What is Physics?
The goal of physics is to understand matter, energy, and their interactions at the fundamental level. Physicists learn the underlying mechanisms and laws and we develop the principles that support applications. The principles of physics underlie the physical sciences in general, and they also have extensive influence on engineering and the biological sciences. Physics is a continually evolving science, with interdisciplinary aspects that shift as new technology and new ideas bring new fields and new possibilities to light. Sub-fields of physics that are especially active at UMass include biophysics, condensed matter physics, quantum matter and quantum information, soft-matter, particle physics, gravity, low-temperature physics, nanoscience, and nuclear physics. In each field, participants may specialize in carrying out experiments or developing theories. Although it is traditional for physicists to identify as "experimentalists" or "theorists," the boundaries can be blurry and undergraduates are trained for both.
Why Major in Physics?
Physics majors learn skills that can be applied over a wide range of disciplines in a range of settings including companies, schools and universities, and national labs. We offer a variety of courses in three different tracks. Our curriculum covers the fundamentals of physics as well as skills-oriented classes: writing, presenting, programming, data analysis, and experimental design. Aside from a rigorous training in these skills and fundamental topics, our majors receive excellent training in critical thinking, model development, and quantitative analysis. For several years, UMass has been asking graduates for their assessment of the knowledge and skills that they learned. Physics majors score our program very highly in "thinking critically and analytically," "Solving complex problems," and "Analyzing Numerical and Statistical Information."
These skills are highly valued by employers in many fields, which explains why physics majors find good jobs in a wide variety of settings: research, finance, insurance, government, and schools. Approximately half of our graduating majors work for a private company or a national lab doing fundamental research, applied research, technology development, data analysis, or other technical activities. Between half and a third of graduating majors enter a graduate program, most often for a PhD. The PhD takes 5-6 years; students are paid a stipend during this time (and do not pay tuition) and work as professional scientists in training. Other graduates teach in high schools or middle schools, work as writers, earn law or medical degrees, and do a variety of other things.
During your time at UMass, we encourage you to join our faculty in research, teaching, and outreach. The majority of our majors do this. Most faculty members are engaged in experimental or theoretical research and engage with the public or with K-12 students. Excellent facilities and federal research funds make undergraduate research opportunities widely available through independent study, honors research, or summer employment. This is fantastic training.
Choose among Three Major Tracks or a Minor
If you are considering a major or minor in physics, please look at this overview of our program. For further details, take a look at the Physics Majors handbook. This Handbook is your definitive source of information about the options and requirements for pursuing a bachelor's degree in physics. It includes information about honors degrees and the physics minor. It also contains checklists of requirements for the three degree tracks, which you can also find directly here. For majors who entered before Fall 2023: P-track, A-track, and G-track and for majors who entered Fall 2023 or later: P-track, A-track, and G-track. For current students, we suggest copying these to your drive and filling them out when meeting with your advisor.
You can declare a physics major or minor or set up a meeting with the Undergraduate Program Director, available by email at email@example.com, to discuss this further.
Every student in Physics is assigned a faculty member who will be their academic advisor until graduation. Departmental advisors are charged with helping majors (and potential majors) with career planning, program requirements, curriculum scheduling, independent study projects, and whatever else is on the student's mind. Here are the people to contact for advising.
Opportunities for Physics majors
Students can find many opportunities to get into research, get into teaching, and find internships. Many physics related science clubs and programs may be of interest to majors; these are listed under Related Programs and Organizations in the right sidebar.