Physics Department

Frequently Asked Questions

How does the Junior Qualifying Exam work?

The junior qualifying examination consists of 5 sections: Physics 101, 102, 201, 202 and Laboratory. The first four sections cover material from the Physics courses that majors typically take in their first two years, and the Laboratory section covers content from the laboratory portions of those same courses. Each section has four problems, meant to be roughly equivalent, in difficulty and coverage, to the final examinations from the relevant course. The examination is four hours long, closed book except for one page of notes, and taken in the Physics building. It is given at the start of the academic year, with a second sitting about three weeks into the semester. An information session about the examination for rising juniors is held every spring.

How do you get a thesis project?

The Physics Department requires two thesis proposals, due at the end of the second week of classes in the semester a student begins their thesis. Each proposal is roughly a page and includes references and a budget (if appropriate). The proposals typically suggest an adviser, and the two proposals cannot list the same adviser. Thesis ideas come from faculty (all of whom have active research programs), summer research, coursework, previous theses (the Physics Lounge has a large collection of past theses), or from journal articles (The American Journal of Physics is a good resource and many copies can be found in the Physics Lounge). There is an information session hosted by the department at the end of the spring semester, and another, focused on the proposal itself, given at the start of the fall semester.

Are there summer research opportunities?

A number of students are hired to work with faculty every summer and those opportunities are announced at the beginning of the spring semester. Outside of the department, the National Science Foundation supports a variety of Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs). There is also funding for summer research available from Reed, in the form of the Summer Opportunity Fellowship Award, to support students doing research elsewhere. 

What classes does a typical physics major take?

The typical physics major takes the required courses in the following sequence:
  • Year 1: HUM 110 (year-long), Phys 101 and Phys 102, Math 111 and Math 112, and between 0 and 2 additional courses.
  • Year 2: Phys 201 and Phys 202, Math 201 and Math 202, and 4 additional courses.
  • Year 3: Phys 311, Phys 321, Phys 331, Phys 332, Phys 342, and 3 additional courses.
  • Year 4: Phys 470 (year-long) and between 4 and 5 additional courses.

Of the unspecified 11-14 additional courses in the schedule, 6 of them will be used to satisfy the college's distribution requirements, leaving the student with 5-8 true electives.  It should be noted that the department regularly offers 8 elective physics classes geared at majors (Phys 322, Phys 351, Phys 362, Phys 364, Phys 366, Phys 367, Phys 411, and Phys 442) in addition to introductory-level electives.


What is the policy on AP/IB credit and placement?

For students starting in Fall 2024, AP scores will be used for placement out of introductory Physics courses as follows. For students scoring a 5 on both AP Physics C - Mech and a 5 on AP Calculus BC, placement will be into conference-only Physics 101 for 0.5 credit. Note that this will free students up to take an additional course in the fall. For students additionally scoring a 5 on AP Physics - E&M, placement will be into Physics 201 for Fall 2024. For students who have taken a calculus-based Physics course who haven't had the opportunity to take these AP exams, a placement test will be made available before Registration during Orientation Week.