual degree program which makes it possible for a student to earn a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics from James Madison University and a Master of Engineering Degree from the University of Virginia in five years. The engineering areas available under this program include Biomedical, Environmental, Transportation, Materials Science, Systems Engineering, and Engineering Physics. The Fundamental Studies Option is designed to prepare students for immediate post baccalaureate employment or for entrance to graduate study in physics or related fields. The Multidisciplinary Concentration offers tracks that combine physics with other fields to prepare students for a wide variety of career possibilities. The Biophysics track prepares students for medical school or for pursuing a career in biophysics. The Secondary Education track is designed for prospective high school teachers. The Business track combines physics and business for those interested in working in the growing high-tech industry or wish to entrepreneurs. The Technical and Scientific Communication track combines a love of writing and physics to prepare you for a career as a science or technical writer. The Geophysics track opens doors to the application of physics to the study of the earth and other planets. Finally, the Individual Option is a course of studies chosen specifically to match the interest and career plans of the student.  This option will allow custom designed interdisciplinary majors such as geophysics, and chemical physics. The minimum departmental requirement for the B.S. degree in Physics is completion of 40 credit hours of core courses (Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics) and 25-31 hours of Physics or other courses as specified by the program concentration selected by the student. In addition to the programs listed above, the department also offers an Astronomy  and a Physics minor.

The Bachelor of the Arts degree in Physics offers two concentrations. The Physics and Philosophy Concentration combines physics and philosophy to providing an excellent foundation for the study of the philosophy of science. There is also an  Individual Option in the BA to permit the joining of physics with history, the arts, or other fields in the humanities. The minimum departmental requirement for the BA degree in Physics is the completion of 40 credit hours of core courses and 25-38 hours as specified by the chosen concentration.

Tell me more about this field of study

The science of Physics seeks to understand how the world works, in every detail and at the deepest level. This includes everything from elementary particles, to nuclei, atoms, molecules, macromolecules, living cells, solids, liquids, gases, plasmas, living organisms, the human brain, complex systems, supercomputers, the atmosphere, planets, stars, galaxies, and the universe itself. It is a fundamental science that contributes to solving diverse problems in such fields as acoustics, astronomy, biotechnology, chemistry, communications, energy, engineering, environmental science, forensics, medicine, nuclear science, space science, technology, and visual imaging.

More information about Physics and Astronomy at JMU can be found in the Physics & Astronomy student handbook and Who We Are page.

Tell me more about specialization

Applied physics (or engineering physics) systematically employs physical principles and phenomena in the solution of practical problems. Within "pure" physics, some of the specialties are atomic and molecular physics, physics of condensed matter (solids and liquids), plasma physics, nuclear and particle physics, and optical physics (lasers and such). In each of these (and other) sub-fields of physics, most workers either concentrate on experimental work (and are known as "experimentalists") or on analysis and interpretation of data (and are known as "theorists"). Most physicists are employed by educational institutions, industrial firms, government laboratories, or federally funded research and development centers. Vocations in physics fall into four major categories:

  • Research: Basic research has as its goal the understanding of physical phenomena without a specific application in mind. Applied research leads to the solution of problems of national importance or of significant commercial value.
  • Development and Design: Work in this area utilizes both basic and applied research to improve existing products, processes and instruments, and to develop new ones.
  • Teaching: Many physicists are employed in academic institutions, including instructors at the high school, community college, college, and university levels. In the latter, research and teaching are often combined.
  • Management and Other Areas: Physicists can be found in a wide variety of areas such as research administration, university administration, science reporting, technical management and marketing, and in such fields as metallurgy, electronics, food processing and packaging, health and radiation safety, pollution control, computer technology, financial services and a broad and continually expanding array of other possibilities.

