What Can I Do With a Physics Degree

Astronomy

Areas

  • Teaching
  • Research
  • Writing

Employers

  • Colleges and universities
  • Observatories
  • Planetariums
  • Science museums
  • Nonprofit foundations
  • Industry e.g., aerospace, scientific supply, mass media
  • Federal government: National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, U.S. Naval Observatory, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

Strategies

Acquire excellent verbal and written communication skills. Get involved in a research project. Develop a specialty area of expertise and experience.

Acoustical Physics

Areas

  • Basic and Applied Research
  • Development
  • Teaching
  • Consulting
  • Administration
  • Testing

Employers

  • Colleges and universities
  • Government laboratories
  • Nonprofit research centers
  • Industry e.g., electronics, building design, medical instrumentation, communications, engineering, noise pollution, sound recording, film production

Strategies

Supplement program with courses in psychology, physiology, communications, political science, and sociology. Obtain a graduate degree in physics for opportunities in industry. Maintain an interest in music, the arts and humanities.

Astrophysics

Areas

  • Teaching
  • Consulting
  • Administration
  • Research
  • Design
  • Astronautics

Employers

  • Government laboratories
  • Research centers
  • Airports
  • Colleges and universities
  • Commercial industry
  • Space industry
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  • Observatories
  • Planetariums
  • Military

Strategies

Obtain experience through part-time or voluntary position in a planetarium, observatory or science museum. Complete an internship with a research organization or related industry. Participate in research with scholars in the field.
Contact the American Astronomical Society for more information.

Biophysics

Areas

  • Basic and Applied Research
  • Development
  • Teaching
  • Consulting
  • Administration

Employers

  • Colleges and universities
  • Government laboratories
  • Nonprofit research centers
  • Industry e.g., biotechnology, environment, pharmaceuticals
  • Hospitals

Strategies

Acquire information about state licensure required for various types of technicians working in medical settings. Gain experience as a laboratory assistant or hospital orderly. Volunteer at a hospital or clinic.

Fluid and Plasma Physics

Areas

  • Basic and Applied Research
  • Development
  • Teaching
  • Consulting
  • Administration

Employers

  • Colleges and universities
  • Government laboratories
  • Government agencies
  • Nonprofit research centers
  • Industry e.g., automobile, jet engine, space vehicle design, controlled fusion device design

Strategies

Obtain a graduate degree (master's or doctorate) for opportunities in industry or research.

Geophysics

Areas

  • Basic and Applied Research
  • Development
  • Teaching
  • Consulting
  • Administration
  • Exploration

Employers

  • Colleges and universities
  • Nonprofit research centers
  • Federal government e.g., Coast and Geological Survey, U.S. Geological Survey, Army Map Service, Naval Oceanographic Office
  • Industry e.g., petroleum, mining, exploration
  • Consulting firms

Strategies

Specialize in geophysics or minor in geology. Develop good background in mathematics, chemistry, engineering, and physics. Maintain good physical condition.

Health Physics

Areas

  • Basic and Applied Research
  • Development
  • Teaching
  • Consulting
  • Administration
  • Monitoring/Inspection

Employers

  • Colleges and universities
  • Government laboratories
  • Government agencies e.g., Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Public Health Service
  • Nonprofit research centers
  • Industry e.g., health physics instrumentation, nuclear power, nuclear weapons, radioisotope products, nuclear accelerators, nuclear reactors
  • Environmental firms
  • Hospitals

Strategies

Earn a Ph.D. and certification by the American Board of Health Physics (ABHP) for top university teaching, research and administrative positions. Complete a master's degree and certification by the ABHP for professional health physicists' positions. Specialize in health physics and obtain technician certification from the National Registry of Radiation Protection. Acquire knowledge of government standards and regulations.

Medical Physics

Areas

  • Basic and Applied Research
  • Development
  • Teaching
  • Consulting
  • Administration

Employers

  • Colleges and universities
  • Medical schools
  • Hospitals
  • Industry e.g., medical instrumentation
  • Government laboratories
  • Nonprofit research centers
  • Government agencies

Strategies

Gain experience working in a hospital. Develop a research specialty in a medical or health related area.

