Questions from Prospective Students

1. What is the difference between Physics and Applied Physics?

The two degree programmes — BSc (Hons) in Physics and BSc (Hons) in Applied Physics — share many courses. The differences lie in the advanced courses taken during the third and fourth years.

The advanced courses for Physics (or "Pure Physics") are geared toward achieving a deep and broad understanding of Nature. They include condensed-matter physics, high-energy particle physics, statistical mechanics, and general relativity. These topics relate to fundamental physics (e.g., particle and gravitational physics), as well as the application of physics to complex systems (e.g., solid-state materials, superfluids and superconductors, soft matter, and chaotic systems).

The advanced courses for Applied Physics are geared toward applications to devices and technologies, such as optical fibres, lasers, magnetic and spintronic devices used for data storage and processing, radiation-based medical diagnosis and therapy technologies, acoustic devices for industrial and medical sensing, etc.

2. Is Applied Physics the same as engineering?

There is no sharp distinction between Applied Physics and Engineering, but they are not the same. Roughly speaking, Applied Physics sits between pure physics, which focuses on understanding Nature, and engineering, which focuses on implementating practical devices and technologies. Applied physicists take new phenomena and explore their uses. Sometimes, these discoveries lead to new devices and technologies, which are refined and perfected by engineers.

Important technologies like the laser, the transistor, magnetoresistive multilayers (used in hard disk drives), and quantum dots (used in next-generation flat-screen displays) all came out of the work of applied physicists.

physics undergrads
A chirped mirror compressor, used to generate ultrashort laser pulses in a laser laboratory at SPMS. Photo credit: M. Fadly.

3. What are the career prospects?

A physics education provides broad-based training in quantitative reasoning, as well as technical expertise with both software and hardware. Our graduates are well-positioned not just for a wide range of existing jobs, but also for the new kinds of jobs that will emerge in the evolving global economy.

Survey data, collected by Singapore's Ministry of Education, shows that Physics and Applied Physics graduates have gone on to a wide range of careers. These include engineering and R&D jobs in industry, research jobs in academia and government research organizations (such as A*STAR and DSTA), software development, education, and finance. The percentages for different job types are shown on our Career Prospects page.

4. If I study Physics, will I need a PhD to get a job?

No. Out of each class of Physics and Applied Physics graduates, over 92% enter the job market after graduation. Of these, the overall employment rate in the 2017 Graduate Employment Survey (conducted six months after graduation) was 82%, comparable to engineering graduates (86%). Only 6—8% of our graduates proceed to full-time PhD studies right after completing the BSc programme.

That said, surveys do show that many of our graduates have the intention of pursuing further studies at some point, though not necessarily right after graduation. About 40% are interested in pursuing a Masters degree or professional qualification, and about 18% are interested in pursuing a PhD.

5. Will I have problems if I did not take the Modern Physics H3 paper?

No. Our curriculum is designed so that you learn about physics starting from the basics. Students who took the Modern Physics H3 paper will benefit from having previously encountered some of the more advanced concepts, but our lecturers do not assume any prior knowledge.

6. As a polytechnic graduate, will I have problems with the coursework?

Some of our most academically successful graduates were from polytechnics. It is true that polytechnic diploma holders sometimes face challenges, during the first year, to master the required mathematical skills. This is especially the case for those who took diplomas in fields further removed from physics and mathematics. By the end of the first year of study, however, those who apply themselves can catch up to — or even surpass — their fellow students.

Questions from current undergraduates

1. Can I switch from Physics to Applied Physics, or vice versa?

If you are still a first year student, it's no problem; the "branching point" between the programmes occurs sometime in Year 2 Semester 2. Even after that, you can switch programmes simply by taking the required courses. Please look up the programme requirements here.

In either case, please contact our undergraduate programmes coordinator, and we will try our best to help you.

Questions about the PHMA programme

1. Is there an academic performance requirement to remain in the PHMA programme?

Yes. You are required to maintain a CGPA of at least 4.0 throughout your course of study. If your CGPA first falls below 4.0, you shall be given a written warning. If you are unable to meet the requirements after another semester, you will be transferred to the Physics (PHY) programme, without a second major in Mathematical Science.

2. Can I drop my second major in Mathematical Sciences?

Yes, this can be done anytime. Moreover, PHMA students do not only drop the second major due to failing to meet CGPA requirements. In numerous cases, they decide that the course load is too heavy, and prefer to spend the extra time focusing on undergraduate research, other courses of study, extracurricular activities, etc. There is therefore no stigma associated with leaving the PHMA programme.

To drop the second major, please contact our undergraduate programmes coordinator, and give your full name, matriculation number, and a brief reason for dropping the second major. Please note that this decision, once made, is irrevocable.

3. Can I drop my physics major instead of the Mathematical Sciences major?

Yes, but this can be done via the Change of Programme process, described here. Please contact our undergraduate programmes coordinator, and we will assist you through the process.

4. If I dropped the second major in Mathematical Sciences, must I still take the math courses in the regular Physics curriculum?

It depends on when you drop the second major. If you have taken MH1200 and MH1201, you will not need to take MH2802. If you have only taken MH1200 but not MH1201, you are not exempt from MH2802. Other courses are matched on a case-by-case basis. Please contact our undergraduate programmes coordinator, and we will work out the course-matching for you.

5. When do I choose my specialization for the Math programme?

You will choose your specialization during Year 2 Semester 1. You will be contacted by the Division of Mathematical Sciences with instructions. If you have questions, please contact their undergraduate programmes coordinator​​​.

6. How do I register for courses, since I have to enroll in both PPHY and MAS courses?

The School will help PHMA students register for core courses. An email will be sent to you to check your Degree Audit to confirm the courses registered. You can continue to add courses during Course Registration up to the Add/Drop period. Please note that the normal load for PHMA students is 22 AU, while the maximum load is 25 AU. If you wish to take more than 25 AU, you must apply for permission (an email will be sent out prior to the Course Registration period with instructions about how to do this).