The Physics Department encourages its majors to seek out learning opportunities abroad and will strive to provide such support as is necessary to accommodate a summer, single semester, or year abroad. Learning abroad may provide unique study and/or research opportunities that will greatly expand a student's understanding of, and engagement with, the physical sciences. Alternatively, a period abroad may also be used as a hiatus drom the major, providing time to explore other elements of a student's liberal arts education before returning to the major. In either case, by immersing themselves in another culture and engaging with unfamiliar perspectives students will develop skills and competencies for careers and citizenship in a global world.
Where to Study
The Physics Department encourages students to think broadly about their goals for study abroad in choosing a host destination. For example: do you wish to study in a language other than English? In recent years physics majors have studied in France and Costa Rica, and have conducted summer research in Germany and Japan. Perhaps you are interested in non-traditional, English-speaking locations such as South Africa or Hong Kong, or you would prefer to target an institution in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or the United Kingdom.
For a list of where past and present physics majors have studied and a summary of the courses they have taken abroad, check this searchable database. Note that this is not a definitive list of what is possible and should serve only as a useful guide and planning resource.
When to Study
It is of vital importance that students plan their schedule according to whether they intend to take any physics courses while they are studying abroad. Almost no planning hurdle is insurmountable, as long as students consult with their advisor and, where necessary, the department chair, to address these issues ahead of time.
A physics major interested in study abroad for a single semester will generally find the spring of her junior year to be the best option. While the sequencing of the required physics major courses is critical in the first two years of study, by the third or fourth year, physics majors have a great deal of flexibility in the timing of their coursework. Physics majors are strongly encouraged to participate in independent research, and many of our majors do senior honors theses in their senior year, in which case study abroad fits better during the junior year.
International summer research opportunities offer another popular option for study abroad for physics majors. Many funded international summer research programs exist through the National Science Foundation, the German government, etc.; please see our internships page for ideas. In recent years, physics majors have done nanoscience research in Japan and nuclear physics in Germany.
As a general rule nearly all elective offerings at foreign institutions for which students meet the prerequisites will be accepted for 200 or 300-level credit at Mount Holyoke. A student wishing to take a physics course abroad should consult beforehand with her faculty advisor; the department is often willing to accept courses taken abroad in lieu of one or more of the major requirements, but this must be arranged ahead of time.
Summer Internships and Research Abroad
An international summer internship or research project is a good way for physics majors to apply and develop their skills and explore possible career paths while engaging with cultures and perspectives outside the United States. Further, those physics majors involved in significant research collaborations with faculty may find a summer internship to be the best fit with their plans for their time at the College. A number of faculty members also collaborate with colleagues abroad. A summer spent with a collaborator may, therefore, achieve the twin goals of providing a valuable experience abroad, as well as allowing a student to move her research efforts forward in a new and interesting manner.
Many funded summer research opportunities are available to physics majors. The Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, funded by the National Science Foundation, offers programs for undergraduate research both abroad and in the U.S. The DAAD RISE program also offers funded summer research opportunities in Germany for students in the sciences.
Students also have the option of developing their own summer internships or research project abroad. Support for unpaid opportunities is available through the Universal Application Form (UAF), which offers students access to funding from a variety of College fellowship sources to cover travel and living expenses for the duration of the project. Students with a family contribution of less than $5,000.00 may also receive a $500.00 grant to apply towards their summer earnings contribution. Both the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives and the Career Development Center have student evaluations of past international internships on file. Additional resources may be found on the Physics Department's internships' page.