Why do physics? Where does it really lead?


  • John O’Byrne
  • Alberto Mendez


In the first half of 2008, a survey was distributed to a wide range of physics graduates across Australia. It is a major component of an effort to provide a realistic answer to the questions – Why do Physics? Where does it really lead? – based on the experience and perspective of real physics graduates in the workforce. The survey was the product of the Working Party on Physics Graduates in the Workforce, part of a project funded by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC). It sought to reach graduates from all Australian universities with physics or physics-related courses, both undergraduate and postgraduate. 171 replies were received, with over 70% recommending a major in Physics as useful training for a career in their field. Of those who didn’t, over 70% ‘recommend a smaller component of physics’ in a student’s training. While a positive response is not too surprising from this sample, it is nonetheless a strong endorsement of physics training from those who have survived the experience. But what was good about the training? More importantly, what wasn’t? In describing graduate attributes, most responses strongly agreed that undergraduate physics developed problem solving skills, but communication and planning skills and awareness of ethical and social issues were all relatively neglected at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. The responses clearly stated that all these need more emphasis. Using survey data and subsequent interviews, plus a similar survey of employers, the Working Party will construct a perspective on current physics training with suggestions on where changes in emphasis might be required.