High School Physics Page

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Introduction to STEM Careers

This page provides information on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) related careers in order to help high school students make informed decisions.

The page was originally posted in 1996 and a lot has changed since then. For example, the term STEM was little used in 1996 but has become a buzz word for a whole branch of well paid career possibilities and a rallying cry for math, science, and computing reform needed in the United States Educational system.  The original page focused on one of these needs: the need for making better quality high school physics courses available to a wider range of American students. This need still exists, however, it's now clear that the need for improved computing education, and improvements in all science and math classes are at least as great.

The single biggest change since 1996 has been  the explosion of computing jobs.  These continue to be the highest growth areas of all the STEM diciplines. According to Dr. Christos Papadimitriou of UC Berkeley, “Computer science is the new mathematics” .

All of the employment statistics come from The   .


STEM Career Opportunities

There is nothing more discouraging to students than spending several years in college and thousands of dollars earning a degree only to find out they can't get a job in their chosen field. Gaining a realistic understanding of career opportunities is as important to student success as learning to use a computer.

The following information is offered as a starting place. An attempt has been made to primarily list careers requiring at minimum a four year bachelor's degree from an accredited university or college. In many cases they require study beyond a four year degree. The exceptions are the computer related careers. Here a 2 year degree or simply significant experience can lead to a position. This is especially true of computer programmers. Since there is no clean way to separate jobs requiring a bachelor's degree or higher from those that don't all 3.2 million jobs have been included. Of these probably at least 2 million require a minimum of a bachelor's degree.

The flexible educational requirements for computing professionals is especially good news for liberal arts majors. Often communication ability, people skills, or knowledge related to a software project are equal in importance to computing knowledge. The message to students should be clear: get a liberal arts degree but also minor in computer science if you want to improve significantly your job marketability.

The 2.5 million registered nurse jobs were not listed, because there are multiple paths to a registered nurse position including a bachelor’s degree, an associate degree, and a diploma from an approved nursing program. Nursing definitely has a technical side but would traditionally not be considered a STEM discipline. Something similar could be said for the career path to at least some of computer related jobs and so the decision to include them in the chart, but not nurses was at least partly a judgment call.

Although they use at least some scientific tools, psychologists would not be considered a traditional STEM discipline but were listed on the chart primarily for reference purposes and because psychology is an extremely popular college major.

Traditional scientific careers such as biologist, chemist, physicist, etc. typically require a doctor's degree and have limited job availability. Jobs which apply science to practical problem solving tend to have the best employment prospects. These include engineering, many types of medicine, and computer-related careers.

Judging the value of high school or college courses based solely on the career information presented is not a good idea. Math and chemistry have a relatively small number of directly related careers but are prerequisites for virtually all the other areas. Physics-related careers could be considered applied math jobs. Biology-related careers all depend heavily on chemistry and usually require at least some physics courses.

No data is presented on the thousands of technician jobs available in STEM areas although many of these have salaries which compare favorably to more traditional science-related careers. Business management, sales, and marketing also are not mentioned although they employ thousands of individuals with STEM-related degrees. It is increasingly important for employees in these areas to have scientific and technical training. Finally, K-12 teaching is not mentioned although it is the largest profession in America (3.3 million jobs) and employs thousands of individuals with science-related degrees. Indeed there is a critical shortage of science teachers in America. These other career areas have been omitted to save space, but hopefully the message is clear: there is a place for any serious student of mathematics, science, and technology.


Career's Requiring Physics and/or Computer Science Training


Projected Job Growth from 2006 to 2016: 806 Thousand Jobs

While the computing professions have far more flexible entry requirements than engineering, computing has become the job growth gorilla of the 21st century. In fact, computer-related majors are now challenging engineering majors for the distinction of having the highest starting salaries for bachelor degree graduates.

Traditional computer programmer jobs are declining in the United States and many are moving over seas. However, jobs dealing with data bases, software engineering, systems support and administration, as well as systems analysts are booming.

Revenues from the gaming industry alone have now past revenues from Hollywood movies. But, with computer generated graphics and animation, even Hollywood has become infused with computing related jobs.

With the success of the Human Genome project and the flood  of new genetic information it has produced, the computer is becoming a 21st century microscope for analyzing data in the life sciences.

The job marketability for almost any college major can be improved by taking computer science courses.

1. Association for Computing Machinery, ACM,

2. Computing Research Association,

3. IEEE Computer Society,



Projected Job Growth from 2006 to 2016: 171 Thousand Jobs

GENERAL DESCRIPTION: Engineering is the second largest profession in the United States (K-12 teaching is number one) and typically has demanded the highest starting salaries for new bachelor's degree graduates ( a position now challenged by computer science majors). The job market encompasses the entire United States and so engineers can almost always get work if they are willing to move.

Engineering is a true profession like law and medicine in that it requires rigorous training in college and has a demanding licensing process.  This includes passing two lengthy written tests as well a verbal examination by a board of review. Many states have laws which prohibit individuals from representing themselves as engineers or even using the term engineer on a business card unless they are properly licensed. The reasons for this are simple. Engineers frequently make complicated technical decisions with life and death consequences. They are responsible for the design safety of bridges, skyscrapers, airplanes, electrical systems, etc. A collapsing skyscraper, for instance, could easily kill hundreds of people.

