Physics B.S.

The Department of Physics, part of the College of Arts and Sciences, combines the best features of large and small university programs. Faculty members are known nationally or internationally for their work. All physics classes, including discussion sections in the introductory courses for physics majors, are taught by professors.

Physics involves the study of nature: the attempt to understand its fundamental laws and to describe natural phenomena quantitatively. Physicists are interested in everything from the very large - the universe itself - down to the extremely small, the world of elementary particles.

In Physics you study a huge range of phenomena: black holes, the formation of stars, the structure and properties of materials, and the behavior of quarks inside subatomic particles. Physics also provides the practical knowledge that underlies much of technology, creating an exciting interplay between new discoveries and the development of new devices, such as the laser, MRI medical systems, superconductors, and many more.

The Department of Physics offers a number of options to undergraduates: a Physics B.S. degree, an Applied Physics B.S. degree, a Physics B.A. degree, and a minor. You can read more about these options in the College of Arts and Sciences Bulletin.

Coursework

Getting started

Your starting point for the degree is Physics I (PHYS-P 221). If you haven't completed Calculus I (MATH-M 211), you should take that concurrently.

There is a special, highly interactive honors section of Physics I (PHYS-H 221) for freshmen who are particularly interested in majoring in physics or pursuing research careers in another area of science.

Tracks and concentrations

When you major in Physics, you have three degree options: a Physics B.S. degree, an Applied Physics B.S. degree, and a Physics B.A. degree.

The Physics B.S. is considered the standard track of the two B.S. degrees, and is recommended for students who might want to pursue graduate study in the field. Contact the academic advisor to discuss your options.

It is important to note that the course requirements for all three degrees are quite similar for the first two years. It is recommended that you complete two or three semesters of your physics coursework before deciding if a degree other than a general Physics B.S. would be most appropriate.

The Physics B.A. degree requires only 30 physics course credit hours, and will usually not provide adequate preparation for pursuing a graduate degree in physics.

Upper level coursework

The Physics major entails a sequence of courses, including upper-level lecture courses in Electricity and Magnetism (PHYS-P 331), Anayltical Mechanics (PHYS-P 441), and Quantum Mechanics (PHYS-P 453), along with intermediate (PHYS-P 309) and advanced (PHYS-P 451) laboratory courses.

Alternative programs, such as those with more emphasis on electronics, optics, biophysics, or environmental physics, should be discussed with the academic advisor.

All Physics majors are strongly encouraged to become involved with a research project during their undergraduate career, often working with an IU faculty member during the academic year and possibly carrying out research at another university or institute over the summer(s).

Students with senior standing who are pursuing departmental honors typically enroll in PHYS-X 498 and prepare a written thesis under the supervision of a faculty supervisor. Students pursuing the Applied Physics B.S. degree enroll in PHYS-S 409, Applied Physics Thesis.

Commonly pursued majors, minors and certificates

Your major represents about one half of your degree requirements. With the help of your academic advisor, you may be able to combine several areas of interest with additional majors, minors, or certificates.

Physics majors often pursue concurrent degrees in Mathematics and Astronomy or other areas of natural science. A strong background in physics is also excellent preparation for an advanced degree in engineering or other applied fields.

Increasingly, Physics majors complete pre-medical coursework, and are competitive candidates for medical school admission. With sufficient education courses for certification, high school teaching is a common career.

You can also explore other disciplines, choosing coursework or pursuing concurrent degrees in subjects as diverse as Chemistry, Economics, Journalism, Linguistics, Neuroscience, Political Science, and Psychology.

Physics majors may also pursue minors in several of the disciplines listed above, as well as many others within the College of Arts and Sciences. Check your bulletin for information about degrees or minors in these areas.

Enhance your major

Working with faculty

When pursuing a degree in Physics, you have the opportunity to work with faculty who have expertise and experience in the field. Take advantage of office hours to talk with your instructors about your performance in class, the content of assignments, and how the course helps you work toward your goals. 

Physics is fundamentally a field of research, and all physics majors are encouraged to become involved in a research project during their undergraduate career.

If there is a specific topic that is of interest to you, you might want to take an independent readings course (PHYS-X 490) under the guidance of a physics faculty member. Talk with the Physics academic advisor or your instructors about this possibility.

Other research options include working part-time during the academic year with a member of the Physics faculty or a faculty member from another department, either as an hourly worker or for academic credit (PHYS-X 498).

Physics majors should also consider spending one or more summers performing research full-time, often as part of a federally funded program, such as the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation. For more information about this and other options, arrange a meeting with the physics department's Director of Undergraduate Studies.

Students pursuing an Applied Physics B.S. degree are required to spend at least one summer in an Applied Physics Internship (PHYS-X 473), typically between the junior and senior years. The internship location and field of study is chosen to match the interests of the student, so close coordination with the physics academic advisor is required.

Honors

The Physics Honors Program, available to those pursuing either the Physics B.S. degree or the Applied Physics B.S. degree, provides well-qualified students with an exceptionally strong foundation. It encourages excellence in coursework and recognizes the importance of early participation in research. The honors program is strongly recommended for students intending to enroll in graduate school.

