College Spotlight – Physical and Mathematical Sciences
Learn about the majors offered by the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

“Why are you taking this class?” This is the first question Associate Dean Jennifer Nielson asks her organic chemistry course. From the multiple-choice answers for this question, one stands out: “to become a better parent.” While few select this option as their initial reason for taking the course, Dean Nielson tells each class that it may be the best answer. “Parenting is problem solving,” she tells them. “This class will teach you how to solve problems—one of the most important skills you will need as a parent.”

While the name of our college—The College of Physical and Mathematical Science—is long, it can be summarized by this simple idea:  we are problem solvers. Students in our college want to understand the world and make it a better place. Our students change the world by tackling the tough problems. Whether studying biochemistry, software engineering, or how to teach mathematics, our students really are making a difference.

Our college has grown tremendously over the last decade. We continue to admit more students because we believe these majors will give students the tools they need to make an impact on the world. To this end, we encourage our students to be mentored and participate in hands-on learning. We can’t wait to see what they accomplish in the future. Our departments are:

  • Chemistry & Biochemistry: Students in this program study biochemistry, chemistry, or chemistry education. Many students go on to graduate school or medical school. Other students work professionally in research labs. The Chemistry and Biochemistry Department is among the leading departments in research at BYU. It has remarkable success in many areas including cancer therapy, chromatography, and nano technology.
  • Computer Science: Computer science has become an integral part of every industry in recent years. CS students use the power of computing to solve real-world problems. While many graduates work in tech companies, many also find careers in data science, the medical field, the financial industry, and even in the arts. The high demand in this field gives graduates the flexibility to choose the type of job, the hours, and the work environment that they want. A subset of computer science students continues on to graduate school where they become experts in fields such as machine learning and human-computer interaction.
  • Geological Sciences: Students studying geological sciences learn about the earth and the natural processes that have operated both upon and within it. There is so much technology available for studying the earth, and students are able to learn through dynamic and diverse field trips with hands-on training. Student researchers this year helped discover that the Traverse Mountains (the mountains separating Salt Lake and Utah counties) originated from a landslide that happened millions of years ago.
  • Mathematics: In this department, students can major in either mathematics or applied and computational mathematics. These students find themselves in high demand. The fields of finance, industry, government, technology, law, medicine, and more all require employees with advanced math skills. Last year, students participated in a study abroad where they visited companies throughout Europe to learn how training in mathematics could prepare them for corporate careers.
  • Mathematics Education: Mathematics education students are trained as educators for secondary schools (grades 7-12), but the strong mathematical foundation in this major also provides students with other career opportunities. Mathematics is often seen as a field of symbol manipulation because students learn terms and practice procedures. However, the heart of mathematics is reasoning, sense-making, and problem solving. Mathematics educators depend heavily upon their own understanding of mathematics, but they must also develop an understanding of how their students think about mathematics. Foundational to this new understanding is recognizing that each person’s way of seeing mathematics is different and so the teacher’s way of understanding mathematics is likely different from a student’s way of understanding mathematics. Because of these different ways of seeing mathematics, instructional strategies should create a classroom environment where students are encouraged to share their thinking and discuss it among their peers.
  • Physics & Astronomy: The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers the following five undergraduate degree programs:  physics, physics-astronomy, applied physics, physics teaching, teaching physical science. Physics and astronomy majors find jobs in research and development in high-tech industries, in engineering, and computer software/IT. They can go on to graduate school in engineering fields, the physical or biological sciences, as well as to professional schools such as medicine, law (especially patent law), and business. They work in universities and government labs, observatories, and planetariums.
  • Statistics: As students study statistics, they expand their understanding of the role of science in a systematic pursuit of truth and they develop the ability to understand and communicate the results from empirical research in an ethical manner. The wonderful characteristic of statistics is that it is used in every field, allowing students to work with physicists, chemists, sports coaches, governmental agencies, etc. Students in this department have a 98% placement rate.

Experiential learning and Mentoring: Our college has always emphasized giving undergraduate students the opportunity to work in research labs with faculty members and other students. After President Worthen’s call for faculty to provide Inspiring Learning opportunities, we’ve redoubled our efforts to provide more and better opportunities for our students.  Each semester, hundreds of students are paid to research in our labs where they have the unique opportunity to apply what they are learning in class. The work they produce helps them stand out on graduate school and job applications.

After graduation:  In recent years our graduates have chosen the following paths: 

50–55% received job offers   

30–35% attended graduate or professional school

5–10% used their skills at home with their families  

Less than 5% indicated they were still looking for employment

Supporting your student in our majors: Are our classes difficult and time consuming? Yes. Will we require a lot of effort from your daughters and sons? Certainly. Will they at times question whether it’s worth it when there are other, easier options? Absolutely. Remind your student that working hard is not a symptom of failure; it is essential to success. Remind them of the end goal:  to understand the world and to gain the tools to solve problems.

Visit the College of Physical and Mathematical website to learn more about these programs and the opportunities available to students.

Kimberly Jenkins is the Marketing Manager for the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

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