Engineers working in industry are often exempted from licensing requirements. Even on public projects such as skyscrapers unlicensed engineers can work under the direction of licensed ones. This is a mixed blessing since it has probably prevented engineers from receiving the same status level as physicians and attorneys, but it does mean that anyone with an engineering degree can get work even without the rigors of becoming licensed.

EDUCATION REQUIREMENTS: Unlike law or medicine, engineering majors enter professional school directly when they enter college. It is one of the most demanding curriculums available in a four year or bachelor's degree and has one of the highest math requirements. The required English and humanities courses make up less than 20% of the total curriculum. Most of the curriculum is in one way or another related to applied physics or math. There are no foreign language requirements. While engineering students as a group tend to have one of the highest average SAT scores of any university major, it does not take a mathematical genius to be one. Any reasonably motivated and mathematically inclined student can succeed, and the rewards are worthwhile.

Engineers are generally required to take at least a one semester computing related class. However, this is sometimes limited to basic skills such as spread sheet modeling. Computer hardware majors take the highest number of programming classes and overlap at least some with computer science majors. However, given the explosion of computing jobs, all computer majors would be wise to pick up more than just the minimum requirements in computing.

With today's high-tech world, an engineering degree has increasingly become the springboard for careers in business management. Many top-level executives hold engineering degrees. An engineering degree can also be a springboard into medicine, law, or under the right circumstances a computing related career. The degree tends to open up many opportunities.

TYPES: There are four major types of engineering: civil, chemical, electrical, and mechanical. While other types exist, they tend to address narrowly focused areas which are offshoots of the major areas. Make no mistake, even biomedical engineers are hired for their skill at engineering, not for their knowledge of biology and physiology. Civil engineering is the oldest discipline and deals with structures such as tall buildings and bridges. Chemical engineering deals with the industrial production of chemicals. It tends to have the highest starting salaries but is more specialized than the other major engineering disciplines. Electrical engineering is the largest of the engineering disciplines and has tended to be very dynamic thanks to recent developments in computers and electronics. Mechanical engineering deals with all forms of machines and vehicles. It is a very versatile form of engineering since virtually everything, including computers, has mechanical parts.


1. American Institute of Chemical Engineers, AIChE,

2. American Societyof Mechanical Engineers, ASME,

3. Engineering Career Exploration Links,

4. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, IEEE,

5. National Society of Professional Engineers, NSPE, This is the organization to contact concerning engineering licensing requirements.


HIGH SCHOOL PREPARATION FOR ENGINEERING AND COMPUTING PROFESSIONS : High school students who plan to go into engineering should take as many AP courses as possible, including AP Physics, AP Computer Science, and AP Calculus if possible. A student doesn't have to be a wizard but one who is extremely uncomfortable with math and physics should usually not choose an engineering or computing major in college. AP classes in general help build the discipline needed to succeed in college. Engineering-bound high school students should pack in as much educational diversity as possible including foreign languages, literature, art, and other humanities classes. Engineering education offers limited background in the humanities since it is intensely focused on engineering. Paradoxically, while the technical training is required for getting a job, communication and interpersonal skills often determine how high an engineer rises on the corporate ladder.



Projected Job Growth from 2006 to 2016: 1 Thousand Jobs

1. NASA Job Opportunities - by Center,

2. Physics Careers Clemson University,

3. Physics Careers (an excellent link page),



Projected Job Growth from 2006 to 2016: 23 Thousand Jobs

Although architecture is often thought of as a branch of the fine arts, architects need to have an understanding of what holds a building up as well as how to heat, air condition, and light it. Students who find they are mostly interested in what holds the building up go into civil engineering while those who are mostly interested in a building's aesthetics go into architecture. Both disciplines, however, have a common ground based on applied physics.

1. American Institute ofArchitects, AIA,



Projected Job Growth from 2006 to 2016: 90 Thousand Jobs

Medicine is indeed a life science oriented career, however, it is included here because the pre-medicine bound students need to know that physics is part of the admission ticket to medical school. Not only is a pre-med student required to take the same amount of physics classes as biology in college, but about 25% of the science knowledge needed for the medical school entrance exam is based on physics. High school students who want to become physicians need a balanced high school curriculum which includes biology, chemistry, and physics courses. This helps maximize the chances of getting the high college grade point average needed for acceptance into medical school.

1) The AAMC's Academic Medicine Web Site, Association of American Medical Colleges

2) ChronoNet, the electronic Voice of the Medical Student and Applicant, This is an excellent source for aspiring doctors but can be slow to load.



Careers in Science and Engineering a Student Planning Guide to Grad School and Beyond,


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Check out these other web sites :

Basic Physics Savvy Quiz Find out how good you are at basic physics concepts and free yourself from the evils of physics misconceptions.

Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics Help stamp out indecent movie physics!

The Physics of Resonance This is one of the most striking and unexpected phenomenon in all of physics.

The Hidden World of the Electromagnetic (EM) Spectrum

Mr. Rogers' Twitter Site


First the web site, now the book!

The Insultingly Stupid Movie Physics web site was created in 1996 and has grow to about a million visits a year. It's now available in book form with lots of expanded content. For more information click here.

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