Department of Physics
|Year Enrolled||Very Useful||Somewhat Useful||Not Useful|
The effectiveness of this course varies with the instructor. The more useful courses included specific instruction on mathematical topics useful for the core graduate courses. These results indicate that it might be useful to standardize the instruction in this course to include a fundamental foundation of knowledge in the same way that the other graduate core classes are standardized.
The current graduate students were asked about their interactions with their advisors and about the typical length of their workweek. Most students work between 40 and 60 hours a week. Extremely few students spend more than 60 hours per week working. It is interesting to note that 70% of the respondents feel that they are putting in the right amount of time necessary to complete their educational goals while 20% feel that they should work more. With respect to one's personal life, 20% of the respondents feel that they are working too much while 58% feel that working roughly the right amount each week.
Overall, most graduate students find their advisor either helpful or very necessary. The majority of students feel that their advisor demands an appropriate amount of time from them, provides enough feedback, and is available a sufficient amount of the time. Most recent graduates (63%) were either satisfied or very satisfied with their thesis advising. However, it is noteworthy to mention that only 43% of the graduates who received an M.S. were satisfied or very satisfied with their thesis advising.
Our recent graduates are employed in the following sectors: industry (34%), academia (21%), government lab (16%), and other (28%). This is different from just seven years ago when most graduates (82%) could be found in academia or government labs. In retrospect our recent graduates (72%) were either moderately satisfied or dissatisfied with the career advising they received. The M.S.-only graduates were less satisfied. Current graduate students (72%) do not feel that they get enough information on career/job options and they (92%) would like to see new methods for bringing job related information to them. The job market our graduates are entering has changed within the last decade. The majority of students are no longer going into academia or government labs. With the changing times we need to change our approach to career advising.
As an outcomes assessment activity relating to the CU Physics non-major undergraduate offerings, a first analysis of Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) scores earned by CU-Boulder students was undertaken.
The table below shows CU-Boulder students' performance on the physical science portion of the MCAT and the corresponding national averages for the years 1994, 1996, 1997 and 1998.
|Year||CU-Boulder Matriculants*||CU-Boulder Applicants*||National mean Matriculants*||National mean Applicants*|
Table. Mean Physical Science scores on the MCAT by year for CU-Boulder medical school matriculants and applicants, and corresponding national means (maximum score is 15).
It is clear that both the CU-Boulder applicants and matriculants exceeded the national averages for each of the years sampled (where data is available). This speaks well to the level of instruction received by CU-Boulder students in both physics and chemistry. No time-trends are clear. This activity should be revisited in the future, however, as pedagogy changes, for example, with the introduction of computer-assisted physics homework assignments (CAPA) in the general physics courses taken by pre-med students.
*to medical schools nationwide
Since 1989-90 the department has evaluated these goals by analyzing all term papers and project reports written by students in senior-level capstone courses. From 1989-90 through 1992-93 the capstone and critical thinking course was PHYS 4420 (Atomic and Nuclear Physics), taken by seniors in their final semester. In the Spring of 1996 and 1997 this practice of assigning term papers which then needed to be presented orally to a group was continued. Lab projects in PHYS 3330 (Junior Laboratory) were also analyzed during this period. In 1993-94 the department began two additional critical thinking courses, PHYS 3340 (Introduction to Research in Optical Physics) and PHYS 4430 (Introduction to Research in Modern Physics). The latter course is also listed as PHYS 5430, taken by a small number of graduate students.
All Arts & Sciences-Physics and most Engineering-Physics majors take at least one of the three critical thinking courses. PHYS 3340 and 4430/5430 involve experimental laboratory projects. Since 1994-95 term papers and oral presentations from these courses and the second semester junior laboratory PHYS 3330 were evaluated together. This practice of blending three courses in optics and modern physics taught by three faculty members was continued in 1996-97. The juniors were thus exposed to the more mature work habits and reporting skills of the graduate students. The impact of the very recent preparation of the Bose-Einstein condensate was seen in 1995-96 by the efforts of several student groups in ambitious atomic trapping experiments.
