New professional master's degree program focuses on technical training in applied physics and instrumentation
9/15/2022 6:00:00 AM
Recognized around the world for its long history of groundbreaking fundamental research programs and results-driven physics education pedagogies and tools, the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is now joining in a trend across higher education, by offering a new Professional Master’s in Engineering (M.Eng.) in Applied Physics and Instrumentation.
The increasing popularity of M.Eng. degree programs—built on a relatively new model for graduate-level training tailored to applied research and development (R&D)—comes in response to an increasing demand in the technology sector for master’s level scientists, including physicists, over the past several decades.
The residential two-semester program developed by faculty at Illinois Physics will focus on applied physics and instrumentation. Students enrolled in the new M.Eng. program will strengthen their skills by working in small groups on year-long collaborative projects. Applications open September 15, 2022, and the inaugural class will convene in Fall 2023.
Illinois Physics Professor George Gollin is the director of the new M.Eng. program. Gollin says, “This program will fast-track careers in R&D, preparing our graduates to hold leadership roles in the private sector. At the same time, it will benefit targeted economic-growth industries in the State of Illinois (and elsewhere) by providing a workforce well trained in physics instrumentation R&D, project management, and innovative higher-order problem solving. This new program is designed to meet a real-world need.”
Gollin says graduates of the new applied physics and instrumentation M.Eng. program will leave with skills in circuit design and fabrication, mechanical engineering, rapid prototyping, systems design, project planning, data analysis, and generating progress reports and documentation.
“The potential project types and ultimately the potential career paths of our graduates are as broad as the industries that use Instrumentation based on applied physics,” notes Gollin. “This includes agriculture, medicine, manufacturing, transportation, environmental monitoring, acoustics, aviation, sports, and so much more.”
Statistics reported by the American Institute of Physics show an average starting salary bump of about $10K for employees entering the workforce with a master’s degree in physics, over those who enter with only a bachelor’s degree in physics.
“We know that within a year of earning a master’s degree in physics, 93 percent of graduates are employed, with a median starting salary of $70k,” says Gollin. “We also know job satisfaction is higher, because these graduates enter the workforce ready to lead challenging projects that draw on both their technological skills and their so-called ‘soft’ skills—effectively interacting with clients and collaborating with team members in the corporate research environment.”
Gollin says the new program, which can be completed in one academic year, is unique in the field of professional master’s degrees in physics.
“We’ve developed our program with input from a broad community, including corporate partners, undergraduate students seeking a career in the tech industry, and alumni working in the technology sector. We started with a pilot program—a project-based upper division applied physics and instrumentation undergraduate course—that allowed us to grow our community and work out an effective training model.
“The M.Eng. program we have developed will uniquely prepare our students to enter the workforce in leadership roles, within the industry of their choosing. This opportunity is for anyone having a physics bachelor’s degree, or a related degree with a minor in physics.”
All students enrolled in the new M.Eng. program in applied physics and instrumentation will complete an original R&D project developed in collaboration with an industry partner or based on their own inspiration and interests.
“Some students might even graduate our program with a concept and prototype that is ready to take to market,” adds Gollin.
The intensive, immersive program includes classwork, lab work, and field work, all aimed at enabling students to take their collaborative projects from conception, through design, prototyping, calibration, analysis, and documentation.
“The courses will be taught primarily by Illinois Physics faculty members—the same faculty that teach in our highly ranked B.S. and Ph.D. programs,” Gollin sums up. “This is a high-quality professional development program for those who want to kick-start their R&D careers.”