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How to become a Physicist

physicist careers

What does a Physicist do?

Physicists are involved in experimental investigation and theoretical analysis of matter, energy and force, in areas ranging from telecommunications to medicine and environmental monitoring. They work in a wide range of settings which include:

  • researching conditions on earth and other planets, and building satellites
  • forecasting the weather
  • working with doctors and computing specialists in medicine to help diagnose or treat patients
  • inspecting factories or other places of work to monitor radiation emissions and ensure safe disposal of radioactive waste
  • designing, creating and testing new materials and products
  • identifying new ways to generate power
  • developing new internet or other communications technology
  • improving performance and safety in transport industries
  • teaching in schools, colleges or universities
  • using knowledge in the media, in broadcasting or journalism.
Physicists devise simulations and models, design and conduct experiments, and write up their observations and findings in reports and scientific papers. They occasionally present their work at scientific meetings or conferences.

The role may include supervision of support staff and administrative work. Much of the work involves using computers. Those working in a university or a teaching hospital will be involved in teaching and supervising students.

What's the working environment like working as a Physicist?

Physicists normally work 37.5 hours a week, Monday to Friday; evening and weekend work is common. Academics working in universities and researchers in industry regularly work extra hours. Those jobs providing a round-the-clock service such as in the NHS may involve shifts, nights, or on-call work.

Physicists work in laboratories and workshops, in offices, factories and out in the field. There is much work with complex and expensive electronic equipment. Protective clothing is worn to prevent contamination and avoid contact with hazardous substances. Fieldwork may involve travel and periods away from home.

What does it take to become a Physicist?

To be a physicist, you should:

  • have an enquiring mind, and be able to think clearly and logically
  • be good at problem solving, with a methodical and analytical approach to the work
  • be able to work to a high degree of accuracy
  • be able to work in and lead a team of professionals
  • have excellent communication skills to make presentations and write reports, scientific papers and grant applications
  • understand statistics and relevant computer packages.

Physicist Career Opportunities

Physicists are employed by government research establishments and in industries such as communications, transport, aerospace, opto-electronics, robotics, semiconductors, computing and power generation. Others work for the NHS (as clinical scientists/medical physicists), the National Radiological Protection Board, the Health and Safety Executive, and the Meteorological Office. Some physicists move into technical sales and marketing, information science and patent work.

Some physicists work in education, the media, in museums and interactive science centres, and in administration.

Relocation may be necessary for career progression.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Physicist that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Institute of Physics
76 Portland Place

The Science Council
210 Euston Road
Tel: 020 7611 8754

SEMTA (Science Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance)
14 Upton Road
WD18 0JT
Tel: 0808 100 3682

Facts and Stats:

  • Dutch researchers have genetically altered plants so that bees produce foreign proteins in their nectar. They hope that the bees will create honey containing a variety of drugs or vaccines.

  • A Californian Company has just launched a motorised computer mouse that can give web surfers the sensation of texture - or other physical attributes - of items pictured on the internet.

  • A commercial satellite capable of distinguishing objects the size of a tea tray will soon be launched from the United States. The Ikonos-1 is the most powerful commercial imaging satellite yet built. Its parabolic lens will be able to resolve objects 80cm (32in) in length anywhere on Earth.