What You Can Do with a Physics Degree
Let's cut to the chase, there is more you can do more with your physics degree than become a professor or participate in research. This may seem like a bold statement depending on what you’ve heard, but it’s true.
There are many careers that you can pursue that directly involve the application of your knowledge base and skill set in physics. Areas such as the geo-sciences, engineering, architecture, computer programming, astronomy and others all have a foundation in the fundamental lessons of physics.
Because of this, these areas house many careers for physics majors, such as Quantitative Analyst and Energy Policy Analyst.
Job Board for Physics Students & Grads
A physics degree is also excellent preparation for a variety of careers that seemingly have nothing to do with physics, such as careers in finance and marketing. This is because employers place high value on the analytical, technical and problem-solving skills that physics majors acquire.
An undergraduate degree in physics also serves as great preparation for professional and graduates schools, such as Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy. As a physics graduate, you can also try your hand at graduate study in Marketing, Economics, Finance, Business, Law, IT and many other areas.
So, if you want to know more about where this degree can take you, read on below. This physics careers guide contains detailed occupational information on career paths relevant to this degree. Included are job descriptions, expected salaries, educational requirements and other pertinent information related to these careers. We’ve also included physics-specific scholarships to help you pay for school!
What a Physics Degree Program Can Teach You
Physics is a fundamental science concerned with the nature and properties of energy and matter. Physics also deals with profound questions about the universe and important practical, environmental and technological issues.
To succeed as a physics student, you must become familiar with the fundamentals of physics, to varying degrees. These include quantum and classical mechanics, electromagnetism, statistical physics and thermodynamics, wave phenomena and the properties of matter.
You will also study the application of the fundamental principles of physics to specific areas of the field, which may include atomic physics, nuclear and particle physics, condensed matter physics, materials, plasmas and fluids.
As a result of your studies, you should gain at least basic knowledge, competencies and skills in mathematical reasoning, theoretical deduction, experimentation and observations, computing, technology, materials and information theory.
As a result of these abilities, you can pursue a wide range of careers, including careers in finance, economics, statistics, engineering, computer science medicine, communications technology, space exploration and many other areas.
Employable Skills of Physics Majors
Rather than preparing you for a specific career, a physics degree is more like a tool kit. The skills and knowledge you can gain enable you to pursue a wide range of careers. Below is a list (non-inclusive) of employable skills you can gain as a physics major.
• Able to design and perform experiments using particle accelerators, mass spectrometers, lasers and other specialized equipment
• Able to apply the laws of physics to solve problems in areas such as nuclear energy, optics, telecommunications and medical instrumentation
• Able to identify which tools to use and paths to take when finding solutions to problems
• Able to formulate and apply explicit approximations when solving problems
• Able to understand and interpret complicated scientific text
• Able to plan, execute, analyze and effectively report the results of an experiment
• Able to critically review the results of an experiment
• Able to produce clear and accurate scientific reports
• Able to evaluate the level of uncertainty in experiment results and compare them with expected outcomes
• Able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the fundamental laws of physics and apply them in diverse areas
• Able to understand mathematical modeling and of the role of approximation
Career Guides Related to a Physics Degree
The knowledge and skills you can gain by studying physics at the university level serve as an excellent foundation for a variety of careers.
Below, we’ve chosen careers that we feel relate to a physics degree, either because the subject matter of the degree relates to the occupational field, or because the skills you’ll need to be an effective employee can be gained in a physics degree program. Please note, this is not an inclusive list:
Please Note: Some of the above listed careers require additional education, training and/or experience. Click on careers that are of interest to you to find out more about the qualifications you’ll need.
Who Employs Physics Graduates?
Below are examples of the types of employers that are interested in employing the specific skill set and knowledge base that a physics graduate can bring to the table:
• Aerospace companies
• Aircraft manufacturers
• Automobile manufacturers
• Chemical manufacturers
• Colleges & universities
• Computer hardware/software manufacturers
• Electrical equipment manufacturers
• Electronics industry
• Government - department of energy
• Medical schools
• Petroleum companies
• Power plants
• Research firms
• Schools (elementary & secondary)
• Steel/metal manufacturers
• Telecommunications industry
• Waste management and recycling firms
Whether you're a physics student looking for a job to help you pay for school, or a graduate looking for an entry or mid-level job, our job board has opportunities directly and indirectly related to your degree.
Career Fields for Physics Graduates
Deciding on your future is a very difficult thing. It isn’t made any easier by trying to choose from all of the career options you now have (a good problem, to have, believe me). Narrowing your choices down by industry sector or field might make it a little easier. Below is a brief overview of the ways you can apply your physics degree to a future career.
