CAREERS AND PHYSICS ALUMNI
Why Study Physics?
Students who graduate from Villanova with a degree in physics have a strong background in fundamental physics as well as excellent data analysis and laboratory skills. In addition to developing outstanding quantitative prowess, our students hone their written and oral communication abilities—some have won accolades for outstanding presentations at professional conferences. For these reasons, a Villanova physics degree is excellent preparation for any modern career.
Strong quantitative and analysis skills are highly valued far beyond pure physics, which means there is great demand for physicists in many fields—including research, data science, industry, finance, consulting, and teaching. Nationally, most physics undergraduates pursue a graduate degree after graduation, but almost half join the workforce directly after graduation. In addition to research in physics and astrophysics, our graduates have pursued successful careers in medical physics and medicine, biotech, engineering, chemistry, computer science, technical writing, and even law and business!
The American Physical Society has great resources for turning your degree in physics into a meaningful career that works for you. Explore career track profiles including consulting, data science, teaching, R&D, sales/marketing, government labs, and the private sector. Learn about the educational background, salary, future outlook, and daily activities that are typical for some of the common career tracks for physicists.
Graduation and Graduate School
Students interested in academic careers or careers in quantitative fields may want to consider going to graduate school to earn a PhD. In some fields even outside academia, a PhD can be very useful for job hunting. Most physics graduate programs are fully funded, which means the university will cover tuition and pay a monthly stipend to live on. Our recent graduates have been admitted to prestigious programs, including Oxford University, Columbia University, Northwestern University, University of Maryland, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, University of Colorado Boulder, and University of New Hampshire.
Deciding to go to graduate school is a big life choice, so it is important to know what it’s all about. In physics and related fields, most graduate programs lead to a PhD. Some may offer terminal master’s degrees, but these are less common. Programs often start with two years of classes (including some research), followed by a qualifying exam (aka “quals”). Quals vary from school to school but may be a comprehensive written or oral exam designed to show that you are ready to pursue a doctorate. Students who pass can formally choose a thesis topic and spend the next 3-5 years completing their research. Along the way, grad students may support themselves by teaching or research fellowships, and many publish papers about their research.
It may seem daunting to choose a graduate school out of so many around the country. Here are a few things to consider.
- What do you want to study?
- What kind of school do you want to go to?
- Do you have geographical preferences or personal/family decisions to consider?
It’s good to do some research about schools and programs in your chosen field or fields. The Physics faculty are a great resource. U.S. News & World Report provides rankings for graduate schools in Physics, and sorts by specialty.
One of the first ways students need to prepare for graduate school applications is by taking the GRE (both the General test and the Physics subject test). The subject test is about two hours with about 100 multiple choice questions on all areas of physics covered by an undergraduate curriculum. Students shouldn’t expect to have time to solve each problem quickly, so they will have to know how to find the answer quickly (try conservation of energy or momentum)! We highly recommend our GRE prep course, taught by Dr. Besson. Some graduate schools are starting to move away from the test because GRE scores don’t predict success in graduate school or research, but it’s still important for students to do their best. Tests are offered every few months, and students should start looking at practice tests the summer before their senior year. Remember to do your best on the GRE Verbal test: communication skills DO correlate well with success!
Grad school applications are usually due in December and January. In order to apply, students need to write a research statement and a personal statement explaining their research area of interest and their interest in grad school. These are good to tailor for each school, so it’s necessary to do some research: which advisors or projects are you interested in, and why? Applications also typically require up to three letters of recommendation—preferably from professors who know the student well and can testify to their intelligence, motivation and research abilities. Students should request these letters at least a month in advance.
There are also lots of things to consider for students who have been accepted to graduate school. Some of these questions can be directed to the department and faculty; others are best left for one-on-one conversations with grad students.
- How are graduate students funded and how long is funding guaranteed?
- Are students able to choose their project and/or thesis advisor?
- What kind of mentoring relationship can you expect with your thesis advisor?
- Are graduate students/postdocs happy in the PI’s group? In the department?
- Does the university pay for health insurance for graduate students?
- What is the typical time to graduate?