Careers in Physics, Part II: Elective Options

Kevin Pitts

In an earlier blog post about careers in physics, I talked about the skills physics majors acquire that make them very marketable as employees in the 21st century workforce.   That post described general skills that a come with a physics education: problem solving, analytical thinking, data analysis, etc.     While I feel strongly that these skills are the backbone of a great future, it also helps to have some more specific skills that you can market.
To address the issue of “more specific skills”, we modified our curriculum a few years ago to allow students more flexibility in choosing the courses that best prepares them for the future they envision. We call these different pathways “elective options” because a student can choose which option is best for them.
For students who want to continue on to graduate school and do research in physics, we recommend the Professional Option in Engineering Physics or the Specialized Curriculum in LAS Physics.  (This previous post explains the different curricula.)  These programs allow the student to take the maximum number of physics courses and give them an education in physics that I would put up against any institution in the country.
For students who have other career ideas, they can choose a different elective option. They still have to take a set of core physics courses, but their “area of specialization” is also part of their physics major. For example, a physics major might choose “Computational Physics” as their elective option. In addition to the physics and math courses, they will take 4 or 5 courses in computer science as part of their physics degree.    A student in computational Physics would come out of school with the skills that make a physics major a strong job candidate along with some specialized computing knowledge.  
The general skills along with some level of specialized knowledge makes for a powerful resume!
Here are some examples of the elective options that we offer:
  • Astrophysics
  • Biophysics
  • Computational Physics
  • Earth Science
  • Environmental Science
  • Science Writing
  • Pre Med
  • Pre Law
  • Materials Science
  • Optical Physics
  • Physical Electronics
  • Nuclear Physics
We also offer a “custom” option, where the student can define their own set of courses. We’ve had students do custom options such as entrepreneurship, acoustics, simulation/modeling, geophysics, pre-optometry, economics, atmospheric science and biomedical engineering. 
Our goal is to provide a high quality, flexible education. Our focus is advanced physics, and all students must complete a set of advanced physics courses, but we also want to provide the opportunity for students to prepare themselves for whatever career path they choose.
The majority of our students still choose the Professional/Specialized option, but many are choosing other options, and tailoring their education to meet their needs and interests.