General Advice for Physics Majors

SPS is here to help you through your years in the Rutgers physics department! Basic advice: always work hard and apply for as many things as you feel comfortable with. Feel free to email any of the officers if you have questions.

More detailed advice, organized by year (for someone doing the professional option and looking to become a physics professor):

Freshman Year: Don’t do too much! Have fun! You have plenty of time later in life to worry about your future. In the spring, you should apply for the Aresty summer science program. See the research section for more information. If that doesn’t work out for you, try talking to a professor about research. It beats working at the supermarket over the summer.

Sophomore Year: Since you now have a year’s worth of college classes under your belt, think about tutoring, either through the physics department, the math department, or the Math and Science Learning Center (MSLC). You’ll have fun, get paid, go over your introductory physics knowledge, and build your resume. Research is now becoming more important. Start looking at REUs over winter break. See the research section for more information. Again, if they don’t pan out, you can always talk to a professor about doing research in their lab. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can apply for a Goldwater scholarship. See the scholarships and fellowships section for more information.

Junior Year: If you have already done some research, seriously consider applying for the Goldwater scholarship and the SPS Leadership scholarship over winter break/during the beginning of the spring semester. Keep on researching and tutoring. You could apply for an REU if you want to, but I think it makes more sense to start working with a Rutgers professor so that you can continue over the summer and into senior year. This way, you’ll be able to write a great senior thesis. If you aren’t doing research yet, please start soon! When junior year ends, you should begin to study for the physics GREs. There’s a lot to go over!

Senior Year: Time to take the general GREs and physics GREs, apply for scholarships, apply for graduate school, and keep up your academic record. Fall semester will most likely be the worst time of your college career. Why? Here’s a timeline:

  1. Summer before senior year: research and lazy GRE studying (it shouldn’t be lazy, but it will be, you’ll see)
  2. September: general GREs (get these out of the way as soon as possible because you won’t want to worry about them later)
  3. Late September: frantic physics GRE studying (should have started sooner)
  4. Early October: several scholarship and fellowship applications due, and possibly the physics GRE. (Otherwise, physics GRE must be taken in mid-November)
  5. Mid-October: scholarship and fellowship applications due
  6. Late October/early November/mid-November: more scholarship and fellowship applications due, possibly interviews for scholarships and fellowships, possibly physics GREs. (Otherwise, physics GREs must be taken in early October)
  7. Late November: start preparing for graduate school. (you should have started earlier, but you won’t, you’ll see)
  8. December: graduate school applications and finals

Don’t forget, you also need to be doing research, doing homework, studying for midterms, etc. It will be difficult, but stick with it. During the spring, you can sit back and watch the acceptance offers roll in, and maybe even take some fun classes (along with your physics classes, of course). (I’m taking Wine Insights, Chinese Calligraphy, and Apiculture.)

Of course, you should also be following the course guidelines on the Rutgers physics webpage throughout your undergraduate career. The list is sparse on math classes. I would recommend also taking complex analysis (403), linear algebra (250 and 350), and abstract algebra (351). If there are any other math classes you find interesting, you should seriously consider double-majoring. This will also force you to take a computer science course (preferably CS111), which can come in handy for a physics major.

Don’t forget to read our guides on research, scholarships and fellowships, graduate school, and the Physics GREs.

Beyond this, you can also check out the SPS websites at other schools, many of whom have their own advice and resources. Here are a few that I found:

  1. MIT
  2. Harvard
  3. Stanford