Physicists study the natural universe and try to uncover why objects exist and behave as they do.

What does a physicist do?

Physicists 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

Physicists apply their knowledge of physics in a variety of industries, depending on their particular area of expertise. For example, they 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 their knowledge to work in publishing, broadcasting or journalism

When working on a project, physicists would write reports on their findings for project managers, scientific journals and funding organisations. They will also present their work at scientific meetings and conferences.

What do I need to do to become a physicist?

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, as well as three A levels, including physics and maths. You should check with universities for exact entry requirements as other qualifications may also be accepted. 

Integrated master’s qualifications, such as MPhys or MSci, can also be studied at university. These courses incorporate more independent research and are designed to lead directly onto further postgraduate study such as a PhD.

If you do not have a background in science, some universities offer a one-year foundation course. Check with course providers about what they offer.

It could be an advantage to have some relevant work experience. You may be able to get this as part of your degree or you could arrange a work placement during vacation periods. A number of schemes offer placements to students, including the Year in Industry programme.

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 will usually need further postgraduate qualifications, or be working towards a PhD and have several years' experience in the field.

Related skills

  • Analytics
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication
  • IT
  • Leadership
  • Numeracy
  • Organisation
  • Problem solving
  • Teamwork
  • Time management

Academic route

  • Five GCSEs (A*-C), including maths, English and science
  • Three A levels, including physics and maths

Related subjects

  • Maths
  • Physics

Essential qualifications

  • A degree in physics, applied physics or a related science or engineering subject

Desirable qualifications

  • A relevant postgraduate qualification, such as an MSc, MPhil or PhD

Where to find out more

Where could I be working?

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.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

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