FAQ for Physics Undergraduates

You just declared your major to Physics & Astronomy—Now what? See below for answers to Frequently Asked Questions.

Advising & Tutoring

You may declare the major at any time, but the switch to having the departmental advisor as your primary advisor happens on a schedule in order to avoid confusion. Every fall and spring semester, the Dean’s office sends a list to the Department of Physics and Astronomy of all the students who have declared the major since the last list was issued. This normally occurs around the end of the add/drop period and we notify everyone on the list that they now have an advisor in the department. So, if you declare the major after the add/drop period in fall or spring, then your current advisor will still be your official advisor until the next add/drop period. However, we are always happy to answer questions about our program and the courses that you should be taking regardless of who you advisor may be, or even if you have not yet declared the major.

The academic advisor for all majors in the Department of Physics and Astronomy is:

Russell Clark, Ph.D.
Appointments: https://www.appointmentquest.com/scheduler/2150061337

The easiest way to set up an advising appointment is to use the link below:

You can select Advising Appointment, or if that is not available then General Appointment.

You are always welcome to meet with your advisor if you have questions about the program, finding research opportunities, classes, etc. Beyond that, you will need to meet with your advisor to get your advising hold lifted for the next semester. These advising appointments may be scheduled a few weeks before registration starts for seniors, so spring registration appointments start in late September and fall registration appointments begin in early March.

During Fall and Spring semesters, UTAs and TAs are available for tutoring both online and in-person for all Pitt students. UTAs can be seen in OEH 304 for introductory course help, and TAs can be seen in the Resource Room (Thaw 312) for more advanced course help. Both can also be contacted online via the Physics & Astronomy Discord, which can be accessed from the PhyAst Discord Invitation link here. Please log in with your Pitt credentials to access this url. Pitt students from other campuses are welcome!

See the UTA schedule here; See the TA Schedule Here.

If you are looking for more individualized help, you can also request our list of Graduate Student Private Tutors from the Undergraduate Coordinator or grab a copy from the Physics Main Office in 100 Allen Hall. This list is also posted on the bulletin board outside of this office.

UTAs and TAs are completely free through the university; Private tutor rates and hours may vary. If you notice any broken links or encounter any issues, please contact the Undergraduate Coordinator.

If you passed one or more of our introductory courses (PHYS 0110-11, 0174-75, or 0475-76) with a "A" or higher, you are automatically eligible for an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant (UTA) Peer Tutor position. UTAs assist professors with classes during lectures and provide remote and/or in-person tutoring hours.

UTAs will conduct 3 office hours weekly, attend lectures for the class they are supporting, and will periodically meet with the instructor of the course. Generally, this is a ~10 hour weekly commitment.

Applications for UTA positions open up prior to the beginning of the Fall and Spring semesters. Please check our Physics UTA page for details.

Please direct questions to our Undergraduate Coordinator.

Classes & Credits

Permission numbers can be used for:

  • Closed classes.
  • When prerequisites aren't met.
  • When prerequisites are met, but by courses not recognized by our online system.
  • When you need professor permission to enroll.
  • Career restriction issues.

If you need a permission number, please contact the Undergraduate Coordinator. Inlcuding your Peoplsoft ID Number and the 5-digit class number will speed up this process.

If you don't meet the prerequisites for a class due to transfer credits not showing up on your transcript, first ensure that they were properly submitted by contacting the Dietrich School's Student Records Office via studentrecords@as.pitt.edu.

Note that time conflicts and other unlisted issues are handled separately; contact the department's Undergraduate Coordinator for help.

With instructor permission from both professors, it is possible to enroll into 2 classes that overlap for part of their assigned times, though this is not guaranteed nor recommended. If both professors approve, reach out to the Undergraduate Coordinator to see if you can be manually enrolled.

Yes, but you must meet the following requirements:

  • 2.0 cumulative GPA.
  • If you have earned more than 60 credits but less than 90 at the end of the spring term, you are only permitted to take courses at a four-year college; you will not be given permission to take courses at community colleges.

You cannot take classes at another university that count towards your degree in the following situations:

  • If you have earned 90 or more credits at the end of the spring term.
  • You are trying to repeat a course that you already have taken at Pitt.

If you meet these requirements, you may fill out a permission form through the student records office and proceed to take your summer classes.

Once you have completed your course(s), please have the other university e-mail an official transcript to Student Records (StudentRecords@AS.Pitt.edu).