Nuclear Physics

Areas

  • Basic and Applied Research
  • Development
  • Teaching
  • Consulting
  • Administration
  • Law
  • Quality Control
  • Operations and Maintenance

Employers

  • Colleges and universities
  • Military
  • Industry e.g., nuclear weapons, nuclear accelerators, nuclear reactors, nuclear instrumentation, radioisotope products
  • Government laboratories and research centers
  • Government agencies e.g., Department of Defense, Department of Energy

Strategies

A master's degree is preferred for positions in industry. Develop excellent laboratory skills. Acquire a strong mathematics and chemistry background.

Optical Physics

Areas

  • Basic and Applied Research
  • Development
  • Teaching
  • Consulting
  • Administration

Employers

  • Colleges and universities
  • Government laboratories
  • Nonprofit research centers
  • Industry e.g., medical scanners, eyeglasses, binoculars, microscopes, lasers, holography, display technologies, x-ray, ultraviolet spectra, fiber optics
  • Federal agencies e.g., NASA, Department of Energy, Department of Defense

Strategies

Obtain a master's degree for positions in industry. Supplement program with courses in electricity, magnetism, quantum mechanics, and electronics.
Get involved in an independent optics project during senior year.

Science Education

Areas

  • Teaching
  • Computer Software Development
  • Educational Research
  • Writing and Editing
  • Library and Information Sciences

Employers

  • Public school systems, K-12
  • Private schools, K-12
  • Publishing companies: books, magazines, videos
  • Software developers
  • Libraries

Strategies

Gain experience working with young people through volunteering and tutoring.
Work with after school programs and summer camps. Acquire appropriate state teacher certification for K-12 teaching opportunities. Visit schools and observe classrooms. Create a portfolio of science experiments and activities. Become skilled in the use of computers. Earn a graduate degree in information science.

Technical

Areas

  • Engineering (Process and Testing)
  • Quality Control
  • Industrial Hygiene
  • Design Development
  • Technical Writing
  • Computer Technology
  • Research

Employers

  • Research and development firms
  • Mining and petroleum companies
  • Hospitals
  • Engineering firms
  • Professional and technical journals
  • Government laboratories
  • Manufacturing and processing firms
  • Atomic and nuclear labs
  • Government agencies e.g., Department of Commerce, Department of Defense
  • Television and radio stations
  • Weather bureaus

Strategies

Gain experience through internships or co-ops. Complete applicable certification or licensure through professional organizations. Gain knowledge about the field through informational interviews with professionals. Develop work habits that are systematic, precise, and patient. Develop a strong computer background. Gain experience using scientific instruments and equipment. Pursue a graduate degree in engineering.

Solid State Physics

Areas

  • Basic and Applied Research
  • Development
  • Consulting
  • Teaching
  • Administration

Employers

  • Government laboratories
  • Nonprofit research centers
  • Colleges and universities
  • Electronics industry e.g., communications, automobile, computer, navigation/guidance systems
  • Government agencies e.g., National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Department of Defense

Strategies

Obtain experience working with electronics and computers. Request applicable job listings from the American Institute of Physics.

General Information

  • A bachelor's degree will qualify for positions as research assistants, high level technicians, or computer specialists, as well as nontechnical work in publishing or sales.
  • An undergraduate degree also provides a solid background for pursuing advanced degrees in other employment areas such as law, business, accounting, or medicine.
  • Be aware that expertise and experience in a specialty area are usually required for employment opportunities directly related to physics.
  • A graduate degree and post-graduate experience will allow for more responsibility and advancement in the field of physics.
  • An earned doctorate is required for college or university teaching, advanced research, and administrative positions.
  • Some industries such as the manufacturers of electrical devices will train in the specialty of the firm.
    A bachelor's degree and state teacher certification are required for K-12 teaching opportunities.
  • Visit government laboratories or research centers. Talk with a physicist about his/her profession and career path.
  • Join relevant professional associations. Attend their meetings and read their publications.
  • Acquire excellent oral and written communication skills.
  • Gain experience with tools, electronics, and machinery.
  • Become familiar with government job application process for positions in federal, state, or local government.

Prepared by the Career Planning staff of Career Services at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. (2005) UTK is an EEO/AA/Title VI/Title IX/Section 504/ADA/ADEA Employer