Physicists study the workings of Earth and the universe. They help us to understand everything from the origins of the universe to the tiny particles we are made of. Many Physicists apply their knowledge to solve problems and create useful products in a very wide range of areas, such as medical technology, aerospace, meteorology and the environment.
Also known as
- Theoretical Physicist
- Experimental Physicist
- Clinical Physicist
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As a Physicist, you will help us to understand the workings of the Earth and universe. You'll study and observe natural phenomena, trying to understand them and predict how these physical things might work in new situations.
Physicists attempt to answer a huge range of questions about the world around us, from 'why is the sky blue?' to 'how does a mobile phone work?'.
Within physics, specialist areas of study and research include astronomy (the universe), meteorology (weather and climate) and acoustics (the physics of sound).
As a Physicist, you may apply your knowledge to solve problems and create useful products, in a very wide range of areas.
Physicists are vital to engineering and to the manufacturing industries. Developments in manufacturing technology such as electronics, computer-controlled equipment and robotics all rely on physics.
In the automotive industry, you might be helping to develop cars that are more fuel-efficient, safer and quieter. In the aerospace industry, you could be researching and developing lighter, stronger and safer aircraft, spacecraft and satellites.
Physics is also essential to agriculture: Farmers depend on knowledge of the physics of the soil, weather and agricultural machinery.
Research into energy is increasingly important to the environment. In this area you will study and develop alternative ways to produce energy, for example, from solar, tidal or wind power.
You could also play an essential role in providing health services. As a Medical Physicist, you will design, develop and maintain equipment used in the diagnosis of disease and treatment of patients. This equipment includes X-ray machines, electronic instruments for monitoring the heart and brain, artificial limbs, radiotherapy equipment, and implants, such as heart valves.
You could also work as a University Lecturer, Researcher, Science Teacher, or Journalist.
Your day-to-day work as a Physicist will vary depending on the area you are involved in. Laboratory work will include experiments, observations and analysis, using a wide range of technology.
You must be able to use specialist software to model complex processes, monitor and control experiments, and to analyse and display results.
As a Physicist, you will often lead teams of Laboratory Technicians, who will help to support you in your work and look after the day-to-day running of the lab.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Physicist, you'll need:
- an enquiring, logical mind
- curiosity about the world
- an interest in problem solving and how things work
- perseverance and the ability to concentrate
- observation skills
- practical skills, and also imagination, to design complex experiments
- strong maths skills
- familiarity with computers and the ability to use a range of equipment
- teamwork skills
- the ability to explain results clearly and concisely, including in written reports
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £29,500 - £33,000
- With experience: £36,000 - £43,000
- Senior Physicists earn £44,500
Hours of work
Physicists usually work 35-39 hours a week, Monday to Friday. However, you might have early starts, late finishes, shifts, on-call and weekend work, for example, as deadlines approach.
Where could I work?
Physicists are employed in a wide range of roles in many areas. These include manufacturing, construction, engineering, IT, meteorology, patent work, and the plastics, oil and gas industries.
There are also opportunities in the NHS, university research departments, and in local and national government departments.
Opportunities for Physicists occur in towns and cities throughout the UK.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised through the Institute of Physics; in science magazines such as New Scientist (which also posts jobs on its website); on academic and scientific job boards and in national/local newspapers.
ocial media websites, such as LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, are a great way to network, find vacancies and get in contact with possible employers. Make sure that your profile presents you in a professional manner that will appeal to potential employers.
Take a look at our General Information Article
Entry Routes and Training
Entry is usually with at least a first (undergraduate) degree in physics. BSc (Hons) degrees usually take three years to complete in England and Wales. Sandwich degrees are also available.
There are also extended first degree courses, leading to Master of Physics (MPhys) or Master in Science (MSci) degrees (not to be confused with the postgraduate MSc). These are four-year courses, with the extra year likely to consist of advanced physics topics, and an optional part and project. Some universities replace the project with industrial training.
Physics degrees usually cover areas such as:
- atomic and nuclear physics
- solid state physics
- mathematical techniques
- practical experiment skills
Some universities allow students to take specialist options, for example, in astrophysics, electronics or particle physics. Courses might reflect this in their title, for example, 'physics with electronics'.
If you already have a specialist area in mind, you can take a first degree in that area, for example, meteorology or astrophysics.
Entry can also be possible with a relevant HND or foundation degree, although this might be into a technician-level post.
A small number of universities offer newly developed integrated science degrees (ISciences), involving physics, chemistry and biology. These courses allow you to develop the interdisciplinary knowledge and skills that employers are increasingly looking for in science graduates. Entry requirements vary but the minimum is one science A level (grade B or above, alongside your other A levels) and GCSE Maths (equivalent qualifications might be accepted - please check prospectuses). You'll have the option of taking an MPhys or MSci degree after completing the integrated science course.
Entry to a research post, for example, in a university, is usually with a postgraduate research qualification (usually a PhD for universities).
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
You might have on-the-job training, for example, in new laboratory procedures or specialist equipment. Continuing professional development could also involve mentoring and going to conferences, workshops and seminars.
Previous experience of working with Physics during industrial work placements would be really useful for this career.
This depends on the area of physics you work in. In industry, promotion could be into a supervisory or management post.
University Lecturers can go on to become Senior Lecturers and, eventually, Professors.
Experienced Physicists might move into areas such as patent work, journalism and lecturing.
For entry to a degree in physics, the usual minimum requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels, including physics and maths
- GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects
- a further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C/4 and above where some universities specify English language
Alternatives to A levels include:
- BTEC level 3 qualifications
- the International Baccalaureate Diploma
However, course requirements vary, so please check prospectuses carefully.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
Some entrants have developed knowledge and skills during industrial work placements.
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter a degree, foundation degree or HND course, you might be able to start one after completing an Access course, for example, Access to Science. You don't usually need any qualifications to enter an Access course, although you should check this with the course provider.
A foundation year before the start of a science degree or HND is available at some universities and higher education colleges for students who don't have the science A levels usually needed for entry to the course.
Distance learning is available from the Open University, with a BSc degree in Natural Sciences: Physics Pathway.
Financial support for postgraduate study and research is available, through universities, from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).
Publisher: Reed Business Information Ltd
Open University (OU)
Tel: 0845 3006090
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Address: Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1ET
Tel: 01793 444000
Institute of Physics (IOP)
Address: 76 Portland Place, London W1B 1NT
Tel: 020 7470 4800
Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)
Address: Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon SN2 1SZ
Tel: 01793 442000
Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM)
Address: Fairmount House, 230 Tadcaster Road, York YO24 1ES
Tel: 01904 610821
People Exchange Cymru (PEC)
Public sector recruitment portal for Wales