If you need a transferred class to enroll into a Pitt class and the credits are not yet on your transcript when time is running out to fit into the class, make sure you’ve emailed Student Records correctly. Then, you may contact the Undergraduate Coordinator to see if you can be enrolled. Remember to include your transfer transcript. If you have professor permission, this will expedite the process. See more information on the process at the Student Records' Procedures page.

The three courses listed below are offered during the summer, and may be applied to any of our degree tracks:

PHYS 0174 – Basic Physics for Science and Engineering 1
4 Credits
Six-Week Sessions 1 and 2
This is the first part of a two-term sequence that introduces students to the basic principles of physics. An effort has been made to achieve a better integration of physics with the first term of calculus, engineering, and chemistry.

PHYS 0175 – Basic Physics for Science and Engineering 2
4 Credits
Six-Week Sessions 1 and 2
This is the second part of a two-term sequence that introduces students to the basic principles of physics. An effort has been made to achieve a better integration of physics with the first term of calculus, engineering, and chemistry. This course covers electricity, magnetism, circuits, electromagnetic theory and optics.

PHYS 0219 – Basic Laboratory Physics for Science and Engineering
2 Credits
Six-Week Session 2
An introductory laboratory associated with Physics 0174 and 0175. Experiments from many areas of physics are performed.

  • UTAs: Undergraduate Teaching Assistants (UTAs) are available to help with introductory physics courses such as PHYS 0110, 0111, 0174, 0175, and 0475. You can contact them virtually though Discord, Zoom, or Email. Pre-COVID-19, they were also available in the Resource Room in 304 OEH.
  • TAs: Graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs) are available to help with physics courses through a Zoom schedule. Pre-COVID-19, they were available in the Resource Room in 312 THAW.
  • Study Lab: You can contact the Study Lab which is part of the School of Arts and Sciences. They provide peer tutors for many different intro level courses, including Physics.

The Dietrich school has a set of requirements to repeat a course.

You cannot retake if:

  • You previously received a grade of C or higher in the class
  • You want to retake the class at another institution (repeats must be within the university)
  • You already retook the course twice (2 retakes maximum).

When retaking a course, understand that both the original course’s grade and retaken course’s grade will be viewable on your transcript, but only the recent grade will affect GPA/Credits, even if it is lower than the first time you took the class.

Certain courses are offered with the S/NC (Satisfactory/No-Credit) grade option instead of LG (Letter Grade). S indicates a grade of C or higher and is counted towards graduation (but not GPA), while NC indicates a C- or lower and is not counted towards graduation or GPA.

Grades can be changed to S/NC format by filling a Grading Option Form by the deadline, which can be found at The Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences' Calendar.

For other grade-related inquiries, make sure to go off of The Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences procedures, as each department's procedures may vary.

*Please note that you cannot change a class grade to S/NC if there is an Academic Integrity Violation involved—No exceptions.

See our Enrollment Options Page for full instructions on auditing a course.

NOTE: Other departments may have different regulations regarding auditing courses, so please check with the specific department if you're unsure.

See our Enrollment Options Page for full instructions on cross registration.

You can see exam conversion to credits at admissions.pitt.edu.

Some common conversions for PHYS classes are:

Type Exam Score   Pitt Class Credits
A Levels Physics A PHYS 0174 4 credits
Advanced Placement Physics 1 &
Physics 2
5 on one,
4 on other
PHYS 0110 3 credits
Advanced Placement Physics 1 &
Physics 2
5 on both PHYS 0110
PHYS 0111
6 credits
Advanced Placement Physics C Mechanics 5 PHYS 0174 4 credits

Research and Opportunities

No matter what you intend to do after you graduate, research experience is very valuable and we strongly encourage all of our majors to get involved. However, it is important to note that research work can take significant time out of your schedule (5-10 hours/week). So consider your academic load and the impact that research work can have on your academic performance before looking for opportunities.

The best way to find research opportunities in our department is to simply talk to the faculty. Visit our research page (https://www.physicsandastronomy.pitt.edu/research) to see the areas in which our faculty are active. Click on the area that interests you to learn what each individual professor is doing, and then click on the name of a professor to learn more and to get their contact information.

Our professors are happy to talk about research opportunities, so feel free to reach out. An initial contact by email is best, and from there you can arrange a meeting. If a professor is not currently looking for an undergraduate research assistant, then contact someone else. There are many opportunities for research in our department, so with just a little persistence you will find a professor and project that is right for you.

SPS is a undergraduate club for both majors and non-majors interested in physics that offers class help and professional development opportunities through the American Institute of Physics. See the SPS department page for more information. SPS is always looking for new members, so please reach out if interested!