Physics degrees and careers | TARGETcareers (2022)

Physics degrees are highly respected by employers and offer ample career opportunities. The workload can be quite heavy and the hours are long, but if you’re enthusiastic about unravelling the secrets of the universe, it’s a great choice. The degree involves a mixture of theoretical mathematics and practical experimentation, and most universities offer a wide range of optional modules to keep things interesting.

Physics degree requirements

  • Most universities will ask that you have an A level in physics and an A level in maths.
  • Those studying in Scotland will need Highers in physics and maths, and may need Advanced Highers in one or both of these subjects.
  • There are a small number of universities that will accept you if you have only studied either physics or maths, but if you want to have your pick of the universities, it’s best to have both under your belt.

Straight physics degree or theoretical physics degree?

Physics degrees most commonly exist in two forms: straight physics and theoretical physics. These degrees include much of the same course material, with the key difference being that straight physics degrees normally involve more practical laboratory work, while theoretical physics focuses more on mathematical content. How much the course content differs depends on the university you are applying for – for example, at some universities there is no difference between physics and theoretical physics until the third year, at which point physicists continue their laboratory sessions while theoretical physicists switch out their labs for theoretical modules.

(Video) What can you do with a physics degree?

Bear in mind though that straight physics degrees still contain a lot of mathematical content, so if you were hoping to avoid complex mathematics, this route offers no escape. There is just a more even balance between maths and practical experimentation on a straight physics degree, whereas a theoretical physics degree is more heavily weighted towards mathematical content.

When deciding which degree is right for you, keep in mind where your strengths lie. George Kileff, a third-year student at the University of York, is studying theoretical physics. He explains: ‘In my degree I have found my maths A level to be of more use than my physics A level, so if you’re enjoying your physics lessons but not your maths, I would advise against choosing theoretical physics.’ The choice is ultimately up to you, however, so before making a decision you should spend some time researching the differences between degrees.

Physics degree modules

Regardless of whether you choose theoretical physics or straight physics, you will have to study a similar selection of core modules in your first year. These modules often include:

  • electromagnetism and optics
  • computational physics
  • Newtonian and relativistic mechanics
  • laboratory physics
  • mathematical techniques
  • properties of matter.

As your degree progresses, you will be able to take a number of specialised modules. Optional modules differ from university to university, but they could include:

(Video) What can you do with a physics degree? Take 2

  • nuclear astrophysics
  • cosmology and galaxy formation
  • medical imaging
  • fluid dynamics
  • spacetime and gravity
  • radiation detectors
  • advanced quantum mechanics.

What methods are used to teach physics at university?

Physics degrees typically include the following teaching methods:

  • lectures – learning by listening and taking notes
  • problem classes –working through physics problems individually under the supervision of a tutor
  • computing classes – learning to write computer programmes that can run simulations
  • laboratory sessions – practical sessions in which you will be physically carrying out experiments
  • tutorials – meeting with a small number of other students and a tutor to work through difficult physics problems.

Generally, a straight physics degree will contain more laboratory sessions than a theoretical degree, while a theoretical degree will include more computing classes.

How many contact hours will I have on a physics university course?

Physics students tend to have a high number of contact hours. The average student will normally have around 20 hours of contact time a week, although this varies depending on the university you are attending and the modules you are taking. Additionally, you will have reading to do outside of these hours, and at many universities you will be set weekly work to be done at home in preparation for tutorials.

What jobs could studying physics at university lead to?

As a physics graduate you will be eligible for a wide variety of job opportunities, both within the field of physics and outside of it. If you don’t want to become a scientist you could use your maths skills in an area such as finance or IT, or put your logical brain to good use in a business or law career.

(Video) Is A Physics Degree Worth It?

Careers in physics

There are many career opportunities available for budding physicists. Options include:

  • aerospace engineering – researching and developing aircraft and spacecraft
  • climate forecasting – working with the technology that predicts future weather events
  • medical technology – designing and developing the medical devices and information technology that is used to diagnose, monitor and treat medical conditions
  • robotics and artificial intelligence – designing and creating the machinery of the future
  • scientific journalism
  • teaching or lecturing.

