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Careers in physics and astronomy

A physics degree prepares you for a variety of career options. During your time at Calvin, you can customize your program for the type of career you want to pursue.

Applied Research and Technology

Many Calvin physics grads work at high-tech companies or national labs doing research and development. Examples include developing ground control systems for satellites (David Pastoor '04 at Raytheon), precision optical equipment (Ross Norman '08 at Electro-Optics), and heart prostheses and therapy (Chris Hartemink '96 at Guidant). A large sub-field is radiation health physics, where U.S. citizens are in high demand. A graduate degree is not required to get started in industry and applied research.

To pursue this path, students should

  • develop your resume, and prepare for job interviews
  • take Engineering 295 (internship workshop) in fall of sophomore or junior year
  • attend jobs fairs in your sophomore and junior year, not just as a senior
  • apply in sophomore year for summer internships at companies and national labs
  • plan a minor in science computation, optics, engineering, or biotechnology
  • consider a masters degree in applied physics, engineering, or health physics
  • talk to your academic advisor and make use of career resources in the student center (SB157)
  • talk to Calvin alumni working at companies that interest you

Secondary Education

Andrew Vanden Heuvel '06Many Calvin physics grads are high school teachers, trained in the most effective methods of science education and inspiring the next generation. Examples include Josh Gabrielse '03 in Baltimore Public Schools, Kristen Datema '06 at Central Valley Christian high school in California, Mike Evele '88 at Grandville public high school in Michigan, and Andrew Vanden Heuvel '04 at Michigan Virtual School.

To pursue this path, students should

  • talk to the physics secondary education advisor Prof Loren Haarsma if you have any interest in education, to get more details on the following items
  • take Education 102 and 202 and Science Education Studies 214 before the end of your sophomore year
  • choose core courses carefully to meet education requirements (SCES214 for Rhetoric in Culture, EDUC202 for Persons in Community, IDIS205 for Societal Structures)
  • talk to the secretary in the Education Department and ask to be added to their email list for announcements
  • apply to work as a grader and lab assistant in physics courses, especially Phys133 and Phys235
  • attend meetings of the Michigan section of the American Association of Physics Teachers
  • consider combining Physics secondary education with Integrated Science secondary education or Math secondary education
  • if you decide on education as a junior or senior, it is still possible to enter this field; consult Prof Loren Haarsma about options

Pure Research and Academia

Melissa Dykhuis '10Many Calvin physics grads study the fundamental laws of nature, probing the boundaries of unanswered questions. They work at universities, national labs, and colleges. Examples include studying the center of our Galaxy (Howard Bushouse '80 at the Space Telescope Science Institute), measuring the magnetic moment of the positron (Shannon Fogwell Hoogerheide '05 PhD candidate at Harvard University), and computational studies of protein folding (Hugh Nymeyer '94).

To pursue this path, students should

  • apply for summer research on-campus or off-campus
  • present your research at poster fairs and conferences
  • consider a minor in math, optics, or science computation
  • plan to pursue a PhD in physics or astronomy
  • maintain a strong physics GPA (over 3.5 is usually needed for top PhD programs)
  • take the general and physics GRE exams in fall of your senior year. Study for the GRE in summer before your senior year (see Prof Loren Haarsma for study assistance).
  • talk to your academic advisor about graduate programs. See Prof Paul Harper for additional advice on grad schools, and make use of resources in the student center (SB157). If you are interested in a reseach career in astronomy, plan your program with Prof Larry Molnar.
  • talk to Calvin alumni at universities where you might want to attend grad school

Other careers

Calvin grads are using their physics training in many related areas, from philosophy of science (Elise Crull '05) to nuclear engineering (John Vander Weide '05). Students with a science degree are in high demand in the field of patent law (Phil Ammar '04).


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Planning ahead

See our general advice for all career paths in physics.


See what physics and astronomy alumni are doing with their degrees from Calvin.

Tom Strikwerda '71 is a supervisor for Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory's National Security Space Mission Area and is responsible for all of the National Security Space program managers. Read more>>

Alex Dragt '58 was recognized for his work with Lie algebraic methods by the 2013 Particle Accelerator Science and Technology Award, given to individuals who have made outstanding contributions in this field. Read more>>