The key component of the honors program is an independent research project, typically carried out under the supervision of a physics faculty member. This work culminates before the end of the senior year with the writing of an honors thesis. You also give an oral presentation describing the work.

In addition to fulfilling the requirements associated with the B.S. degree, students in the honors program are expected to complete most of the coursework listed in the Bulletin under 'Recommendations' for this degree. In particular, at least two of the three courses PHYS-P 332, PHYS-P 442, and PHYS-P 454 must be completed.

To graduate with honors, you should maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.500 in all physics course work. Interested students should consult the physics Director of Undergraduate Studies for details.

High achieving students may be recognized for Academic Excellence in the College of Arts and Sciences, or be eligible for admission to the Hutton Honors College.

Undergraduate scholarships and awards

Students majoring in Physics may be interested in pursuing one or more of the scholarships and awards that are offered by the College of Arts and Sciences. Because the requirements and conditions for these vary, it is recommended that students work with the physics academic advisor before applying to these programs. Options include:

Internships

Internships offer you a chance to develop both technical and transferable skills while making vital professional contacts with others in the field. Many students begin exploring internship opportunities, including overseas study programs with internships, as early as their freshman year.

Students pursing an Applied Physics B.S. degree are required to participate in one three-month internship. Students must enroll in PHYS-X 473 during the summer session to receive the necessary one-credit hour given for the internship. Internships usually take place following the spring semester of the junior year.

This summer internship gives you the opportunity to work as a paid employee in private industry, academia, or at a national lab, gaining valuable real-world experience. A senior thesis (PHYS-S 409) based on your internship research is the culmination of this invaluable practical experience.

Learn more about internships, including the possibility of receiving credit, through The Walter Center for Career Achievement, where you’ll find many resources for both domestic and international internships.

Foreign language study

The Physics B.S. degree requires third semester proficiency in a foreign language. The Physics B.A. degree requires fourth semester proficiency in a foreign language.

As one of the premier institutions in the U.S. for the study of languages, IU Bloomington offers courses and resources in over 60 languages.

Below is a sampling of language study resources available to students at IU Bloomington.

Overseas study

For some students, studying abroad is an important part of their undergraduate experience. Due to the sequential nature of the physics curriculum, with each course building on previous coursework, leaving IU for a semester or more must be planned carefully in order to avoid prolonging one's undergraduate career. This planning should be coordinated as early as possible with the Physics academic advisor or the Director of Undergraduate Studies.

The College of Arts + Sciences also directly hosts a variety of study abroad programs, some even featuring IU faculty, that might be right for you. Learn more about study abroad opportunities and locations through conversation with Physics faculty, your academic advisor, and through the Office of Overseas Study.

Student groups

There is an active Physics Club for majors and other interested undergraduate students. The club meets weekly to hear presentations about current topics in science, hints about applying to graduate school, and discussion regarding career options. You may contact the Physics academic advisor for information on meetings of the Physics Club. Club members also put together a collection of interesting demos and displays that are a key part of the Open House held each Fall semester.

Many other student groups on the Bloomington campus may be of interest to physics majors. Explore beINvolved to connect with any of the 750+ student organizations that already exist, or to start a new one.

Volunteer opportunities

The Physics department coordinates outreach programs that offer majors many opportunities for involvement.

There are numerous opportunities for volunteer engagement, allowing you to give back to the local community while developing useful job skills. The organizations below can help you connect with others from the university and beyond:

Sign up to receive weekly emails from the Bloomington Volunteer Network to learn about local opportunities and organizations.

Professional organizations

The following are just a few of the professional organizations for physicists.

Use the Indiana University Library system to search for Associations Unlimited, an online directory of associations, professional societies, non-profit organizations, and much more.

Build your skills

Through the major

Majoring in Physics provides you with a set of skills and qualities that are relevant and transferable to many areas of study and work. These include:

  • Critical thinking and analysis: 'Doing physics,' either in the classroom or the real world, requires the ability to assess a complex situation, identify its most important features, and decide on an efficient way to address the question being asked. This ability is highly desired by employers.
  • Problem solving: Physics is much more than memorizing equations and knowing how to use them. Solving hard problems requires creativity and the ability to see alternative ways of finding solutions.
  • Mathematical reasoning and modeling: Analyzing data, whether from the Large Hadron Collider or from Wall Street, requires an understanding of the mathematical tools needed to set your conclusions on solid ground.
  • Computer programming: The most sophisticated analysis today is not done with pencil and paper, but with software. Students in physics go beyond plugging into Excel to actually writing code, harnessing the almost unlimited power of modern computing.
  • Written and oral communication: Having great ideas is one thing - then comes the challenge of convincing others that your reasoning is sound and your arguments are correct. Organizing your thinking is the first step. Organizing your thoughts on paper or in a presentation is also critical.

Physics students also develop a deep understanding of nature, gain experience working with complex equipment, and develop skills in making precise measurements.

