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Department of Physics

FAQs for Undergraduate Study in Physics


  1. What can you do with a Bachelor's degree in physics?

  2. What can you do with a Master's degree or a Ph.D. degree in physics?

  3. What is the difference between a BA and a BS degree in physics?

  4. What should I do if I want to teach high school physics?

  5. How much high school math would I need to take physics in college?

  6. Would you recommend placing out of a math or physics course if I score well on the AP tests?

  7. Is it possible to get a double major in physics with math or with engineering?

  8. What's the difference between "physical oceanography" and just "oceanography"?

  9. Are there opportunities for summer internships in physics?

  10. What is the honors sequence in physics?

  11. Where can I get more information on a physics degree program?

1. What can you do with a Bachelor's degree in physics?

Among the many options are careers in teaching high school physics, research and development in private industry, research in government labs, medical imaging, scientific book publishing, and scientific reporting. A bachelor's degree in physics is also an excellent preparation for admission to many different graduate and professional schools. Take a look at the Physics Education & Employment Data for Bachelors Degree compiled by the American Institute of Physics.

2. What can you do with a Master's degree or a Ph.D. degree in physics?

In addition to the options mentioned above, there are careers in teaching college or university level physics, higher-level positions in basic and applied research in private industry or in government labs, biomedical research. There are even careers in the financial industry that require modeling skills that are a natural part of graduate study in physics. Take a look at the Physics Education & Employment Data for Masters Degree and for Ph.D. Degree compiled by the American Institute of Physics.

3. What is the difference between a BA and a BS degree in physics?

The BS degree includes a few more advanced physics courses as well as a year-long senior research project. It is the preferred degree for application to graduate schools in physics. Students who have a broad range of interests and career options not limited to science may prefer to pursue a BA degree.

4. What should I do if I want to teach high school physics?

In Rhode Island and many other states, certification as a high school physics teacher requires a degree in education and a BA degree in physics. URI offers a double major consisting of a BA degree each in physics and education. To teach physics at a private school, a BA or BS degree in physics is generally sufficient.

5. How much high school math would I need to take physics in college?

It is not necessary to have taken calculus in high school but you should have a solid background in algebra and trigonometry. To start taking physics in your first college semester, you need to be adequately prepared to take at least the first semester of calculus simultaneously.

6. Would you recommend placing out of a math or physics course if I score well on the AP tests?

A high score in the AP math exam would certainly qualify you to skip one semester of calculus and possibly two. We generally recommend starting your first college semester no higher than with Calculus 2 (MTH142 at URI). If you intend to pursue a physics degree, we recommend that you not skip any physics course even if you have the qualifications. Instead, we recommend that you take the honors sequence during the first three semesters, which offers enriched learning with many additional interactive features and small classes.

7. Is it possible to get a double major in physics with math or with engineering?

Many physics students double major in math and physics; not too many additional math courses are required above those necessary for the BS degree in physics. We have recently established a dual degree in physics with either electrical engineering or mechanical engineering.

8. What's the difference between "physical oceanography" and just "oceanography"?

Oceanography is more general, encompassing many types of studies of the ocean including the chemistry and biology of the ocean as well as the physics. Physical oceanographers gather, analyze, and model data concerned with the physical processes and aspects of the ocean such as the role of oceans in global climate change, El Nino, the influence of the ocean on tropical cyclones, deep ocean circulation, and geophysical turbulence and mixing.

9. Are there opportunities for summer internships in physics?

Nowadays, there are a great many wonderful opportunities for summer internships in physics in a variety of settings at many locations around the country. Almost all will provide a summer stipend and many include living accommodations as well.

10. What is the honors sequence in physics?

For well-prepared and motivated physics students (both majors and non-majors) we offer a 3-semester honors sequence featuring small classes, enriched learning with advanced applications of course materials, and interesting and challenging projects and assignments.

11. Where can I get more information on a physics degree program?

Contact the Undergraduate Program Director, Professor Heskett.