From mars robots to medical physics – Manchester graduates’ careers

Leo Huckvale graduated from the University of Manchester in 2010 with a degree in physics with astrophysics and is now working as a software developer at Oxford Nanopore Technologies, a company that is using new technology to explore DNA sequencing. He explains: ‘Several of my course mates have remained in academia: one is a cosmologist, working with several large physics collaborations around the world; another is programming robots on Mars and modelling the Martian atmosphere. All of my course mates who have gone into industry have also gone into very interesting and varied careers. I have friends who are medical physicists for major cancer treatment centres, data scientists that use machine learning algorithms to predict traffic, and electronics engineers who work for defence contractors.’

Do I need a masters degree or PhD for a career in physics?

Because there are so many job opportunities in the field of physics, it is not always necessary to undertake further study; it is possible, for example, to start on a company’s graduate scheme after only completing an undergraduate degree. That being said, many areas of physics will become more accessible with additional qualifications, and if you want a research post in a university or company then you will need postgraduate qualifications.

Careers outside of physics

If you decide that a career in physics isn’t for you there are many alternatives. A large number of sectors welcome graduates from all degree discipline. These sectors include:

(Video) The Complete Physics Major Guide (college classes, internships, career paths)

  • finance
  • business
  • the public sector
  • law
  • the media.

For more information on possible career options, check out our article on what you can do with a physics degree on our graduate careers website TARGETjobs.

Physics degree skills you can use in your career

A degree in physics will leave you with a range of transferable and physics-specific skills, for example:

  • computational and data-processing abilities
  • problem solving skills
  • an analytical and evaluative way of thinking
  • the ability to identify and predict trends and patterns.

‘A physics degree is a massive asset when job seeking’ – Ed Moore, York graduate

These are skills that are highly valued by employers, as is a physics degree in general. Ed Moore graduated from the University of York in 2001 with a degree in physics, and has previously worked as a physicist for a company developing industrial gas flow monitoring equipment and as a consultant for a CE marking company, which assisted manufacturers to confirm their products met European safety Directives. He is currently a software developer at GTI Media.

Ed explains: ‘The processes, methodologies and skills I learned during my degree are extremely useful and have made me highly employable. A physics degree is certainly a massive asset when job seeking – in my experience I have found that the degree is very highly respected and impresses people in all professions.’

(Video) 9 Tips (HARD TRUTHS) when considering a Career in Physics

What other degrees could I consider?

If you’re thinking of doing a physics degree you could also consider:

  • an engineering degree
  • a chemical physics degree
  • a maths degree
  • an astrophysics degree
  • a computer science degree
  • a chemistry degree
  • a medical physics degree or physics with medical applications degree.

A few of these degrees, for example engineering and medical physics, have a heavier focus on the practical applications of physics than a straight physics degree. You could consider these degrees if you wanted to study for a specific career path, but because physics is a good choice anyway in terms of employability it is not necessary to choose a more vocational degree for the sake of a career. Instead, choose these degrees if you find the content more interesting.

FAQs

Is it easy to get a job with a physics degree? ›

Physics bachelors are highly employable, in a variety of career paths.

What jobs do most physics majors get? ›

If you are a student considering majoring in physics, there are several career opportunities that a degree in physics can make available to you.
...
Jobs for Physics Majors
  1. Technical writer. ...
  2. Science teacher. ...
  3. Forensic scientist. ...
  4. Professor. ...
  5. Data analyst. ...
  6. Research analyst. ...
  7. Web developer. ...
  8. Design engineer.

How employable are physics graduates? ›

Physics graduates are highly employable and their career options are very wide. You may go on to apply your physics knowledge directly in a scientific or engineering environment, or might use your mathematical knowledge in finance, your computing skills in software, or your problem-solving skills in business.

Is a physics degree respected? ›

Physics degrees are highly respected by employers and offer ample career opportunities. The workload can be quite heavy and the hours are long, but if you're enthusiastic about unravelling the secrets of the universe, it's a great choice.

