FAQs for Physics Undergrads

This page covers frequently asked questions specific to the Physics and Applied Physics undergraduate programmes. For more questions about undergraduate study at SPMS, please refer to our Undergraduate Programmes FAQ.

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 in 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 topics such as condensed-matter physics, high-energy particle physics, statistical mechanics, and general relativity, which relate to fundamental physics (e.g., particle and gravitational physics) and 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 focus on device and technology applications, such as optical fibres, lasers, magnetic/spintronic devices, radiation-based medical diagnosis and therapy technologies, acoustic devices for industrial and medical sensing, etc.

Is Applied Physics the same as engineering?

There is no sharp distinction between Applied Physics and Engineering, but they are not the same. Applied Physics sits between pure physics, which focuses on understanding Nature, and engineering, which focuses on implementing 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.

What are the career prospects?

A physics or applied physics education provides broad 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.

According to survey data collected by Singapore's Ministry of Education, our graduates have gone on to a wide range of careers, including 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 different job types are shown on our Career Prospects page.

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 Graduate Employment Survey (conducted six months after graduation) is over 80%, comparable to engineering graduates. Only 6—8% of our graduates proceed to full-time PhD studies right after completing the BSc programme.

Surveys do show that many of our graduates intend to 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.

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

No. Our curriculum is designed to start from the basics. Students who took the Modern Physics H3 paper will benefit from having previously encountered some of the more advanced concepts, but this prior knowledge is not assumed or required.

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

Some of our most academically successful graduates were from polytechnics. Polytechnic diploma holders do sometimes face challenges (mostly during the first year) in mastering 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, those who apply themselves can catch up to or surpass their fellow students.

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 SPMS Undergraduate Studies for help with the switch.

Does the Second Major in Microelectronics Engineering also confer a BE degree?

No. Although this programme's microelectronics coursework is taught by NTU's School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, graduating students are conferred a Bachelor of Science (BSc) degree.

With the BSc in Physics and Mathematical Sciences (Double Major), can I apply for a PhD or MSc degree in either Physics or Mathematics?

Yes. Graduating students are equally well positioned for further studies (Master's or PhD) in either Physics or in Mathematics.

It should also be noted that MSc and PhD programmes routinely accept applicants from different undergraduate degrees. So graduates of the Physics and Mathematical Sciences can also apply to programmes in other areas. By the same token, it is possible for graduates of other degree programmes to successfully do a MSc or PhD in Physics or Mathematics.

What is the difference between the Physics and Mathematical Sciences Double Major and the Physics with Second Major in Mathematics (PHMA) programme?

The old PHMA programme was classified as a Second Major rather than a Double Major. It will no longer be offered from Academic Year 2020 onward (except for returning NSMen, who will be given a choice to remain in PHMA or switch to the new Double Major programme).

Whereas the PHMA programme had slightly more emphasis on physics coursework, the new Physics and Mathematical Sciences Double Major programme strikes a roughly even balance between physics and mathematics coursework, with both subjects taking up equal numbers of Academic Units in the curriculum.