Get Prepared for a 21st Century Career

Share This:



Pathways - Advice from Experienced Voices

Get Prepared for a 21st Century Career


Kendra Redmond, Contributing Writer

Image by the American Physical Society (CC BY 4.0).

Physics students heading down the path to becoming professors, researchers, engineers, teachers, programmers, and other professionals in the modern age are entering a diverse and exciting employment landscape—a landscape that many feel unprepared to navigate.

What skills and knowledge should the next generation of undergraduate physics degree holders possess to be well prepared for a diverse set of careers?

This is the question posed to the Joint Task Force on Undergraduate Physics Programs (J-TUPP), a group of leaders in physics academia, industry, and education that was convened in 2014 by the American Association of Physics Teachers and the American Physical Society and supported by the National Science Foundation.

J-TUPP tackled this question by synthesizing information from an array of reports and studies that address the career paths taken by physics bachelor’s degree recipients and the skills and knowledge valued by today’s employers. Their findings are detailed in a new report, Phys21: Preparing Physics Students for 21st-Century Careers.

Aimed primarily at physics department leaders, the report compiles the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that graduates need for successful careers; learning goals that physics departments can adopt to promote their graduates’ success; and descriptions of ways that physics departments, professional societies, and funding agencies can ensure that those learning goals are met. It also highlights why paying attention to career preparation is important in the first place—the ways in which doing so can enrich and diversify departments, empower students, and support local communities.

Phys21 doesn’t promote overhauling core physics content; rather, it suggests a variety of ways in which departments can intentionally incorporate skills like technical writing, project management, teamwork, and computer programming into existing courses while using industry-standard software. To this end, the report includes case studies of physics departments of different sizes and scopes already incorporating these skills into the major in various ways.

“To better prepare students in this way does not require that a department abandon the rigorous technical education that physicists take pride in,” write co-chairs Paula Heron (University of Washington) and Laurie McNeil (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) in the report. “It does, however, require that physics faculty members become informed about the skills and knowledge valued by potential employers of their graduates, and that departments make appropriate modifications to curricular and co-curricular aspects of their programs.”

If you want to be well prepared for the exciting career opportunities that await physics graduates, get informed and take action! Even as a student, you can...

  • Put Phys21 in the hands and in-boxes of your department leaders.
  • Browse the report and identify specific learning goals and activities to incorporate into your SPS chapter activities.
  • Spread the word about this report—share it with your classmates, print out copies for your physics lounge, and invite a J-TUPP representative to talk to your department or at your local zone meeting.
  • Read through the sections highlighting the skills valued by employers. If you aren’t already developing these skills, seek out opportunities to do so. For example, invite industry speakers to participate in SPS activities, take a business class, or choose a research project with a commercial component.

Download Phys21 at //

More from this department

Pathways - Advice from Experienced Voices