Through a College of Arts and Sciences degree

Your coursework provides many opportunities to develop the following five foundational skills that will serve you well in every career path:  

  • Question critically
  • Think logically
  • Communicate clearly
  • Act creatively
  • Live ethically

These foundational skills will aid you in landing your first job and advancing professionally throughout your working life. Not only are these the skills that employers say they value most in the workplace, they provide the best preparation for lifelong success in a world of complexity, uncertainty, and change.

Skills desired by employers

Each year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers asks employers what key skills and qualities they are looking for in recent college graduates.

The following are some of the most commonly desired attributes across many employment sectors:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Ability to work in a team
  • Written and verbal communication skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Strong work ethic
  • Analytical and quantitative skills
  • Ability to take Initiative
  • Being detail oriented
  • Demonstrating adaptability
  • Technical skills relevant to the field
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Computer skills
  • Organizational ability

As you explore various career fields, pay attention to specific job descriptions and requirements. If there are areas where your skills or knowledge are lacking, talk with your academic advisor and career coach about how you can develop in those areas while you are at Indiana University.

Your academic advisor and career coach can also help you find ways to strengthen and deepen the knowledge you already have, becoming more prepared for whatever path you select after College.

Launch your career

Plan your search

A good starting point for exploring your career options is an appointment with your career coach.

The Walter Center for Career Achievement offers job search resources, career courses, job fairs, information about internships and full-time jobs, and help with social media networking through professional organizations. Get advice about how to write your resume, ask for letters of recommendation from faculty and workplace supervisors, and prepare for job interviews, too.

Explore and enroll in Career Communities to learn more about industries relevant to your interests. These offer unique information about each field, including alumni spotlights, opportunities and resources, and in-person events.

You might want to take a career course to help you maximize your time at IU. College of Arts and Sciences students should consider taking ASCS-Q 296, College to Career III: Market Yourself for the Job & Internship Search. In the course, students learn how to craft a targeted resume, use their cover letter as a tool, prepare for successful interviews, locate and build a professional network, and prepare for a smooth transition from college to postgraduate life.

The job market

Students with degrees in physics have historically had very high employment rates, both immediately after graduation and throughout their careers. The skills required to obtain a bachelor's degree in physics - critical thinking, problem solving, solid mathematical reasoning, and computer programming - cover a wide range of applications and are highly valued by employers.

Physicists are particularly in demand as researchers at national laboratories, in the energy sector (for both fossil fuel and renewable energy sources), in medicine and medical physics, as designers and maintenance technicians for new diagnostic and imaging systems, in national and global financial analysis, and in law offices - especially those emphasizing patent law.

Talk with the faculty, your academic advisorcareer coach, and other students to gain insights into the career paths taken by graduates of the department of Physics.

Want to see where your fellow majors go right after graduating from IU? Check out the Walter Center’s First Destinations survey!

Need more ideas? The Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics offers career information about hundreds of occupations.

Post-graduate short-term experiences

The beginning of your post-graduate career might be an ideal time to explore an international internship or other short-term experience through organizations such as these:


Using these and other resources, your career coach can help you craft a unique post-graduate short-term experience, whether in the United States or abroad.

Fellowships for post-graduate study

Post-graduate fellowships are temporary opportunities to conduct research, work in a field, or fund your education. Most opportunities can be found through universities, non-profits, and government organizations.

Good resources for finding fellowship opportunities in the physical sciences include:

Graduate and professional study

When applying to graduate or professional schools, you’ll need letters of recommendation from faculty members who are familiar with your work. Make a practice of attending office hours early in your academic career, to get to know your professors and discuss your options for advanced study in the field.

Students who pursue graduate studies in physics have gone into careers with top academic and research institutions.

A Physics B.S. degree will prepare you for entry into a graduate program in all areas of physics, astrophysics, or engineering.

An Applied Physics B.S. degree will prepare you for further study in a wide range of applied areas, including medical physics.

A Physics B.A. degree with sufficient education courses will prepare you for graduate work in science education or, with careful planning and in consultation with the Health Professions and Prelaw Center, you could also prepare to enter law school, medical school, or other professional programs.

 

Here are examples of related graduate programs offered at IU:

Alumni connections

Talk with Physics faculty, the academic advisorcareer coach and other students to gain insights into the career paths taken by graduates of this degree.

The IU College of Arts + Sciences has thousands of active alumni. Check out the IU College Luminaries program, which connects students with the College's most influential, successful, and inspiring alumni.

Join the Walter Center Success Network to remain in touch, network directly with College of Arts +Sciences Alumni, and let others know where your path takes you.


Is it for you?

Students who chose to major in Physics will typically have an intense curiosity about the universe and the behavior of the natural world. To do physics well requires both a solid understanding of mathematics and an ability to think critically about complex problems. The Department of Physics attracts students from a variety of backgrounds and interests. They typically have some of the following interests:

  • the nature of dark matter
  • the large-scale structure of the universe
  • high-temperature superconductors
  • the electronic properties of materials
  • discovery of new particles
  • fundamental symmetries and their violation

Learn more

Contact the Physics academic advisor and schedule an appointment to explore your options. Complete information about the requirements of the major can be found in the College of Arts and Sciences Bulletin.

Department website
Advisor email address
physadv@iu.edu