An article co-authored by Prof. Laurie McNeil of the UNC Physics & Astronomy Department was published in the November 2017 issue of Physics Today. The article describes the report Phys21: Preparing Physics Students for 21st Century Careers prepared by the Joint Task Force on Undergraduate Physics Programs. Prof. McNeil has given numerous lectures about the contents of the report and has organized special sessions at professional society meetings to disseminate its findings.
The task force was convened by the American Physical Society and the American Association of Physics Teachers and was co-chaired by Prof. McNeil together with Prof. Paula Heron of the Univ. of Washington. The report was published in October 2016 and it is available for download here. It notes that the overwhelming majority of people who receive a bachelor’s degree in physics are employed outside academia for all or part of their careers, and are engaged in a wide variety of work, about half of it in the private sector. Few physics programs are explicitly designed to prepare students for this likely career outcome.
The report provides information about the skills and knowledge that employers of physicists are seeking, and describes ways in which physics departments can help students acquire those skills and that knowledge. Departments are encouraged to take up this challenge and provide the preparation their graduates need in order to better serve all of their current students and attract a more diverse set of students with a broader range of career interests. In an era in which academic institutions are increasingly scrutinized regarding the return on investment that their programs provide to students (in the form of enhanced employment prospects), it is in physics departments’ interest to recognize the importance of this challenge.