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Physics Frequently Asked Questions


 What careers do physics majors have after graduating?

Our students move on to a wide variety of careers. As a physics major you learn to solve problems using reductive reason so complex systems are a physicist’s forte. Any technical company that values this kind of problem solving will welcome a physicist. Our graduates have gone on to careers in robotics, data analysis and data science, all fields of engineering, health physics, and computation. Many of our graduates are choosing to pursue careers in education and we regularly have graduates taking jobs as high school teachers. And some go on to medical school or law school to pursue careers as doctors or lawyers, particularly in patent law.

 If I get a physics degree, will I have to go on to grad school to get a job?

No, there are companies that hire graduates with just a bachelor’s degree in physics every year. In many cases, those companies will help you if you do later on decide to get a master’s degree in the field related to your occupation. But the students who do plan to go straight to graduate school are well prepared and get into competitive graduate programs in physics, engineering, and astronomy. About a third of our graduates go straight to graduate school, a third go into industry and then go to graduate school later, and a third go to industry and have successful careers without ever earning a higher degree.

 How much math should I take as a physics major?

A strong math background is critical to success in the physics major. It is very helpful if you have had calculus when you enter our program but not absolutely necessary. As a major, you will be expected to take several math classes. In fact, as a physics major you will earn a minor in math just by taking these courses. Some of our students decide to go the extra step and take a few more classes to earn a dual major in physics and math.

 Why are there different tracks in the physics major?

There are different goals for each physics major and we have tried to design our curriculum to match that fact. For students who know they want to go on to graduate studies, we offer our Fundamental Studies track which is the traditional physics major done at most schools in the US. But for those who want to go to industrial or other jobs, the Applied Physics track might be more appropriate. There is also a track designed for students who plan to go into secondary education and therefore need to earn licensure to be teachers. And finally, we have an Individual Option track that allows students to design their own pathway in consultation with their advisor.

 How do I get involved in undergraduate research?

Simply by asking. When you get to JMU, don’t be at all afraid to knock on faculty doors and ask about their current research program. The faculty in the department currently have well over a million dollars of external grant funding to support their work so there is even a change you will be able to work as a research assistant over the summer at some point in your career.

 What resources do I have if I need help in physics?

Your best resource is always the professors who teach your classes. JMU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy is very focused on undergraduate teaching and all faculty members will have times when you can meet with them and ask them to explain what you don’t understand or help you make decisions about your future. Don’t be afraid to ask them! But there is also another great resource for any physics major-- the other majors in the program. They are never afraid to share their experiences as they’ve gone through the program. Finally, the university offers program to support student success such as the Science and Math Learning Center (SMLC) where students can get free help in introductory level classes in science and math.

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