The Harvard Physics Department has a large and very active undergraduate program, graduating 50-60 majors (concentrators) a year (including those in the Chemistry and Physics concentration, also administered by the department). The hallmark of the undergraduate program is flexibility, as 40-50 percent of Harvard physics graduates go to graduate school in physics or a closely related field; the rest pursue a wide range of careers including medical school, law school or business school as well as immediate employment. 25 percent of concentrators are women; 5 percent black, 20 percent Asian, and 6 percent Latino.
Concentrators are required to take a relatively small number of courses relative to other science concentrations at Harvard. This makes the concentration very flexible, and many students choose joint concentrations such as Physics-Mathematics, Physics-Astronomy and Physics-History of Science, in addition to the special Chemistry and Physics concentration. The faculty are enthusiastic about both undergraduate students and physics. Almost all faculty teach in the undergraduate program although not every year. They take pride in their teaching and continually develop new materials and courses such as the honors introductory course, Physics 16 (about which a musical was written in 2002).
Many undergraduates participate in research through an independent research course that allows up to two semester courses credit for participating in independent research supervised by faculty members. The department supports a number of students to do independent research during the summer. 5-10 undergraduates work as TAs helping with large undergraduate sections. The department establishes a community of physics students. The active SPS chapter organizes a "buddy" system that teams first-year students with upper division concentrators, produces a booklet of advice for new concentrators, organizes lunches and picnics for students and professors, and sponsors weekly "Cool Physics" sessions where a student talks about research. SPS officers meet with the chair and Head Tutor to discuss issues of importance to undergraduates. There are many other opportunities for faculty-student interactions, both formal and informal. These activities include study nights, lunches, dinners, weekly presentations by faculty of their research, the Physics Answer Center organized by the graduate students. The "puppet show" where second year graduate students "roast" the faculty members, draws several hundred spectators each year.
Harvard is one of the leading producers of physics graduates at the bachelors level in the nation. Our undergraduates take pride in belonging to a lively, close-knit community. SPS events draw both concentrators and friends of concentrators so that mailings go to 500 students. Three physics faculty have recently won the Joseph R. Levenson Memorial Teaching Prize of the Harvard Undergraduate Council.