Physicists study and research the behaviour and properties of energy and matter. They perform experiments to test theories, do complex mathematical calculations for data analysis, or design new scientific equipment such as microscopes and lasers.
Physicists also report their experimental findings in scientific journals, or they may teach physics to students. They usually specialise in a specific area, such as astrophysics, plasma physics and nuclear physics.
Duties and responsibilities
- Study and research behaviour and properties of energy and matter
- Develop scientific theories and models that explain certain phenomena
- Perform experiments to test theories using specialised equipment
- Do complex mathematical calculations for data analysis
- Design new scientific equipment for experimentation
- Develop computer software to analyse data
- Create proposals and apply for funding to conduct research
- Report experimental findings in scientific journals
- Present findings at scientific conferences and lectures
- Teach physics to students
Skills and knowledge
AVERAGE WORKING HOURS
Some overtime expected
Physicists mainly perform their work in laboratories for private industries, hospitals, research centres or universities; however, much of their time is also spent in an office as they plan, analyse and report on research.
They sometimes travel to national or international facilities that have unique equipment and also attend various meetings to discuss, share and present ideas and findings with fellow physicists.
Some physicists also teach undergraduate and graduate students in physics.
Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.
PhD in physics
Aspiring physicists generally need a PhD in physics in order to be considered for employment. This level of education is particularly required for those who want a career in research or academia or for independent research positions.
Most PhD students choose to focus on a particular field such as condensed matter physics or medical physics. These professionals usually start off and train in temporary postdoctoral research positions, which can last between two and three years.
Some employers will accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree in physics. These individuals can work as technicians and research assistants, as well as in the federal government. The American Physical Society (APS), meanwhile, offers internships to undergraduate students to develop their hands-on experience.
Applicants who hold a master’s degree in physics can consider positions in applied research and development for manufacturing and healthcare companies.
Physicists who work for the federal government in critical research areas like nuclear energy must be US citizens and hold a security clearance.
Physicists can progress by gaining higher education and exceeding to greater positions in their careers. They also advance by working more independently and receiving larger research budgets. Those with a PhD have the opportunity to advance to a managerial position such as a natural sciences manager.