What field of physics pays the most? ›

11 highest-paying physics jobs
  • Chemical engineer.
  • Meteorologist.
  • Professor.
  • Lab manager.
  • Test engineer.
  • Nuclear engineer.
  • Geophysicist.
  • Aeronautical engineer.
26 Apr 2021

Are physicists in demand? ›

Overall employment of physicists and astronomers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations. About 2,100 openings for physicists and astronomers are projected each year, on average, over the decade.

Is a physics degree useful? ›

A Physics Degree is Valuable

Physics is sometimes referred to as the "liberal arts" degree of technology because physics majors can go on to careers in fields such as computer science, engineering, and research and development.

How can I make money with a physics degree? ›

How to Make Money with a Physics Degree (26 Best Paying Jobs)
  1. Aeronautical Engineer.
  2. Medical Scientist. ...
  3. Accelerator Operator. ...
  4. Laser Engineer. ...
  5. Microbiologist. ...
  6. Technical Writer. ...
  7. Meteorologist. ...
  8. Forensic Firearms Examiner. Force is a big part of physics, and it's also a big part of firearms. ...

Is a physics degree hard? ›

In general, coursework at the college level is designed to be challenging. Physics is certainly no exception. In fact, physics is considered by most people to be among the most challenging courses you can take. One of the reasons physics is so hard is that it involves a lot of math.

How happy are physics majors? ›

Physicists rate their happiness above average. At CareerExplorer, we conduct an ongoing survey with millions of people and ask them how satisfied they are with their careers. As it turns out, physicists rate their career happiness 3.5 out of 5 stars which puts them in the top 31% of careers.

Can a physics degree get you an engineering job? ›

With a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics or Engineering Physics, students can pursue careers in research and development, science, engineering, education, medicine, law, business, and the military.

Is a physics degree versatile? ›

Physics is the ultimate science, underlying all natural phenomena and man-made technologies. That makes Physics the most versatile science when it comes to careers: your degree in Physics opens you up to a huge array of job opportunities across all technical disciplines.

Is physics a high paying major? ›

More commonly, the survey found that physics graduates can expect a starting salary between $46,000 and $58,000 per year. This generally exceeds the starting salaries of graduates in most other science fields.

What are career opportunities in physics? ›

Physics graduates also move into careers outside of science. Popular options include banking and finance, as well as the software, computing and consultancy industries. Other areas include accountancy, law and transport.

Which job is best for physics students? ›

Physics Jobs
  • Engineer.
  • Patent attorney.
  • Physicist.
  • Physics researcher.
  • Physics teacher or professor.
  • Programmer.
  • Project manager.
  • Scientist.
17 Aug 2020

How much do PhD physicists make? ›

Salary Recap

The average pay for a Physicist PhD is $135,404 a year and $65 an hour in the United States. The average salary range for a Physicist PhD is between $92,210 and $165,735. On average, a Doctorate Degree is the highest level of education for a Physicist PhD.

What jobs are at high demand? ›

12 high demand jobs
  1. Computer manager. Computer managers oversee a company's network and IT services, ensuring users can access required software and tools without interruption. ...
  2. Paralegal. ...
  3. Technical writer. ...
  4. Web developer. ...
  5. Financial manager. ...
  6. Medical assistant. ...
  7. Software developer. ...
  8. Market research analyst.
13 Jul 2022

What do physicists do for a living? ›

Physicists can conduct basic research at a university or a national laboratory, or applied research in an industrial or commercial setting. Experimental physicists usually work in a lab and seek to test hypotheses and theories, to make discoveries of new phenomena, or to develop new applications of ideas.

What is the future in physics? ›

Physics experiments will generate ever more data and analysing that information using artificial intelligence and machine learning will become “the new normal”. I can see environmental concerns having a bigger influence on physics. Scientific lab equipment will become cleaner and greener.

How much do physicists make at NASA? ›

NASA Salary FAQs

The average salary for a Research Physicist is $119,979 per year in United States, which is 18% lower than the average NASA salary of $147,146 per year for this job.

Is physics harder than medicine? ›

Physics is extremely theoretical and, well, complicated, but medicine is still extremely theoretical in parts but maybe more straightforward in some parts. However, a basic Bachelors' degree in Physics is only 3 years but Medicine is 5 years plus a year or so of training.

