Physics Departments Closing: What Can We Do?

physics doors web
By APS Staff

The recent closures of a number of physics departments, as documented in a recent APS News (Budget Cuts Threaten Physics Programs - December 2010), is an alarm that should cause physics departments to take note. Given significant budgetary woes, administrations are under a great deal of pressure to cut costs. Physics departments at smaller colleges and universities can seem like ripe targets, due to small numbers of majors, and consequently, typically a high cost-to-student ratio.  

What can we do?  
As a first step, we recommend reading the Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics (SPIN-UP) report. This report, written by the multi-society National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics, describes a number of steps a physics department can take to invigorate its undergraduate program and increase the number of majors it graduates.
Gray arrow  Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics Report

Major recommendations of the report include:
  • Adopt interactive, student-centered introductory physics curricula like SCALE-UP, Modeling, Tutorials in Physics, or Workshop Physics. Physics major retention rates have substantially increased at departments that use these curricula.
  • Pay attention to your students: have your best instructors advising and mentoring your majors, teaching the introductory sequence, and advising your Society of Physics Students chapter.

Other resources to help recruit and retain physics majors are available on the APS Education website.
Gray arrow  Undergraduate Faculty

PhysTEC Conference Coming in May
The next Physics Teacher Education Coalition (PhysTEC) Conference will be held on May 23-24, 2011, with the theme of Sustainability for Teacher Education Programs. The PhysTEC Conference is the nation’s largest meeting dedicated to physics teacher education, and features workshops, panel discussions, and presentations by national leaders, as well as excellent networking opportunities. The 2011 Conference will be held jointly with the UTeach Institute’s annual conference.
Gray arrow   2011 Physics Teacher Education Coalition Conference

APS/IBM Research Internship for Undergraduate Women
APS and IBM co-sponsor a research internship program for undergraduate women, to encourage female students to pursue graduate studies in science and engineering. The deadline for the Summer 2011 internship is February 1, 2011. Internship information and the application are on the APS Women in Physics website.
Gray arrow   About APS/IBM Research Internship for Undergraduate Women

Education and Career Workshops at APS March Meeting
A variety of education and career workshops will be offered prior to the upcoming APS March Meeting in Dallas.

  • Teaching Quantum Mechanics will explore strategies to improve the teaching and learning of quantum mechanics in undergraduate physics courses.
  • Physics Careers in Industry and Government will focus on non-academic careers for students, early-career physicists, and career changers.
  • Improving Your Skills as a Research Mentor is based on a research mentor training program developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and modified by APS, and is designed to help research physicists become more effective mentors.
  • Careers in Physics Workshop will focus on skills and strategies to help physicists in their job search. Topics will include resume writing, interviewing, networking strategies, and more.
Gray arrow  Information, including dates and times, is listed with Meeting workshops.
March Meeting

Peter Muhoro

Peter Muhoro

Peter Muhoro Joins APS Education and Diversity
Peter Muhoro recently joined the APS Education and Diversity Department as the new Minority Bridge Program Project Manager. Muhoro received his PhD in applied physics from the University of Michigan and is working to build collaborative relationships between minority-serving institutions and doctoral-granting institutions, with the goals of increasing the number of underrepresented minorities receiving doctoral degrees in physics, and of improving graduate education for all students.
Gray arrow  Minority Bridge Program

National Academies Diversity Report
A recent National Academies report entitled Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation explores the role of diversity in the science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) workforce and its value in keeping America innovative and competitive. According to the book, the US labor market is projected to grow faster in science and engineering than in any other sector in the coming years, making minority participation in STEM education at all levels a national priority.
Gray arrow   Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation report

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Editor: Alan Chodos

January 2011 (Volume 20, Number 1)

Table of Contents

APS News Archives

Contact APS News Editor

Articles in this Issue
Southern California Hosts APS April Meeting
Council Establishes Forum on Outreach and Engaging the Public
Council Approves Five New APS Awards
National Science Board Rejects Funding for Underground Lab
New President Stresses Research Funding,  International Engagement as Key Concerns
High School, Summer School Gain Historic Site Designation
Letters to the Editor
The Back Page
Members in the Media
This Month in Physics History
Inside The Beltway
Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science
Focus on APS Sections
Profiles In Versatility
The Education Corner