APS News

APS Releases Statement on Undergraduate Research for Member Comment

The APS Executive Board at its November Meeting approved the posting of a statement on undergraduate research for member comment. The statement calls on the country's colleges and universities to "provide all undergraduate physics and astronomy majors with access to significant research experiences."

"At the most basic level what we're saying is every undergraduate should have this kind of experience because it's really foundational," said Paul Cottle, a physicist at Florida State University and chair of the APS Committee on Education. "It's the way you learn how to get things done in a workplace or a real research environment."

The Committee on Education put forward the statement in response to concerns about the classroom emphasis on the theoretical underpinnings of physics, with little or no teaching about how physics is done in the real world. Having undergrads do actual research would offer them a chance to see what physics is really about, committee members say.

The statement is aimed primarily at college and university administrators, public policy makers and legislators — the people who have the most influence on which academic programs a school offers.

"We've just got to keep focusing their attention on how important undergraduate physics research is," Cottle said.

As part of the Society's bylaws, after the APS Executive Board approves any statement, the membership is encouraged to submit comments about it. After all member comments have been received, the APS Panel on Public Affairs will review the responses and consider revising the statement before a final version is put to the APS Council for a vote.

The statement reads in part "The American Physical Society calls upon the nation's colleges and universities and their physics and astronomy departments to provide all undergraduate physics and astronomy majors with access to significant research experiences."

"APS's endorsement of this statement would reaffirm the importance of real-world experiences as a critical component of a physics education," notes Theodore Hodapp, the APS Director of Education and Diversity. He added that, "Many smaller physics programs often must argue for resources to maintain such efforts with their students. This statement provides a valuable piece of ammunition in that fight."

Cottle said also that it was in the schools' own interest to support undergraduate physics research. He called a physics degree extremely versatile, as graduates can go into engineering, science, and finance.

"If you're graduating five [physics majors], those are probably the five most valuable graduates in any given year," Cottle said. "Undergraduate research is the component of that program that really puts physics majors at the top of the heap."

Input will be accepted until January 31, 2014. Members can read and comment on the statement at the APS Undergraduate Research Statement web page.

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