Communication Technology: Involves the utilization of quantum physics for such tasks as encrypting security codes, inventing new technology and improving the performance of existing technology, among other things.
Environmental Science: Involves applying the laws and leading theories of physics to such tasks as investigating volcanoes, developing renewable energy technology and studying how climate change is affecting various ecosystems.
Astrophysics: The duties surrounding careers in Astrophysics include investigating the origins of the universe, searching for inhabitable planets, or designing satellites and rovers for space exploration.
Energy: Physics majors can find a multitude of careers in energy, from improving the efficiency of existing technology, to developing new energy sources and technology, to being involved in the sales, marketing or administrative efforts of these ventures.
Medicine: Physics majors working in the medical field are typically involved in the development of new medical technology and improving existing technology. NMR and PET scans, ultrasound, laser tools for surgery, and the use of nanotechnology are all a result of applying the principled of matter and energy to solve medical problems. Physics graduates also typically score very high on medical school entrance exams, and go on to become medical doctors.
Architecture & Engineering: A physics degree serves as great preparation for engineering and architecture programs and careers. These careers involve designing and building infrastructure such as schools, buildings, bridges and tunnels.
Law: An understanding of physics plays a key role in areas such as forensics, in which a detailed understanding of how objects move and the forces involved are crucial in the analysis of a crime or accident scene. It also plays an important role in patent law, as patent lawyers need to be able to understand new technology in order to effectively protect new inventions.
Teaching: An understanding of physics allows teachers of all levels to effectively communicate the fundamental ideas of physics and mathematics to students.
Sports: Physics is the driving force behind developments in sporting technology, such as increasing the protectiveness of football helmets, and building lighter and faster bicycles.
Video Game Development: Physics is behind much of the technology in video games. Programmers developing new games need a solid understanding of the basics of physics to create video games as they become more and more realistic.
Entertainment: Knowledge of physics can be applied in the entertainment industry in a variety of ways; from trying to predict sales figures, to controlling the sound-mixer at a concert, to designing the acoustics of a new studio.
Transportation: There are virtually too many applications of physics in the transportation industry to list on this page, although a few include designing or improving airplane technology and materials used in roadways.
Physics Graduate Salary
The salary you could earn as a physics graduate first entering the workforce can vary drastically, and is heavily dependent on the following factors (not an inclusive list):
• Your level of education (such as if you went on to graduate studies)
• The industry in which you find work
• Whether or not you actually end up working in a career related to physics
• The type of job you have, and your level of responsibility
• The size and type of your employer
• The region in which you work
• Other work experience you may have accrued
• Other skills you may have
Physics Graduate Salary Ontario: According to a study in 2011 conducted by the Ontario Council of Universities, $45,427 CAD is the average salary earned by Physical Sciences graduates, 2 years after graduating from Ontario universities in 2010.
Gaining Experience in Physics Careers as a Student
Pursuing an internship (may also be known as a practicum, field placement, or co-op work opportunity) in career fields related to your physics degree is the best way to gain relevant work experience while you’re still in school. These opportunities allow you to gain professional competencies, while simultaneously offering employers valuable temporary team members.
An internship position can also result in being hired by the sponsoring organization upon graduation. If you’ve done quality work and made a good impression, chances are that organization will want to retain you on a full-time basis once you’ve graduated. They will already be familiar with you and your work ethic, and they will save a great deal of time and expense trying to recruit someone else.
Characteristics of a Successful Physics Intern
You’ve landed an internship, now what? Your future isn’t guaranteed just by virtue of landing a solid internship. You have to make a great impression while you’re there. Follow these tips to ensure you’re making the most out of your opportunity:
• Demonstrate motivation
• Be seen as a ‘self-directed’ learner who knows when to ask for help
• Prepare properly for research and similar tasks
• Be open minded and non-judgmental
• Be respectful to co-workers and others in the building
• Demonstrate a passion for work
• Show a dedicated and committed work ethic
How Do I Find a Physics Internship?
If the internship is an academic requirement, you will likely have the opportunity arranged for you, or at least a variety of potential options presented to you. If it is not a requirement, speak with your professors, other Physics department staff as well as your school’s guidance and career counselors to help you find a suitable opportunity.
If you’re a physics major looking for help in paying for school, then you’re in luck! Our scholarships database has scholarships that are specific to physics, as well as science students in general.
Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any and all scholarships for which you qualify, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships in Canada and the United States that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants.
Professional Associations for Physics Careers
To find out more about careers directly related to your physics degree, consult the following professional association websites. They offer career-related information, and many have opportunities for student membership, as well as job placement and mentoring opportunities.