Information for Students
Physics in the 21st Century
Obtaining a Physics Degree
A bachelor's degree in Physics is one of the most versatile degrees available to a student in the Sciences. Because of the nature of the training received and the skills developed, physicists are sought after for a wide range of government and industrial careers. It is also an excellent starting point for careers in science, engineering, medicine or finance and investment.
Nature of Modern Physics
Through systematic observation and experimentation, physicists describe in mathematical terms the structure of the universe and the interaction of matter and energy. Advanced measurement devices and techniques are essential aspects of modern physics as is computer analysis and modeling. In combination, these lead to the development and testing of new theories describing materials and the fundamental forces and laws of nature. Frequently, these endeavors require the development of new technology and techniques, which have a profound effect on everyday life.
What do Physicists do?
Many physicists work in research and development. Some conduct basic research to increase scientific knowledge. For example, they investigate the structure of the atom or the nature of gravity. The equipment that physicists design for their research often has applications to other areas. Good examples are the lasers, which are now utilized in optical, dental and general surgery, microwave devices, which are used in ovens and high-speed electronics, and optical devices, which are, used in computers and communications systems. Less obvious examples are x-ray and NMR devices and the particle accelerators, which were developed for research but are now routinely used for medical and material studies and the treatment of cancer.
Another important area is applied research, which is used to develop new devices, products and processes. For instance, knowledge of condensed matter physics led to the development of transistors and then to the integrated circuits and VLSI technology used in calculators and computers. A small number of physicists work in inspection, testing and quality control, and other production-related jobs in industry. Product marketing and consulting have also become increasingly popular in recent years.
Most physicists specialize in one or more branches of the science:
Each of these has many subdivisions and a physicist may work in one or more of these. Condensed matter physics, for example, includes topics such as superconductivity, magnetism, crystallography and semiconductor physics. However, since all physics involves the same fundamental principles and several specialties overlap, physicists may switch not only between sub fields but also between branches over the course of their careers.
Growing numbers of physicists are working in the fields of biophysics, chemical and environmental physics and geophysics in which physics and a related science are combined. Engineering is another growth area because of the extensive overlap with applied physics. Indeed, physics is often studied at the undergraduate level in preparation for a career in engineering. Banking and financial analysis is a less obvious career path for a physicist. However, because of the analytical and observational skills that physicists develop, they are well suited to these careers.
Further resources related to careers in physics can be found at the American Institute of Physics Careers.
Graduates with a bachelor's degree generally begin their careers in government, industry or in research and development laboratories. Those planning to seek employment after the bachelor's degree should choose the more applied courses and should seek obtain career-related experience while in school. Internship or research experience at the undergraduate level may also be of benefit when applying for jobs.
Graduate training in physics, engineering or a closely related field is nearly essential for most entry-level positions bearing the title physicist. The doctorate is generally required for faculty status at a college or university and for industrial and government jobs administering research and development programs.