Interdisciplinary Option

The interdisciplinary option provides students with the flexibility to design an intellectually coherent academic program that combines their physics studies with training in fields such as applied science, biological science, geoscience, environmental science, computational science, and mathematics. This option prepares students for diverse career paths and can serve as an underpinning for related interdisciplinary graduate studies. It has fewer course requirements within the Physics Department and additional elective requirements chosen from courses offered in other departments. We invite students interested in this option to work with a faculty member to craft an individualized route to the physics major.

Students choosing the Interdisciplinary Option can also take advantage of the opportunity to cross-register for courses at Olin College of Engineering and at MIT. A key element in the design of this route to the physics major is that it should form a coordinated program of study that draws on and relates to a student’s physics background. Please note that the college offers Interdepartmental majors in Astrophysics and in Chemical Physics; these majors are distinct from the Physics Interdisciplinary Option.

There are multiple possibilities in the design of the Interdisciplinary Option; major requirements will be tailored to each student’s interests within the framework described below.

Requirements for the Interdisciplinary Option

The following requirements apply to students who matriculated before Fall 2020. Newer students should contact the department chair for assistance planning the interdisciplinary pathway through the physics major.

The Interdisciplinary Option within the Physics major will normally include

  1. PHYS 107, PHYS 108, PHYS 202, PHYS 207, MATH 215, PHYS 216;
  2. three 300-level courses from among PHYS 302, PHYS 305, PHYS 310, and PHYS 314, normally including PHYS 314, chosen to support and complement coursework described in (3). Two 300-level physics courses will satisfy this requirement if the courses chosen in (3) include quantitative work at a level commensurate with a 300-level physics course.
  3. a coherent set of four courses chosen from another scientific discipline. After consultation with a Physics Department faculty member, each student intending to complete the Interdisciplinary Option will submit a written rationale for her proposed coursework that explains the intellectual unity of her academic plan, and that academic plan must be approved by the department. Appropriate coursework at Olin and MIT may be substituted for Wellesley coursework.

While the number of physics courses required for the Interdisciplinary Option is one (or possibly two) less than the number required for the standard physics major, the total number of required courses (including courses taken outside the department) is greater. Careful planning in consultation with the Physics Department is necessary; we recommend that students have a well-crafted academic plan by the Fall semester of their sophomore year. Sample curricula for biophysics, applied physics, geophysics, computational physics, mathematical physics, and environmental physics are available here.

Students interested in graduate programs in physics (as opposed to graduate programs in applied physics, other science disciplines, and engineering) are strongly recommended to complete all four of the department’s required 300-level courses plus PHYS 320.