Freshman FAQ - Considering Majoring in Physics?

(A Dummies Guide to Choosing a Science Major)

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A Student's Perspective

Research in the Physics Department

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Prof. Connie B. Roth
cbroth @

A Student's Perspective:  (Bios and Personal Advice)


I had decided to take Physics 397R in the spring semester of my freshman year here at Emory because I have an interest in the sciences.  The course has become a guide for my college career.  As a freshman, becoming acquainted with planning my own schedule and assimilating into the college atmosphere has been very exciting and stressful at the same time.  Often, I had worried about what I was going to major in and how that would get me to where I want to be in life.  This course has taught me that if I simply choose to do something that I'm good at as well as something I'm interested in, I would have a statisfying college experience that would get me where I want to be in life.

Majors do not determine your life.  While in college, you should explore everything you have ever wanted to explore just to see, if the field is right for you.  What better way of exploring is there than to take a class that allows for lab tours, career center visits, and intership opportunities.  If you want to do something like apply for a job at a lab, nothing can stop you but yourself.  Talk to fellow students and instructors to see what's around campus.


Taking PHYS397 has been a real eye opener.  I have learned a lot about what you can do with a physics major, such as available research opportunities and career options.  This information has given me a lot to think about when it comes to my major choice.  I have always known that I am very interested in learning about physics, but never really thought about what I want to do with physics outside of college and how/where a physics background can be applied.  I know that I still want to continue learning about the topic and satisfying my curiosity, but I am unsure if I want to turn it into a career.  I know there are many things that one can do with a physics major and I guess I still need to figure out if any of these career options are right for me.

Some of the best advice I got was from Dr. Weeks (Director of Undergraduate Studies for Physics).  You should try to think about what you want to do after college.  If you are interested in physics, but you are not sure if you want to do any of the jobs that normally go along with a physics major, then you may want to consider double majoring with a B.A. in physics or just minoring in physics.  This way you can pursue your interest in physics and still have other options after college.


I am a Sophomore in Emory college for the year of 2009 - 2010.  I was born in South Korea and was raised for 12 years there.  Then I immigrated to America, studied like there was no tomorrow, and ended up at Emory.  Then I ended up taking the Physics 397R class randomly (just because I noticed there was an empty time slot in my Thurday schedule) and by a recommendation from a faculty member.  From this class, I learned what research and careers in physics are like.

Most Emory physics researches are interdisciplinary in nature, because most useful physics researches are done in between two or more science departments.  Joining the Physics 397R class was a real eye-opener for me in that it helped me to see, first of all, that physics is still the awesomest of all sciences (go physics!) and, secondly, that physics can branch out to almost all departments.  The lab tours in this class really helped me to see that there are many exciting researches going on in between science departments and, if you are interested in research, many practical and interesting researches in areas of physics are available.  And the only way you can join the research is just approaching a professor whose research best suits your interest.  Ask and you shall receive.  But if at first you don't succeed, try the next professor.  Join Physics 397R!  It will open your eyes too.


PHYS397 was a very useful and beneficial class to take as a freshman if you are considering majoring in or are interested in any branch of science, mainly physics.  If you are unsure about majoring in physics, taking this course will open your eyes to the many career paths, research opportunities, required work, and skills related to a physics major.  This will undoubtedly nudge you in the right direction.  Coming into college, I was at first considering a physics major, because I always thought it was much more interesting than any of the other sciences and definitely the most challenging to understand.  However, taking this course made me realize the many advantages, as well as disadvantages of a physics major (time consumption, hard courseload, etc.) and cleared the path for me to research and consider other paths in science.

The most useful and interesting aspect of this class was definitely the lab tours.  These tours not only showed me the many areas of applicable physics, how interrelated physics is to all branches of science, as well as how to get involved in these research projects and the amount of time it takes.  In addition, we had a pretty small class and everyone in the class was interested in roughly the same things I am.  The size of this class allowed for closer interractions with our professor individually as well as the professors which led our lab tours.  Trips to the career center, sessions with the career center representative, as well as attending an interview seminar of a prospective physics professor were also very valuable experiences.

Upcoming freshmen, I encourage you strongly to take this course no matter what you're interested in, whether it be science or research or math or maybe nothing at all.


I am a freshman at Emory currently taking intro physics and PHYS397.  I have always enjoyed physics and dreamed of a career in science, but I wasn't sure what I would be doing in that kind of career.  Through this course, I have been able to see what types of physics research are going on at Emory and also where I can go with my undergraduate degree.  Being in this class has given me the opportunity to make connections between what I learn in my physics class, and surprisingly in my chemistry class and the chemistry lab I work in, and the research being done here in the physics department at Emory.  I was very surprised when I slowly began to understand some of the research our professors were presenting and it didn't sound like they were just standing at the front of the class making up words.  I think one of the most valuable things that this class has taught me is that the different science disciplines are as intertwined as you choose to make them and if you are interested in more than one kind of science you don't have to panic because you can have aspects of many different disciplines in your research.


I entered freshman year with a perfectly laid out plan to major in physics and apply to medical school.  I am now kicking myself for being close minded for an entire semester and not really investigating the other options here at Emory until my second semester.  This school offers a huge range of opportunities, even within the science category.  After using PHYS397 to see the intricacies of a few research labs, I realized it was really easy to get involved in interdisciplinary work.  For me, this was the combination of physics and chemistry, and I have now decided to be a chemistry major with an intent on researching in an integrated chemistry-physics lab.

Overall, this course has unveiled the importance of showing interest and asking questions.  Simply telling a researcher you are interested in their work can sometimes open a door -- once a researcher knows you're wanting to do undergraduate research, they will more than likely help you in doing so.  Also, the Career Center is a great resource.  It is important to talk your plans out with someone, may that be a professor or counselor.  For pre-med/science major students, it is imperative to have a plan of some sort by the end of freshman year because of the rigidity of pre-med scheduling.  Therefore, it is also important to try a broad selection of courses to find out what that plan may entail.

I encourage new students to come to Emory with an open mind and fearlessly pursue their passion, but finding that passion is the most important part.