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Haverford College
Departments of Physics and Astronomy
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)

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How many students major in physics and astronomy at Haverford?


On average we have 10.5 students majoring in physics, astrophysics and astronomy per year, of which 3 are astronomy or astrophysics majors. With our seven tenure-track full-time faculty, all involved in both teaching and research, and one full-time laboratory instructor, this allows us to provide considerable individual attention to our majors and to guarantee small class sizes in our upper-level programs. These numbers compare favorably with other institutions. For example, the American Institute of Physics states (in their Enrollments and Degrees Report for 2003, which surveys most US physics departments): "The average class size for the undergraduate-only departments was 3.7 degrees per department. This rises to 4.4 for the masters-granting departments and 10.6 for the doctoral-granting departments." See the American Institute of Physics websites for more information about physics program statistics.


How many women major in physics and astronomy at Haverford?  What is the racial and ethnic diversity of your physics and astronomy majors?


Over the past five years, 34% of our physics majors and 47% of our astronomy majors have been women, which compares favorably with national averages of 21% of physics majors and 40% astro majors (American Institute of Physics, last compiled in 2005.) See the American Institute of Physics websites for more information about physics program statistics and how our program's statistics compare nationwide.

Our percentage of women students in our upper-level physics courses is typically even higher than this, because we alternate our upper-level offerings with Bryn Mawr College and draw upon their all-female student body and their significant number of physics majors. Our upper-level astronomy courses typically have a 50/50 female/male ratio.

Nationally, physics majors are 3% Black, 4% Latino and 5% of Asian descent (American Institute of Physics data);  on average our majors are 3% Black, 2% Latino and 4% of Asian descent.


Do your students win national awards and scholarships?


Many Haverford physics and astronomy majors have won national awards and scholarships, including:

Leroy Apker Award (the annual American Physical Society award for undergraduate research) winners:  Byron Drury (Physics '09);  Ben Williams (Physics '96) ;  Apker Award Finalist:  Martin Blood-Forsythe (Physics '10)

National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships:  Erin Boettcher '12 (Astrophysics), Jacob Seeley '12 (Physics), Megan Bedell(Physics '12), Emily Cunningham(Physics & Astronomy '12), Jacob Olshansky (Physics & Chemistry ' 12), Anna Klales (Physics '09) and Anna Pancoast (Physics & Astronomy '09)

Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Fellowships:  Martin Blood-Forsythe (Physics '10)

Goldwater Award winners: Samuel Rodrigues (Physics '13), Martin Blood-Forsythe (Physics '10), Anna Klales (Physics '09), Megan Roscioli (Astro '05), and Christine Lamanna (Astro '04)

Churchill Scholarships:  Samuel Rodrigues(Physics '13); Martin Blood-Forsythe (Physics '10); Byron Drury (Physics '09)

Hertz Fellowships:  Samuel Rodrigues(Physics '13)

Fulbright Award: Lee Rosenthal '15 (Physics & Astronomy), Emily Cunningham (Physics & Astronomy '12), Dylan Hatt (Physics & Astronomy '10), Brook Henkel (Physics/Astro '05)

Watson Fellowship:  Maya Barlev (Astrophysics '12)

Knowles Science Teaching Foundation fellowship:  Amy Perlman (Physics '05)

NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship: Peter Kissin ('13)

Department of Energy Computational Fellowship:  Josh Adelman (Biophysics '03);

The prestigious and highly-selective National Science Foundation CAREER grant has been given to Haverford alumni young faculty members Ian Dell'Andonio ('89, now at Brown University), Rupali Chandar ('91, now at U. Toledo), Liese van Zee (Astronomy '91, now at Indiana University), Stephon Alexander (Physics '93, now at Darthmouth), Craig Arnold (Physics '94, now at Princeton), and Andrew West ('99, now at Boston University).


Can I start a physics major by taking intro sequences 115/106, 105/106 or 101/102?  What is the difference?


Any of Haverford’s year-long introductory physics courses (the sequences 101/102, 105/106 or 115/106) are an appropriate start for the major and can satisfy the prehealth program requirements. We advise students based on placement questionnaires and exams, and students should use that feedback to decide between these sequences based on their interests and potential majors.  Physics 115: Modern Introductory Physics is intended for students with advanced preparation in mechanics, such as significant advanced placement coursework.   Physics 101-102: Classical and Modern Physics I and II were designed for students who are majoring in the life sciences or intending to work in the health professions. The sequence Physics 105-106: Fundamental Physics I & II, which is intended to serve students interested in the physical sciences and mathematics, is offered in parallel. Both courses of study are challenging and both use calculus, which is a pre-requisite for 105 and a co-requisite for 101. An important difference between the two sequences is that in Physics 101/102 applications and problems are more often drawn from biological systems, and the topical coverage is adjusted somewhat to better suit the needs of the students in the life sciences.  We prefer that you start your physics major with 105/106 or 115/106, but you can do it from the other sequence too.


