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Undergraduate Physics at The Ohio State University

Undergrad Home | Handbook | Courses | Advising | Scholarships & Awards | Graduation Info | Student Organizations | Research | Transfer Credit

Why Major in Physics?

About Being a Physics Major: Is physics the right major for you? That's an individual issue, and only you can judge, but this section provides some information that may help you with that decision.

It's certainly true that physics is one of the most rigorous and mathematical of the sciences or of the fields of engineering, and in that sense it is a difficult major. So one initial question to ask yourself is whether you have a particular aptitude for math and science. Beyond that, ask yourself these questions

  • Are you more interested in the questions of "why" and "how" things work than you are with simply making devices that work?
  • Are you intrigued with finding precise mathematical relationships that describe observable features of nature, and finding general statements that apply in a wide variety of different circumstances?
  • Do you enjoy tinkering with things, such as cars or electronics, or have you been involved with math or science projects, computers, or similar activities beyond what was required in school?
  • Do you enjoy explaining things to others?
  • Do you want to work on the most sophisticated frontiers of technology?

If you've answered "Yes" to some or all of these questions, then there's a good chance that you could succeed in physics. The next issue to consider is your career goals.

With a B.S. or M.S. degree, you are more likely to be employed in design and development, teaching, or administration than in research. In design or development, you might expect to work in an industry or government agency setting and work closely with engineers. In fact, many industry employers don't make a major distinction between physicists and engineers at the B.S. level, and you might very well find yourself doing the same sort of work activity as others with engineering degrees. The advantages of a physics degree are twofold: it increases your chances of employment in a "high-tech" field, where B.S. engineers are sometimes less qualified, and it makes you a more flexible and versatile employee, due to your broader training in math and science. If your interests are in teaching, a B.S. qualifies you to teach at the high school level, after some education courses needed for certification, and at some two-year colleges. As for administration, physicists and others with technical training are often in demand in industry and government, although many positions will require some field experience first.

A Ph.D. degree qualifies you to become a research scientist, either in an industry or government laboratory or as a professor in a university, college, or community college. Research scientists are expected to have a high level of personal initiative and responsibility for their work. They are often involved in administration of laboratories, and many, particularly university faculty, spend a portion of their time teaching. A research career requires typically five to six years of graduate school, often followed by two or more years of postdoctoral research appointments, before a permanent job is sought. This is not a career to be undertaken lightly, but the Physics Department will offer every possible opportunity and encouragement to those who choose to pursue this goal.

Finally, you must make an honest self-assessment of your prospects for success in physics. Although not foolproof, your high school ACT and SAT scores and your grades in introductory physics and calculus are good indicators of your chances for success in physics. In particular, if you receive any grade below a B in Physics 131-132-133 or H131-H132-H133, you should consult with the Vice Chair for Undergraduate Studies before undertaking the physics major.

Degree Options: There are two options for undergraduate degrees in physics at Ohio State, one in the College of the Arts and Sciences and one in the College of Engineering.

B.S. in Physics is the degree for Arts and Sciences students. It is divided into 6 options designed to allow maximum flexibility for students interested in physics as a career, at either the B.S. or Ph.D level, or those who wish to pursue physics training for careers in other areas, such as medicine or law. (Note that a B.A. is also offered, but it differs very little from Option F of the B.S. degree. Students interested in the B.A. should contact the Vice Chair for Undergraduate Studies for more information.)

B.S. in Engineering Physics: The B.S. in Engineering Physics is the only degree option for students in Engineering. Its physics and math requirements are very similar to those of the B.S. Option 1. The College of Engineering requires certain core courses as well. In addition, this program requires a coherent set of technical electives in a field of engineering. In effect, this provides a major in physics with a minor in engineering.

Physics or Engineering Physics? Since their physics and math requirements are almost identical, it is reasonable to question which to follow. The engineering training in Engineering Physics increases a student's qualifications for employment, but the technical elective program leaves little time for taking physics or math electives beyond the required courses. The B.S. in Physics allows more free time for electives, and students pursuing this option can better prepare for graduate school with additional courses. However, it is important to note that either choice of major leaves all future options open. Many B. S. graduates elect to seek employment after the B.S. and are successful at finding jobs. Engineering Physics graduates can, and do, decide to go to graduate school in physics, although they may have to take some senior level courses when they get there. In addition, they have the option of graduate school in engineering. In summary, the choice of degrees is a personal one, and neither choice will foreclose future options. The recommendations given here should be viewed as guidelines only.




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