Common majors or minors that complement this major

Many Physics graduates frequently complete majors or minors in Computer Science or Mathematics. Once the mathematics required for the major is taken, at most one more math course is required to obtain a math minor. Astronomy is another popular minor since there is also much overlap with the physics major. A minor in Material Science is popular with many Chemistry and Physics students. Chemistry and Math are two of the more popular fields chosen as second majors. Occasionally students choose Geology. Although it is not as frequent, combinations of Physics with Art (Graphic Design, Interior Design, Industrial Design), English, Environmental Studies, Environmental Information Systems, Geographic Sciences, Integrated Science and Technology, Modern Foreign Languages, Political Science, Secondary Education, Telecommunications, or Urban and Regional Studies would be attractive to employers.


Characteristics of Successful Students

Naturally, success in our program comes more easily to those students with the stronger verbal and analytical abilities. Of the two, analytical ability is somewhat more important. However, as in most of the university's programs, dedication and perseverance are also very important ingredients for success.


Careers

Many graduates choose typical career paths associated with this major. However, some graduates choose unrelated careers that utilize skills and experiences developed during their years in college. Keep in mind, that some fields will require graduate study or further training. The listing below offers examples of possible career paths and is not meant to be comprehensive.

  • Acoustical Engineer
  • Acoustical Physicist
  • Air Traffic Control Specialist
  • Astronomer
  • Astrophysicist
  • Automotive Engineer
  • Computer Programmer
  • Cryogenics Specialists
  • Design Engineer
  • Engineering Consultant
  • Environmental Analyst
  • Environmental Health Specialist
  • Forensic Scientist
  • Geologist
  • Geophysicist
  • Health Physicist
  • Instrumentation Technician
  • Laboratory Manager
  • Materials Scientist
  • Mechanical Engineer
  • Metallurgist
  • Meteorologist
  • MIS Consultant
  • Nuclear Medicine Technologist
  • Nuclear Physicist
  • Occupational Safety Specialist
  • Oceanographer
  • Photo-Optics Technician
  • Physicist
  • Quality Control Manager
  • Research & Development
  • Research Assistant
  • Science Museum Curator
  • Scientific Photographer
  • Semi-Conductor Process Engineer
  • Software Engineer
  • Stress Analyst
  • Systems Analyst
  • Teacher/ Professor
  • Technical Consultant
  • Technical Salesperson
  • Technical Writer
  • Test Engineer

Who employs graduates?

Aeronautic Firms, Airports, Colleges and Universities, Computer Service & Software Firms, Consulting Firms, Electric Companies, Energy Systems Firms, Engineering Firms, Environmental Protection Agencies, Federal Contractors, Federal, State and Local Governments, such as NASA, Industrial Production, Inspection Agencies, Mining & Petroleum Firms, Pharmaceutical & Medical Research Companies, Research & Development Laboratories, Telecommunication Companies and Waste Management Firms.


Internships and Practicum Experiences

In addition to the independent research opportunities available within the department that provide experiences working with JMU faculty both on- and off-campus, occasionally students and faculty are able to identify appropriate internship experiences off campus for research and development work with another institution (university, national laboratory, etc.) for academic credit. During the summers (especially after the sophomore and junior years), those students who systematically seek Physics related summer jobs are usually successful. The department can provide some assistance with such searches, but the key to success is student initiative and an early start.


Learn More

What are JMU graduates doing with this major? 
A Day in the Life of a Physicist
AIP Careers Using Physics
AIP Physicists at Work
Careers for Physicists
Careers Using Physics
Medical Physicists
Physics as a Career Choice
Physicists
Physicists and Astronomers(OOH)

A broad range of resources on career fields, internships, and job search information is also available in the Career & Academic Planning Resource Center.

Make an appointment with a CAP career counselor to learn more about this major and your career options.

A few titles from our Resource Center related to this field include:


© Career & Academic Planning, James Madison University, 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without permission from JMU Career & Academic Planning. Content for each major has been written/reviewed by faculty in the respective department and is revised each year. Requests to update content can be submitted to the Career Guide editor, Nina Stensby-Hurst.