Can I combine a physics major with a Pre-Med/Pre-Health program?


Many of our majors have gone on to study medicine in MD or MD/PhD programs after completing their physics degrees. See the Interdisciplinary Physics and PreHealth Physics website for more detailed information.


Can I combine Study Abroad with a physics or astronomy major?


Many of our majors have done study abroad as part of their degree programs. This does require careful planning, preferably when you first enter the major, to ensure that you will be able to either continue taking physics courses abroad at a few selected institutions approved by our physics and astronomy departments, or to take enough physics and math here at Haverford to allow you to satisfy other requirements with courses abroad. Contact your major advisor and the Study Abroad coordinator for further information.


What do your majors do after graduation?


We consider the physics or astronomy liberal arts degrees excellent preparation for a variety of careers in science and other areas. About 66% of our students attend graduate or professional school after college. Over the past decade, our majors have gone on to attend graduate or professional school at Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Caltech, Cornell, Yale, University of Texas at Austin, University of Chicago, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, Boston University, University of Maryland, University of Washington, U.C. Santa Cruz, University of Wisconsin, University of Michigan, Northwestern University and Dartmouth. Approximately 45% pursue graduate study at the Ph.D. level in physics or astrophysics, almost all at top 20 physics graduate programs; the remainder wind up in a variety of programs, including mathematics, bio-med related fields, engineering, materials science, climate science and computer science, among many others. The remainder pursue a surprising variety of other careers. See our Careers of Physics & Astronomy Graduates website for more information. Our Senior Seminar course, Physics 399, allows our seniors to meet and talk with alumni who have worked in different careers after graduate, as well as providing detailed guidance about applying to graduate schools and preparing for careers in fields outside of science.


Can I combine Physics or Astronomy with other fields (Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Math) or even humanities or social sciences?


Within the boundaries of the physics or astronomy major, students may craft a degree program which includes introductory and upper-level courses in other natural sciences. (We also have occasional double majors in physics and English, philosophy or other fields not in the natural sciences.)  Our Interdisciplinary Physics allows considerable flexibility in designing a program of study combining physics with another degree program.   For the regular physics major, students may petition the department to count up to two 300-level courses in other natural sciences toward the required six upper-level physics courses. Students also may elect to pursue either double majors, majors with a supporting minor or concentrations which allow them to combine study in two or more natural sciences.

Formal programs include:

The Computer Science Concentration

Students considering the concentration in Biophysics should consult that program's websites at:

Biochemistry and Biophysics Concentration

The Scientific Computing Concentration

Minoring in Physics or Astronomy and majoring in a different department.


Can I Combine Physics & Engineering?


There are several options for doing so. Students interested in Engineering should consult: Options for Engineering at Haverford


Can I Combine Physics & Education?


Students may pursue either an Education concentration of certification in Education with a Physics major. Consult our website on Education Program options for Physics and Astronomy.


Do all of your majors do research? Are opportunities for summer research available?


Our majors have many opportunities to do research, either during the academic year or over the summer, and almost all choose to do research at some point in their time at Haverford. See our website listing summer research jobs for examples of the types of opportunities available. We try very hard to find summer placements for all rising physics and astronomy seniors, and we guarantee academic year senior research supervisors for all majors.

All of our physics majors do a senior project, which includes an approximately 16 page senior paper and a half-hour talk for the department students and faculty. While this project is ordinarily based on a research project done either during the summer or academic year, either at Haverford or elsewhere, we do have students who instead elect to base their work on a library research topic. These students ask a faculty member to guide their library readings and write a paper based on a review of this work.

Our Student Research website has additional information about examples of student research topics and other aspects of our programs.


Is it possible to do independent research projects based on ideas generated by the student?


As explained in the previous question, our senior physics majors do senior papers and talks based on a project they choose with their supervisor. Ordinarily this involves performing research on a topic currently understudy in the supervisor's research group, but we have often had students propose entirely independent projects for their senior research, and we support this. There are modest amounts of research funding to support independent projects and we have a senior research lab designated for this purpose.


How do I find out if I can get credit for a physics course I will take over the summer at a different institution?


Visit the Summer Physics Credit webpage for the full breakdown on how you can get credit for a physics course taken at a different institution.


Are there summer research opportunities at Haverford in physics & astronomy?


We have both on-campus opportunities and funding for many of our majors to work in our department, as well as resources to help students find off-campus research placements.  Visit the Summer Research Opportunities website for more information.