Frequently Asked Questions

About SPS

Why should I join SPS?

Unlocking the secrets of the universe is fun, but it’s even more fun with friends. Also, we have snacks.

How can I join SPS?

If you want to be a part of SPS, then you already are. Aside from our mailing list (which you can contact us to join) and officer rolls, we do not keep a formal roster of people who are a part of this club. Some students opt to join SPS National, which requires membership dues of $24 per year but provides various benefits such as membership in the American Physical Society and another physics organization of one’s choosing, though most members are not a part of SPS National and it is certainly not prerequisite to being a part of the club in any way.

How can I become an officer of SPS?


How can I get involved in SPS?

Outside of weekly meetings, our chapter of SPS facilitates a variety of activities including regular barbecues, faculty-student lunches, outreach events, occasional professional development sessions and panels, and laboratory tours. We are always looking for proactive members to volunteer for these kinds of events. Doing so is a great way to get involved with us and meet a bunch of awesome people who love the same stuff that you do.

What happens at SPS meetings?

At SPS meetings, we make important announcements often followed by some other kind of professional/fun activity. In the past, we have

In addition, among other things, we have

If that isn’t enough incentive to attend, we even provide snacks! This alone should be incentive!

Do I have to be a physics major to be a part of SPS?

No. We will love you anyway <3


What’s the difference between the 5 series and the 7 series? If I already classes in one of these, can I switch to the other mid-sequence?There are several notable differences between the 5 series and the 7 series, listed below:

It is entirely possible (and precedented) to switch between the two sequences if desired. However, because of curriculum mismatches, students are sometimes required to take 1 supplementary unit covering the material that they would miss in the new sequence (under the coursename Physics 49). For example, students switching from 7A to 5B were required to take Physics 49 to satisfy the lower division relativity requirement.

What are Physics H7A/B/C and how can I take them?

The Physics H7 series was the honors introductory physics series primarily geared towards physics majors. It has since been phased out and replaced by the Physics 5 series, which serves a similar purpose but features a rearranged curriculum and more extensive parallel laboratory courses.

What is the 8 series?

The 8 series (Physics 8A/B) is the lower division introductory physics sequence for certain non-physics fields such as MCB (molecular and cellular biology) and architecture, among others.

Do I have to take Math 54? Can I take Math 54 in place of Physics 89?

Math 54 is not a physics requirement in most circumstances. While it never hurts to ask, the physics department has historically been very unlikely to allow Math 54 in place of Physics 89 unless the petitioning student is a double major in mathematics—the math department does not allow Physics 89 in place of Math 54, and the physics department will allow Math 54 if the student is double-majoring in math. This confusion has caused many students to have to take Physics 89 after already having taken Math 54. However, some students report that Math 54 in its own right is a good introduction to/review of linear algebra, which is also covered in Physics 89.

What is Physics 89 and how is it different from Math 54?

Physics 89, like Math 54, handles the topics of introductory linear algebra and differential equations. However, unlike Math 54, Physics 89 focuses less on rigorous proofs and more on applications in physics—the eigenvalue problem is often almost immediately related to coupled spring systems, for example. Physics 89 also often covers such topics as basic tensor manipulations, Fourier and Laplace transforms, complex analysis, and Green’s functions, although the exact curriculum is semester- and professor-dependent.

Is there any specific order to take classes in?

There are a few guidelines for what order to take physics classes in:

Aside from these, there is a lot of freedom to sculpt exactly how you go about completing the physics major requirements. In your upper division coursework, you will have the ability to take classes in almost whatever order you want.

Does the 5 series count in place of the 7 series for <insert major here>?

The 5 series is just essentially the honors version of the 7 series, and there is no reason why any department would not allow this substitute. Among others, the astrophysics and EECS majors have accepted the 5 series without question.

What are Physics 111A/B and when should I take them?

Physics 111A (BSC, basic semiconductor circuits) is a famous (infamous?) circuit laboratory class which is required for all physics majors. Students explore various mostly practical aspects of circuitry, generally with a lab partner. It is famously a very time-consuming course, requiring many hours during the normal semester and even more during the summer sessions, where the pace of the class is greatly accelerated. It is our most sincere recommendation not to take this class alongside too many other technical classes: though it is not “difficult” in the traditional sense, it is extremely demanding on time. Many students also swear by taking the class during the summer; even though the pace is very fast, students are often unburdened from other academic responsibilities and can focus on succeeding both in 111A and in the regular school year. Physics 111B is quite different from 111A in that, rather than exploring basic aspects of circuit design, students perform historical, often Nobel-winning experiments. Students who have taken the course report that Physics 111B is very demanding for a few select weeks out of the semester when a lab is due, but is otherwise different in nature from 111A. While there is no single good answer for when to take this class, many students opt to take it their senior year since it is not really prerequisite for anything else. This class does not need to be taken immediately after 111A.

Should I take a graduate classes as an undergraduate?

You should really only consider taking a graduate class if you have exhausted the undergraduate classes in a topic and are genuinely interested in moving forward. Bad reasons to take grad classes as an undergrad include:

The Physics Major

Why should I be a physics major?

