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Physicist

Physicists study the natural universe and look at why objects exist and behave as they do.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £14,000 to £70,000 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: 37 to 40 per week

1. Entry requirements

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 like an:

  • MSc
  • MPhil
  • PhD
  • MPhys
  • MSci 
If you don’t have a background in science, you could take a one-year foundation course. 

Relevant work experience will help. The Institute of Physics has more information on work experience.

You may be able to start on a company's graduate training scheme after completing your degree. 

For a research post with a company or university, you’ll usually need further postgraduate qualifications, or be working towards a PhD and have several years' experience in the field.

Future Morph, Institute of Physics and Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM) all have information on how to become a physicist.

2. Skills required

You’ll need:

  • an enquiring mind
  • the ability to think clearly and logically, with good problem solving skills
  • a methodical approach to work, with a high level of accuracy
  • excellent communication and presentation skills
  • an excellent understanding of statistics and relevant computer packages

3. What you'll do

You’ll usually work in:

  • theoretical analysis – developing ideas, using computer simulations and mathematical modelling techniques, to make predictions and explain behaviours
  • experimental research – designing experiments to test theories

Depending on the area of industry you work in, you may be:

  • involved in climate forecasting
  • developing new medical instruments and treatments
  • working in satellite technology and space exploration
  • investigating new ways to generate power
  • exploring robotics and artificial intelligence
  • teaching in schools, colleges or universities
  • using your knowledge to work in publishing, broadcasting or journalism
You’ll write reports on your findings and present your work at scientific meetings and conferences.

4. Salary

Starter: £14,000 to £25,000

Experienced: £29,000 to £42,000

Highly Experienced: £70,000

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

You’ll usually work 37 to 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday.

You could work in a laboratory, workshop or factory, or outdoors carrying out fieldwork. You may have to wear protective clothing for some jobs to prevent contamination and contact with hazardous substances. 

Fieldwork is likely to involve travel and working away from home, possibly for weeks or months at a time.

6. Career path and progression

You could work in health or research institutes, defence or robotics, aerospace, computing and electronics, power generation or gas and oil,or government departments, like the Met Office.

You could use your scientific knowledge in other areas like education, scientific journalism and patent work.

With experience, you’ll take on more responsibility and manage the work of other scientists.

You could also move into a senior research role, or progress into consultancy work.

 

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Last updated: 21 December 2016