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As a physicist you’ll study the natural universe and try to uncover why objects exist and behave as they do. You could be involved in the development of all kinds of technology from communications and energy efficiency to space and satellites. If you're good at science and maths, and a logical thinker, physics could offer the opportunities you’re looking for.
You'll need an enquiring mind. Good communication and presentation skills will also help you to share your findings with other scientists and the public.
To get into this job you'll usually need a degree in physics, applied physics or a related science or engineering subject. You may also need a relevant postgraduate qualification such as an MSc, MPhys or PhD.
As a physicist, you would normally work in one of two areas:
- theoretical analysis – developing ideas, using computer simulations and mathematical modelling techniques to make predictions and explain behaviours
- experimental research – design controlled experiments to test how well theories stand up to results
You could apply your knowledge of physics in a variety of industries depending on your particular area of expertise. For example, you might:
- be involved in climate forecasting
- develop new medical instruments and treatment
- work in satellite technology and space exploration
- investigate new ways to generate power
- explore robotics and artificial intelligence
- teach in schools, colleges or universities
- use your knowledge to work in publishing, broadcasting or journalism
When working on a project, you would write reports on your findings for project managers, scientific journals and funding organisations. You will also present your work at scientific meetings and conferences.
Most employers will expect you to have a degree in physics, applied physics or a related science or engineering subject. You may also need a relevant postgraduate qualification such as an MSc, MPhil or PhD.
To do a degree, you will usually need five GCSEs (A*-C) including maths, English and science, plus three A levels including physics and maths. You should check with universities for exact entry requirements as other qualifications may also be accepted. Visit the UCAS website for more information about courses and the universities that offer them.
Once you start work, your company will train you in lab techniques, relevant IT software, and health and safety regulations. You may also complete management training if you have supervisory responsibilities.
If you don’t already have a relevant postgraduate qualification, you may be encouraged to take a higher degree or exams for membership of a professional body. To become a medical physicist, for example, you need to complete an Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) accredited two-year programme. This combines study for an MSc with on-the-job training. See the Medical physicist profile for more details.
As an experienced physicist, you may be able to work towards Chartered Physicist (CPhys) or Chartered Scientist (CSci) status.
Skills, interests and qualities
To be a physicist you should have:
- good scientific and mathematical knowledge
- an enquiring mind
- clear and logical thinking, with good problem solving skills
- a methodical approach to work, with a high level of accuracy
- good communication and presentation skills
- report writing skills
- the ability to work both as part of a team and on your own
- team leadership and project management skills
- a good understanding of statistics and relevant computer packages
- a willingness to work flexibly and adapt to change