Overview of Physics

Overview of Physics

as a Major and as a Career

Physics: A Gateway to Many Careers

Wake Forest undergraduate Aryatara Shakya ('19) performs research in the Kim-Shapiro lab in Olin Physical Laboratory.Physics, the most basic of the sciences, has intellectual and useful aspects. The intellectual component resides in our innate desire to understand the physical characteristics of our universe. The usefulness is evident everywhere in high-tech products and computerized communications. Many of the technological advances in our modern society flow directly from physics laboratories, such as the many applications of lasers, or the possibility of high speed levitated trains relying on high temperature superconductors. Much of the equipment and technology used by other scientists and medical doctors were originally developed by physicists, including x-rays, lasers, and MRIs. These are just several examples of exciting applications which resulted from intellectual endeavors in physics. In addition, productive citizens in this technological age must have a basic understanding of physics. For example, congressmen and all citizens need an understanding of physics when they debate government appropriations for projects, such as the space program, the requirements for energy needs and energy conservation, and possible solutions to global warming.

A degree in physics provides opportunities for challenging and exciting careers in many professions, because physics teaches skills that are transferable to these professions. These skills include problem solving, analytical abilities, mathematical modeling, design and interpretation of experiments, research experience, and communication skills. The physics major is also excellent preparation for students planning to enter science-related businesses, Business School, Medical School, or Law School. Medical Schools seek out students with majors in physics because of the high-tech nature of medical care. Business schools consider a major in physics outstanding preparation for an understanding of manufacturing and the high-tech aspect of our economy. Just a few of the many careers that are open to you by pursuing a degree in physics are listed below.

Possible careers with a degree in physics:

  • Medicine
  • Engineering
  • Biophysics
  • Astronomy
  • Chemistry
  • Patent Law
  • Managemen
  • Education
  • Environmental Science
  • Computer Science
  • Mathematics
  • Radiology
  • Meterology
  • Imaging
  • Technician
  • Journalism
  • Actuarial Science
  • Financial Planning

Visit the Physics Today Jobs External link icon career portal for resources including career planning, development, job fairs, and a job search engine.

Facts you should know about being a physics major:

(Compiled from studies by the American Institute of Physics External link icon)

  • Its not necessary to go to graduate school to get a good job: five to eight years after graduating, about one-third of people who earned bachelor’s degrees in physics do not have any additional degrees
  • Many career paths are open to you with a physics degree: three-fourths of physics bachelors work in science-related jobs, including software, engineering, high school teachers, and managers in technical fields
  • Over three quarters of physics bachelor’s recipients would choose to study physics again

Did you know? Physics in everyday life…

(Compiled from information provided by the American Institute of Physics External link icon and WFU Physics professors)

  • An amusement park, with its roller coasters and many rides, uses many concepts, such as acceleration, momentum, gravitational potential energy, and weightlessness, that you learn in introductory physics courses
  • Concepts from physics and aerodynamic engineering are used to help race car teams reduce drag and increase traction
  • The concept of momentum, taught in physics courses, shows that a karate strike aimed slightly behind the target achieves the most force

Guidance for Physics Undergraduate Students

If you are interested in finding out more about careers in physics, visit our Career Advising page.

Another great resource for information on careers in physics, how well physics majors do on MCAT exams, what starting salaries physics bachelors degree graduates are offered, etc. can be found on the following informative website maintained by the American Physical Society (the main professional society of physicists in the United States): https://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/career.html External link icon

Why study physics at Wake Forest?