Non-exhaustive list of good reasons to major in physics:

Non-exhaustive list of bad reasons to major in physics:

Do I apply to Berkeley as a physics major? How can I declare a physics major? How can I declare a second major?

The physics major falls under the College of Letters and Science. This means that, while you may apply indicate an intended major on your application, you will come into the school undeclared. In order to declare the physics major, you must either have completed or be enrolled in your lower division physics requirements after the drop deadline for that semester. You can declare the physics major by going to the third floor of LeConte and talking to our wonderful physics advisors.However, be aware that the engineering physics major is under the College of Engineering, where students may apply and be admitted straight into a major.To declare a second major, you need to satisfy all the requisite lower division requirements for both majors (and whatever requisite GPA cap needed for the second major, if any), fill out a double major declaration form and have advisors from both departments sign it. You will then need to bring it to 206 Evans Hall, whereupon bureaucracy takes over, and you should expect to see your majors on CalCentral within days/weeks.

Is there a GPA requirement to declare the physics major?

Unlike for relatively impacted majors at Berkeley like computer science or statistics, the physics major does not have a particularly strict GPA cap. There is a lower division 2.0 minimum GPA requirement to declare, although this is not a particularly stringent restriction. There is also an overall 2.0 GPA requirement to graduate, although this requirement is schoolwide and not specific to the physics major in particular.

Do I need to be good at math to become a physics major?

Honestly, this is a tough question. Physics inevitably includes a large amount of math when describing physical phenomena. While algebra, (single and multivariable) calculus, and linear algebra are absolutely essential in succeeding as a physics major, other fields of math such as group theory and complex analysis, among others, also occasionally get involved.All of this is the truth. However, you aren’t really expected to be a master all the math needed to do physics right at the beginning, in the same way that you aren’t expected to know all of physics before becoming a physics major. You can, and usually will, learn the math as you go. The defeatist attitude of thinking you are “bad at math” is often over-pessimistic and self-defeating (yes, really!), though “liking” (or, at least, being okay with the idea of doing math) is pretty necessary.

Am I smart/hardworking/dedicated enough to do a physics major?

Yes. If we can believe in you, then you can believe in yourself.

Should I double major?

You should double major only if you really like the subject that you are double-majoring in. Students in physics commonly double major in subjects such as mathematics, astrophysics, computer science, and many others. However, do not feel obligated to get a double major just to get the credential—it is much better (and easier!) to focus on a single subject you love than to drag yourself through many second major course requirements because you feel like you have an obligation to. Certainly, physics graduate school does not expect you to have a double major.

Why is my degree a Bachelor of Arts?

The physics major at Berkeley falls under the College of Letters and Science, which exclusively provides Bachelor of Arts degrees. However, professional organizations do not care about this and will treat it just like any other physics degree.


What is research like?

While all research opportunities are different, there is a common theme for most positions. Generally, you will be assigned to some graduate/postdoctoral mentor who will show you the ropes. Oftentimes, you will be assigned basic tasks at first, during which you start to understand the research group’s dynamics as well as its area of interest. While you won’t necessarily be expected to contribute too much at first, you may find that you will gradually take on greater responsibility the longer you stay in the group. Exactly when/how this happens depends on your particular circumstances.

How do I get research?

There is no single way that undergraduate students get research. There are many campus resources such as the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP) and the Berkeley Physics Undergraduate Research Scholars Program (BPURS) and ULAB, among others. However, emailing professors/postdocs/graduate students or visiting them during office hours is a very common way to get into research. Programs such as research experiences for undergraduates (REUs) allow for short research opportunities over the summer, although they require relatively early applications.

Do I need to do research?

Generally speaking, if your aim is to get into grad school, research tends to be regarded as quite critical because it provides exposure to “real physics” (as opposed to “lecture-midterm-final physics”). In addition, graduate schools often require three letters of recommendation, and professors who are writing for students who have worked with them are usually better equipped to write strong letters of recommendation. However, this should not be seen as a rush to get started on research—it is very common to defer research until sophomore year. Research does not have to be done every semester and, for undergraduates, is almost always ultimately non-committal (there is no shame in leaving a group because you do not find the research area interesting).


What do I have to do in order to get into grad school?

In addition to transcripts and research experience, almost all physics graduate program applications require the following:

Curriculum vitae (CV):

Letters of recommendation:

Physics GRE:

General GRE:

Application essays:

The application itself:


Do I have to go to grad school?

Absolutely not! Many physics students actually go into industry right out of college. There are many ways to be successful with a physics degree! One caveat, however, is that it is very difficult to find a job in the field of physics itself without some kind of graduate degree, although the analytical skills provided by the physics degree are applicable in places other than physics.It sometimes feels like there is a stigma against not going to grad school, but this is honestly pretty silly. As cheesy as it sounds, no across-the-slate one-size-fits-all path really exists because there are many ways to succeed (the irony of this claim is recognized). Even if you go into decide to go into industry and change your mind down the line, you can still go to grad school.