Physics is concerned with the most basic principles that underlie all phenomena in the universe. Physicists ask, “How does the world work?” They search for the most elementary particles; they seek to understand the emergent behavior of systems ranging from quarks in nuclei to stars in galaxies; they strive for insights into the nature of space, time, matter and energy. On a more human scale, physicists study an enormous range of topics including all the devices of modern electronics, complex biological molecules, the environment and atmosphere, and novel energy resources. Studying physics prepares some students to push back the boundaries of knowledge in this most fundamental of the natural sciences. For others it provides training in the concepts and methods of science for application in a variety of professional areas. All students of physics benefit from excellent problem-solving skills and a deep understanding of technology in modern society.
Physics majors at UVa are an outstanding, enthusiastic and diverse group. Typically, about fifty students graduate each year with bachelor’s degrees in Physics. These students have a wide range of interests, and many have double majors. Recent second majors include anthropology, biology, chemistry, economics, English, environmental science, French, German, government, history, mathematics, music, philosophy, psychology, religious studies, Slavic, and studio art, along with all fields of engineering.
Approximately half of our BS Physics and BS Astronomy/Physics majors enter the work force after graduation, where their employment opportunities are excellent. Large companies where our graduates have recently started include KPMG, Epic, NOVA, Exxon Mobile, General Dynamics, GE Lighting, Rolls Royce, McKinsey, and Booz Allen Hamilton. Entry-level salaries for physics majors are similar to those in other technical fields, as illustrated in the graph below. Copious information about careers in physics is available from the American Physical Society, the American Institute for Physics, and the national Society for Physics Students.
The other half of our majors go on to graduate or professional schools, many at top-ranked universities where they are very successful. Recent graduates have attended UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, Cal Tech, Chicago, Cornell, Princeton, Duke, Georgia Tech, Harvard, Toronto, Johns Hopkins, Michigan, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. While the majority of these students continue their physics studies, others go on to professional schools in medicine, education, business and law.
All together, physics offers an unparalleled combination of intellectual satisfaction and career prospects. If this sounds appealing, get in contact with a physics advisor and let us tell you more about it!