Overview of programs and research interests

Wake Forest junior biophysics major Manal Ahmidouch ('18) discusses her research into creating an drug that targets cancer DNA with advisor Samuel Cho in his office in Olin.The Wake Forest Physics Department offers an outstanding educational program for the undergraduate student, with the option to pursue either a BS or a BA in physics or a BS in biophysics.  Students with interdisciplinary interests can also pursue a minor in physics. Our programs are designed to give students a broad understanding of physics, with the opportunity to pursue research at the forefront of biophysics, condensed matter physics, gravitation and particle physics and medical physics. Students have the opportunity to take interesting advanced courses in elective areas, such as Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology and the Physics of Biological Macromolecules. The Department provides a unique mix of research opportunities similar to those found at large research universities with the atmosphere of a small liberal arts and sciences university.  Graduates from the Wake Forest Physics Department hold exciting and challenging positions at colleges, universities, industry and government laboratories, and not-for-profit institutes.  More details about research opportunities are described in the research web pages.

What makes the Physics Department at WFU special?

  • The teacher-scholar model means the faculty are involved in:
    • Internationally-recognized research AND
    • Developing new courses and unique methods of teaching
  • Small classes:
    • Faculty get to know all the students
    • Faculty can provide personal feedback and modify teaching methods, if necessary
    • Students feel more comfortable asking questions and engaging in discussion
  • Benefits of a liberal arts and sciences education:
    • A liberal arts and sciences education is one in which students must take courses that provide general knowledge, as well as those in a specific major. (This is in contrast to a technical, professional, or vocational education, which focuses only on preparing students for a specific job or career.)
    • A liberal arts and sciences education is designed to develop general intellectual capabilities, including the ability to identify and solve problems, and communicate solutions to those problems to others; these skills are necessary for a lifetime of learning and community engagement in any career.
    • The 2000 survey of employers conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) External link icon indicated that general skills, including written and verbal communication skills, the ability to solve complex problems and to work well with others are important in hiring decisions; these are characteristics of a liberal arts and sciences education and the education you would obtain with a physics degree from Wake Forest University.
    • This liberal arts and sciences education in the Physics Department is earned within the context of a nationally-ranked research university.
  • Facilities and infrastructure to support research:
    • State-of-the-art equipmentWake Forest research professor Burak Ucer works with a sapphire laser to study crystals that can detect gamma radiation, in his lab in Olin
    • Excellent library
    • Powerful high performance scientific computing
  • Interdisciplinary teaching and research with other departments (Computer Science, Math, Chemistry, Biology, Health and Exercise Science) and with Wake Forest University Medical School. Interdisciplinary research and education prepares students to work in the diverse teams that are found in the workplace.

Graduation Outcomes: What might you expect after earning a degree in physics from WFU?

    • With a major in physics from WFU, you will develop solid mathematical skills, strong problem solving ability, and a good work ethic –these essential skills will allow you to work in many different areas.
    • Over the past five-years, in a typical graduating class:
      • 3 go on to graduate school in physics
      • 4 go on to graduate school in engineering
      • 2 go to medical or dental school
      • 7 enter the work force, in IT, finance, professional sports, biotechnology or other STEM careers, or join the military.
    • Our alumni are involved in career advising:
      • Each semester, 1-2 alumni visit campus, present a seminar, and talk with graduate and undergraduate students about career possibilities (see Career Advising and Resources page for more information)
      • If you are an alumnus/a who would like to visit campus and share your experiences with the students, please contact the chair of our career advising committee, Jed Macosko. External link icon
    • Compared to other national universities, Wake Forest University is ranked #27 by US News and World Report External link icon
      • The US News and World Report rankings are based on educational details, including faculty-student ratios, admissions selectivity, financial resources and alumni giving.

Society of Physics Students

The Student Physics Society External link icon, SPS, is a student organization that promotes the development of students both intellectually and socially. At the end of the sophomore year, achievement in physics courses is recognized by an invitation to membership in the Student Physics Society and Sigma Pi Sigma. The Wake Forest University Chapter of SPS sponsors several lectures and fields trips each year. There are also social events such as picnics and hikes.

The year-end SPS picnic and Fermi Contest (04/21/2017)

Study space in Olin

Students who are members of SPS are encouraged to study in the SPS Room, Olin 305. Students taking the research course, Physics 381, are given study space either in the research laboratory or somewhere in the building. Study space is also typically found for majors who grade papers or teach a laboratory section.