The overall impression of the written reports for PHYS 4420 over the years was very positive; the major weakness was the clarity and style of the writing although the 1991-92 committee felt that even this had improved. Subsequent years' assessments found some cases of fuzzy wording, but more of clearly stated thinking. Most reports included very good surveys of relevant research literature and indicated that the students had generally assimilated the physics even though the technical details were sometimes beyond their abilities. In 1997, the instructor in Physics 4420 requested an initial draft that he went over with the student. This led to far better structured term papers but the quality of the work remained mixed.
In 1991-92 about 30% of the students in an upper-level laboratory course taken by nearly all physics majors completed a survey related to the department's knowledge and skill goals. The respondents were generally satisfied with their training, said that they learned a great deal, and felt that the writing aspects of the lab were useful, although some said that the course should teach more structured scientific writing.
In 1992-93 a more comprehensive survey of physics alumni was conducted as part of a systematic program review. About 75% of the alumni responding were employed in jobs related to their physics training. On the whole they rated their undergraduate preparation well, with most ratings in the good-to-excellent range. There was some sense that the program should incorporate more practical training and better academic and career advising, but it was clear that these alumni thought their program's overall quality was high.
These surveys mentioned time-management skills as an unmet need; this has also been recognized by the lab instructors during 1995-96. They suggest that lab teams working on projects be required to give weekly progress reports to develop this skill.
In 1990-91 the department began monitoring the GRE scores of students applying to graduate school as a way to further evaluate the performance of the best seniors. Results have been mixed. CU-Boulder physics majors who take the GRE are decidedly superior to comparable students nationwide in general analytic and verbal skills, averaging at or above the 75th percentile. Their scores on the specialized part of the exam are distributed similarly to those of the national sample of physics majors, indicating that CU-Boulder students applying to graduate school perform at least adequately compared to their peers. The outcomes committee notes that relatively few of our students take the advanced physics part of the GRE. This may be related to the current widely-advertised weak employment situation for academic positions in physics. This situation has continued to the present date.
Course-taking patterns support this interpretation. For example, in spring of 1995 two of three senior-level electives were cancelled due to low student interest. The one that did generate sufficient enrollment was a course in solid state physics, a career field particularly attractive to students planning to go into industry or other applied work instead of to graduate school. The theory course in nuclear and particle physics was taught in the spring of 1996 to a fairly large class, and used, as designed, for this assessment. In 1997 the situation in all these courses remained similar.
The department has made curricular changes almost continuously. PHYS 2170 (Foundations of Modern Physics) for sophomore majors was introduced in 1991-92 along with PHYS 2140 (Methods of Theoretical Physics), a math-methods course for majors that has a significant computer physics component. There were plans to further emphasize writing and logic in freshman and sophomore laboratory courses. The 1992-93 outcomes report described a major attempt to modernize the curriculum and make it more flexible so that undergraduates could have more research experiences. Our computer lab, which was started in 1991 has been heavily used by the students. Homework in courses assign problems that make use of computers.
Physics 2000 is a major new initiative in the Physics department. It will attempt to use the latest computer simulation developments, and the Web, to develop a visual approach to the physics being taught in the classroom. It will attempt to extend these "simulation courses" to the high schools in the state. Various workshops, including regional high school physics teachers, have taken place to inform everybody of this activity.
Two areas have seen marked increases in involvement by the students. Physics honors theses have increased markedly since a few years ago. A survey of the faculty indicate that in the present period there are an average of eight students doing honor thesis at any one time. The students' work in these activities has been described by the faculty on the average as excellent. Secondly, student involvement in research under the University Research Opportunities Program (UROP) has increased markedly. This is an excellent avenue for undergraduate students to work closely with the faculty; participating in research activities allows the student to interact with graduate students, with research associates, and with the faculty member, and allows him or her to observe how research is done and to apply what has been learned in the classroom.
These new areas of activity have added a new dimension to the students instruction. They are now graduating with a reasonable amount of research experience and many of them graduate with an honors thesis. These new areas of involvement need to be evaluated.
Some graduating students have been interviewed to hear their assessment. Some of them are now participating in a mentoring program for undergraduates. They find this effort gratifying and educational. The involvement in research (UROP) is also a good aspect of our present program.
Last revision 02/18/03