Is getting a masters in physics worth it? ›

For many people, a master's is a step toward earning a PhD. And in society at large, and among employers, a physics master's degree is a respected qualification that can lead to interesting, well-paying careers in industry, government, education, and not-for-profit sectors.

Which branch of science has the highest salary? ›

Highest Paying Science Jobs
RankFieldAverage Salary
1Biotechnology$140,091
2Clinical Research$139,434
3Genomics$119,994
4Immunology$103,159
6 more rows

Where can a physicist work? ›

Physicists can be found working in high schools, colleges, universities, research labs, hospitals, power plants, museums, the military, NASA, law firms, oil fields, the government, various industries, and businesses.

What is the most stressful degree? ›

College majors in the STEM field tend to be the most stressful, such as engineering and architecture. The same is true for many of those in the medical or healthcare field, including nursing and neuroscience. There are also stressful majors from other fields, such as accounting and related areas.

Is physics harder than biology? ›

Beginning university students in the sciences usually consider biology to be much easier than physics or chemistry. From their experience in high school, physics has math and formulae that must be understood to be applied correctly, but the study of biology relies mainly on memorization.

Is physics harder than chemistry? ›

Physics is considered comparatively harder than chemistry and various other disciplines such as psychology, geology, biology, astronomy, computer science, and biochemistry. It is deemed difficult compared to other fields because the variety of abstract concepts and the level of maths in physics is incomparable.

Do physicists like their jobs? ›

In fact, one study of recent graduates with bachelor's degrees in physics who were working in the science, technology, engineering, or math fields found that over 80 percent of them were satisfied with their jobs. Physics is a diverse discipline that allows you to explore a huge range of scientific phenomena.

How many hours a week do physicists work? ›

Physicists generally work at least forty hours per week. Overtime is often necessary for special projects. Most physicists employed as college teachers spend six to eight hours a week in the classroom and the remainder of the workweek preparing lesson materials, advising students, conducting research, and writing.

What does a physicist do all day? ›

A Day in the Life of a Physicist. The physicist deals with all aspects of matter and energy. His or her work ranges from basic research into the most fundamental laws of nature to the practical development of devices and instruments.

What can a masters in physics do? ›

What Are The Top Jobs With a Master's In Physics Degree?
  • Aerospace Engineers.
  • Postsecondary Teachers.
  • Chemical Engineers.
  • Nuclear Technicians.
  • Medical Scientists.
  • Biochemists and Biophysicists.
  • Computer and Information Research Scientists.
  • Physicists and Astronomers.
3 Dec 2020

Can I be a mechanical engineer with a physics degree? ›

You can definitely get a job as an engineer with a Bachelor's in Physics.

Can a physics graduate become a data scientist? ›

A Bachelors in Physics or other scientific/computational field can be sufficient, but a Masters or PhD in these fields is often preferred. Programming skills and familiarity with machine learning, databases, and statistics are critical. Commonly used languages in data science include: Python, R, SQL, SAS, and Scala.

How many hours do physics majors study? ›

The major in physics requires strong scientific and mathematical proficiencies. Successful students spend about 50 to 60 hours per week on academic studies. This includes time in classes and laboratories and about 30 to 40 hours in studying and preparing assignments.

Can I get a masters in engineering after a bachelors in physics? ›

Many of our physics majors go on to do a master's in engineering. IIRC they usually take two years to finish it, maybe 2.5. Actually I took this route: bachelor's degree in physics and master's degree in electrical and electronics engineering.

What can you do with a physics PhD? ›

PhD in Physics Jobs
  • Postsecondary Physics Teachers.
  • Biophysicists.
  • Physicists and Astronomers.
  • Natural Sciences Managers.
  • Petroleum Engineers.
20 Jan 2022

How popular is a physics degree? ›

Physics is ranked 59th in popularity out of a total of 384 college majors analyzed by College Factual. It is an uncommon major with only 9,998 graduations per year. Men make up 77% of the student body while 23% of Physics students are women. The Far Western US region is home to the most common Physics colleges.

