Questions and Answers

In September and October 2019 we put a pair of surveys into the field. They helped us understand where graduating physics majors land and what components of a professional master's program might interest them. The survey was completed by 669 undergraduates at 107 different schools and included a free response field in which participants could ask questions. From the survey, we learned about the level of interest in a project-based program in contrast to a classroom-focused experience. We also learned more about how the students approached career planning.  We have designed the M. Eng. program based on what we learned from the surveys.

Since 2019 the program has been completely defined and is now open for applications.  You can find the answers to many of your questions about applying to the program, the program curriculum, and project opportunities on the program website.

Answers to top questions
  • What is Instrumentation and Applied Physics?

    The Illinois professional master's in Instrumentation and Applied Physics is a two-semester project-based program. Through a mix of laboratory, classroom, and field work we will teach you to take a collaborative project from conception and design through planning, prototyping, calibration, analysis and documentation.

    A typical project will comprise a suite of sensors [instrumentation] managed by a microcontroller that transmits data over a radio link to a base station. Sensors might include non-contact infrared thermometers, barometric pressure transducers, or volatile organic compound detectors [applied physics].

  • In what ways will this degree improve my project management and leadership skills?

    The Illinois professional master's degree will hone your skills in circuit design and fabrication, mechanical engineering and rapid prototyping, embedded systems design, project planning, data analysis, and reporting and documenting the progress and conclusions of your project. In our program you will carry out a real-world project in a small collaboration with a few other students and will bring a project from conception through design, implementation, execution, analysis, and documentation.  

  • What career opportunities are available for someone with a masters? (show/hide answer)

    There are plenty. Perhaps a start would be to look at the website of the American Institute of Physics or the American Physical Society. Encouraging: recent data (AIP 2016-2018) indicate that starting salaries tend to be about $10k higher for new master's degree recipients than for bachelor's-only hires. The impression is that the students holding a masters of engineering degree tend to be promoted more rapidly into positions of greater responsibility.

    Four-fifths of exiting physics masters were employed in a STEM field, with the most commonly reported field being physics or astronomy, followed closely by engineering. About 15% of physics masters indicated that they were working in computer science. Education accounted for about 14% of employed physics masters. Six percent of respondents were working in a non-STEM field, with the most common non-STEM field being finance. https://www.aip.org/statistics/reports/physics-masters-one-year-after-degree-161718.

  • Are GRE scores required as part of my application?

    No

  • Who do I contact if I have additional questions?

    Please send an email to physics-meng@illinois.edu.

VA and ROTC 
About the curriculum
  • How unique is this program?
    We are offering one of the very few that is this strongly focused on project work. We are excited to see how it evolves!
  • How would the machine learning and artificial intelligence be incorporated into this program? In other words, would students be trained on how to use existing AI or trained to design them for future use?

    You will understand the basics of it well enough to be comfortable taking on projects which might need new algorithms to be developed for specific projects. You will be able to use some of the tools that might already exist, but also become bold enough to consider writing your own code. Take a look at the syllabus on the website for Physics 503—we anticipate it will be a very cool course.

  • I'm interested in going into Quantum Computing in the future. Does this school have an operational Quantum Computer? 
    We don't have a quantum computer on campus at the present time. But there's a lot happening a few years down the line: interdisciplinary quantum computing and quantum science programs are currently being discussed.
  • In what ways do such machine learning/related courses differ from your computer science program? Might such learning be specifically specialized for the field of physics?
    Our program will focus on analyses of data from field-deployed instruments.
  • Is the program more suitable for students who know that they want to work in a specific industry, or students who does not yet have such specific interest?
    Both are fine, but we will want you to develop a sense of a possible professional direction during the first semester.
  • Is this program a good possibility for someone who wants to pursue particle accelerator design but not a PhD?
    Yes, for sure.
  • What computer-aided design (CAD) or computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) projects are you planning?
    That depends on the needs of your project and what facilities are available on campus at the time the program starts. There might be some computer numerical control (CNC) machining, 3D printing, printed circuit board (PCB) fabrication...we've got lots of 3D printers!
  • Would the program have concentrations and tracks ( for e.g. biophysics? )
    We will offer "graduate certificates" in a number of sub-fields. These would be additional credentials awarded on top of the master's degree.
  • Are there any industry specialties within the idea of instrumentation?

    The specifics of industry focus on instrumentation will depend on who becomes a partner with UIUC.

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