UCR

Department of Physics & Astronomy



Career planning for undergraduate physics majors


This page contains important information that will help you prepare for your next step after you receive your bachelors degree from UCR.  The first thing you need to know is that the preparation begins now!   You can't wait until the spring quarter of your senior year.

Look at this page to get an idea of what careers our undergraduate physics alumni have gone into.  

This page provides guidance for 


Regardless of which path you follow, you should plan on getting involved in research.  See this page for sources of support and research opportunities.

 

Preparation for joining the workforce after graduation

If you want to start your career after you graduate with your bachelors degree in physics, you should consider the guidance in this section.  The first step is to learn more about what career options are open to physics majors and think about what you would like to do.  To see what some UCR physics alumni are doing, look at the alumni page.  The SPS Careers Toolbox is an outstanding resource.  You should start going through it now, if you haven't already.  You can download the whole thing in a pdf file by clicking on the link in the upper-right hand corner of the Careers Toolbox web page (or here). 

Research and/or work experience through an internship will be extremely important when you apply for a job.  Your potential employer will want to know what skills you have.  If they ask you, "What can you do?", you should have a good answer and "Well, I got straight A's in my classes" isn't a very good answer.  Can you program?  Do you know c++?  Or Python?  Can you use Matlab?  Can you design a piece of equipment?  What CAD software do you know how to use?  Can you write a Monte Carlo simulation of a physical system?  Do you know how to plan an experiment and analyze the data?  Can you design and build a circuit?  Can you write a scientific report?  Do you know the statistical techniques relevant for experimental data analysis?  Do you know linear algebra and how to apply it?  Do you know vacuum technology?  Have you worked in a clean room?  Do you have evidence of leadership skills and potential?  Do you have any teaching or mentoring experience?  You can get some of this from classes, but developing these skills by doing research with a faculty member or by doing a summer internship is without a doubt more valuable.  Another important reason to do research or an internship is to try something specific.  You never really know if you like doing something until you try it. 

Learn how to present yourself and network.  Make an appointment for a one-on-one session with a career counselor at the Career Center by calling 951 827 3631.  Start going to the UCR Career Center in your 3rd year to get help on building these skills.  Do not underestimate the importance of making a good impression in an interview.  Make a LinkedIn page for yourself in your 3rd year, if you haven't already, and start tuning your profile for the career you want to have.  Learn strategies for making contacts that will help you land an interview.

Here are a few online job databases that you may find helpful in your search.

For advice on how to search effectively, see the SPS Careers Toolbox.  In particular, Tool #5 on Effective Job Searching.

 workforce-milestones

Preparation for Graduate School

Here is an overview of the major milestones.  You can download a pdf file of the 4-year summary page here.  Important details for the milestones are contained in the links below the 4-year summary.

The AIP has a very good resource for getting details about and comparing Physics graduate programs at US institutions.  Here's a link: http://gradschoolshopper.com/

 physics-grad-school

 

Graduate school prep. -- year 1

Perhaps the biggest adjustment you will make going from high school to university life is in how you manage your time.  University classes require significant effort outside the classroom.  It's important to develop successful study habits early.  The Academic Resource Center offers several Study Skills Workshops that will help you develop good habits.

 

Graduate school prep. -- year 2

UCR is a research university -- all of our Physics and Astronomy faculty are engaged in basic research.  This is a big part of what separates UCR from other institutions, such as the Cal State campuses.  As a UCR student, you should take advantage of the opportunities available to you to gain research experience with UCR faculty.  Gaining research experience while you are an undergraduate is an important part of your preparation for graduate school.  Our PHYS 39 course will give you an overview of the research activities of the department.  You are encouraged to approach faculty, ask them about their research, and inquire about research opportunities for undergraduates within their group.  Students often arrange to work with UCR faculty during the summer, either on campus or at off-campus laboratories.  This web page lists some programs and sources of support for research that you can and should apply for.

Another way to gain research experience is through Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) programs, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  You can browse the REU programs at this web page.  Note that most applications are due in the Winter quarter.

Finally, most government-funded research laboratories, such as JPL, LBNL, and SLAC have summer research fellowship programs that you can apply for.

 

Graduate school prep. -- year 3

During your third year, you need to start preparing for the Physics GRE subject test, which most graduate institutions require.  This test is quite important and requires a few months of preparation for most students.  If you do well, you will likely have many good options for graduate school.  If you do poorly, your application may not even get past the first cut at many schools.  It's important that you start preparing early.  Note that you need to register a few weeks in advance before you take the exam.  You can't just decide on the day of the exam to show up and take it.  See the official ETS website for registration information.  This web page from the Stanford SPS has some very good advice.  Cal State Long Beach regularly holds a physics GRE bootcamp in August.  Here's the web page for the September 2012 boot camp, which has some useful info. 

The UCR Physics and Astronomy department now offers a 5-week Physics GRE preparation class starting in mid August.  The class has a content review and a total of 8 full practice tests under real test conditions.  We use the book Conquering the Physics GRE, by Kahn and Anderson for the course.  The first offering of the course was in August 2015.  Most students found it very helpful and saw significant gains in their expected and realized score.

The AIP has a very good resource for getting details about and comparing Physics graduate programs at US institutions.  Here's a link: http://gradschoolshopper.com/

 

The APS Bridge program

If, for whatever reasons, you were not well enough prepared for applying to graduate school in the Fall quarter of your last year or you were not admitted to any of the programs you applied to, the APS Bridge Program might be something that could help you.  The APS Bridge Program goal is to increase the number of physics PhDs awarded to underrepresented minority students, including African American, Hispanic American, and Native American students.  After you finish your bachelors degree at UCR, in the APS Bridge Program, you will become a student at a bridge site institution, where you will perform research, take classes, and receive mentoring which will all help you prepare for admission to a PhD program.  The application deadline is usually in March.

 

 

 

 


More Information

General Campus Information

University of California, Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

Career OpportunitiesUCR Libraries
Campus StatusDirections to UCR

Department Information

Physics & Astronomy
Physics Building

Main Office Tel: (951) 827-5331
Main Office Fax: (951) 827-4529
Maynard, Bonnie; Chair's Assistant, Academic Personnel
E-mail: bonnie.maynard@ucr.edu

Footer