What jobs is physics good for? ›

Job options
  • Academic researcher.
  • Acoustic consultant.
  • Astronomer.
  • Clinical scientist, medical physics.
  • Geophysicist.
  • Higher education lecturer.
  • Metallurgist.
  • Meteorologist.

Is studying physics a good idea? ›

Many people who have studied physics report it helps them develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Data from the American Institute of Physics show that physics majors get among the highest MCAT scores and the highest LSAT scores of all undergraduate majors.

Is physics a hard degree? ›

Physics can be a difficult subject to master, and the first year of an undergraduate course can be an especially steep learning curve.

How happy are physics majors? ›

Physicists rate their happiness above average. At CareerExplorer, we conduct an ongoing survey with millions of people and ask them how satisfied they are with their careers. As it turns out, physicists rate their career happiness 3.5 out of 5 stars which puts them in the top 31% of careers.

How many people graduate with a bachelors in physics? ›

Trends before COVID-19. According to the annual AIP enrollments and degrees survey, the overall number of students graduating with a physics bachelor's degree from a US institution has been steadily increasing, from 3649 in 1999 to 9296 in 2020.

How many people get physics degrees every year? ›

The 8,946 degrees conferred in the class of 2018 represents a 3.5% increase from the previous year and a 145% increase from the recent low in 1999 (see Figure 1).

How can I make money with a physics degree? ›

How to Make Money with a Physics Degree (26 Best Paying Jobs)
  1. Aeronautical Engineer.
  2. Medical Scientist. ...
  3. Accelerator Operator. ...
  4. Laser Engineer. ...
  5. Microbiologist. ...
  6. Technical Writer. ...
  7. Meteorologist. ...
  8. Forensic Firearms Examiner. Force is a big part of physics, and it's also a big part of firearms. ...

Why is physics useful? ›

Physics helps us to understand how the world around us works, from can openers, light bulbs and cell phones to muscles, lungs and brains; from paints, piccolos and pirouettes to cameras, cars and cathedrals; from earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes to quarks, DNA and black holes.

Can you be a mechanical engineer with a physics degree? ›

Short answer “no”. Mechanical engineers must hold a recognised Mechanical engineering degree to “bachelor of” level. A person qualified if physics would have many of the same skills and aptitudes of a mechanical engineer but must do a conversion course to qualify as one.

What are the disadvantages of physics? ›

DISADVANTAGES :
  • Though we welcome these blessing of science, we have to consider the darker side of the picture also.
  • Machines have led to unemployment.
  • They have polluted water and atmosphere. ...
  • Factories have led to slums where human beings live in squalor.
24 Aug 2019

Is physics harder than chemistry? ›

Physics is considered comparatively harder than chemistry and various other disciplines such as psychology, geology, biology, astronomy, computer science, and biochemistry. It is deemed difficult compared to other fields because the variety of abstract concepts and the level of maths in physics is incomparable.

Is physics more difficult than engineering? ›

Physics at degree level is nothing like the physics you probably studied in your GCSEs. A physics degree will be loaded with vectors, geometry and calculus. Engineering without a doubt is a hard field, however, Physics is probably more difficult than Engineering.

What is the most stressful degree? ›

College majors in the STEM field tend to be the most stressful, such as engineering and architecture. The same is true for many of those in the medical or healthcare field, including nursing and neuroscience. There are also stressful majors from other fields, such as accounting and related areas.

What's the hardest degree? ›

List of the hardest degree in the World
  • Aerospace Engineering.
  • Law.
  • Chartered Accountancy.
  • Architecture.
  • Chemistry.
  • Medicine.
  • Pharmacy.
  • Psychology.
11 Mar 2022

Is physics harder than biology? ›

Beginning university students in the sciences usually consider biology to be much easier than physics or chemistry. From their experience in high school, physics has math and formulae that must be understood to be applied correctly, but the study of biology relies mainly on memorization.

Videos

1. Careers and Employability with a Physics Degree
(Cardiff University Physics & Astronomy)
2. 2019 Career Trajectories Keynote: The Real Story About Employment for Physics Graduates
(Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics)
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4. Physics Vs Engineering | Which Is Best For You?
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5. Physics Careers: To the Bachelor's Degree and Beyond
(APS Physics)
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