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Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science

The Physics Department "Cosmo Quiz"

Editor's Note: This quiz was prepared as a public service by some of the members of the Task Force on Undergraduate Physics (see story). Readers are warned that it has no proven diagnostic value whatsoever.

Many popular magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Mademoiselle feature quizzes that help you evaluate major issues in your life such as whether you are in love or just experiencing a physical attraction (no pun intended). Here is a similar light-hearted quiz to help you judge the health of your undergraduate physics program. Choose the answer to each question that best describes your program, add the points up, and check the bottom of the page to see what we think your score means!

1. In the last five years, how many departments have dropped the requirement that their majors take your introductory course?

(20 pts) None-our course is so wonderful, other departments have added it to their requirements.
(15 pts) Only one.
(10 pts) Only one-but it was the School of Engineering.
(5 pts) Two or more.
(0 pts) Nobody requires our introductory course anymore except us.

2. How many graduates (B.S./B.A.) per year have you averaged over the past five years?

(20 pts) More than 25
(15 pts) 10 - 25
(10 pts) 5 - 10
(5 pts) Fewer than 5
(0 pts) We haven't had any since Joe retired

3. How many graduates (B.S./B.A.) per year per faculty member have you averaged in the last five years?

(20 pts) More than 2
(15 pts) 1 - 2
(10 pts) Fewer than 1
(5 pts) Fewer than 0.50
(0 pts) Fewer than 0.05

4. What fraction of your undergraduates participate in research?

(20 pts) Nearly all of them do a senior project.
(15 pts) About 50% of them do a research project.
(10 pts) All of them know where the research labs are.
(5 pts) All of them know theoretically what research is although they don't actually do it.
(0 pts) All of them can spell research correctly.

5. What was the change in the number of faculty slots in your department in the last five years?

(0 pts) We lost three or more
(5 pts) We lost one or two
(10 pts) No change
(15 pts) We gained one or two
(20 pts) We gained three or more

6. When was the last major revision of the labs for your introductory course?

(0 pts) Nobody around here remembers, but we think it was before Joe retired
(5 pts) About ten years ago
(10 pts) Five years ago or more
(15 pts) Between two and five years ago
(20 pts) It was done within the last two years

7. What fraction of your undergraduate majors are females?

(20 pts) More than 30%, and we are a co-ed school
(15 pts) 15-30%, which beats the national average (10 pts) 5-15%
(5 pts) < 5%
(0 pts) We saw a woman in the hall once, but we think she was looking for the Math Dept.

8. What fraction of your undergraduate majors are underrepresented minorities (African-American, Hispanic, Native American)?

(0 pts) All of our majors are white, despite the fact that we are an HBCU
(5 pts) < 5%
(10 pts) 5-15%
(15 pts) > 15%
(20 pts) Underrepresented minorities are overrepresented among our majors compared to the student body at our institution.

9. How long has your SPS chapter been defunct?

(0 pts) What's SPS?
(5 pts) Nobody around here remembers, but we think it folded when Joe retired
(10 pts) Less than five years
(15 pts) It's in existence now, but with only a few students
(20 pts) It's much more active than any of the organizations the faculty belong to

10. What fraction of your faculty are making serious efforts to improve the quality of the undergraduate courses they teach (reading the physics education literature and trying to apply it, restructuring a course to incorporate recent scientific and technological developments, developing a new course to interest different audiences, etc.)?

(20 pts) All of them (or so they claim)
(15 pts) The ones with tenure
(10 pts) The ones without tenure
(5 pts) Hardly any of them, now that Joe is retired
(0 pts) None of them, since they know it won't make any difference in their salary or promotion


150-200 points - Congratulations! You have a thriving program that could serve as a model for other departments. Please contact the National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics.

100-150 points - Your department is doing OK for the moment, but it would be a good idea to look at improvements other departments are making to strengthen their programs.

50-100 points - This is serious. Call the Dean for help in starting to revitalize your department.

0-50 points - If the Dean calls, don't answer the phone.