conduct research into physical phenomena, develop theories on the basis of observation and experiments, and devise methods to apply physical laws and theories.
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|License or certification||Licensing or certification may be needed for certain specializations, such as Nuclear Physicist or Health Physicist|
|Duration to become one||10 to 15 years|
|Difficulty to become one||Very Hard|
Physicists often require a Doctoral Degree, but some employers may accept candidates with Master’s Degrees. Physicists obtain undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Physics. Licensing or certification may be needed for certain specializations, such as Nuclear Physicist or Health Physicist.
Step 1: Study Physics and Math in High School
Aspiring Physicists should dive into Physics in high school. Complete all required science courses and enroll in advanced placement (AP) Physics if available.
Math is also an important topic for Physicists. Many of the theories and models that Physicists work with involve complex mathematical equations and formulas. Taking advanced algebra and calculus may better prepare students.
Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree
Physicists often start their college education by earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Physics or Applied Physics. Most Physics programs include courses in calculus, magnetism, thermodynamics, and Newtonian mechanics.
Step 3: Look for Entry-Level Jobs or Internships
Between undergraduate and postgraduate studies, many aspiring Physicists gain practical experience through entry-level jobs. Common jobs include Laboratory Technician and Research Assistant. These jobs typically require a Bachelor’s Degree and may allow part-time work for those who wish to continue working while earning a Master’s Degree.
Instead of entry-level jobs, some Physicists gain hands-on experience through internships. The American Physical Society maintains a directory of available internships.
Step 4: Earn a Master’s Degree
Physicists typically need a Master’s Degree before enrolling in a Doctoral program. Most Physicists continue to major in Physics. However, some colleges and universities may offer programs for specialized areas of Physics, such as Theoretical Physics, Experimental Physics, and Applied Physics.
Theoretical Physicists develop theories and models to attempt to answer scientific questions. Experimental Physicists test theories and models while Applied Physicists apply the results of the tests to solve problems in various industries.
Individuals who obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in a field of study other than Physics may need to take one year of foundational courses before enrolling in a Master’s program for Physics. The degree is often abbreviated as “MPhys.”
Step 5: Look for Work with the Federal Government
Physicists who work for the federal government may only need a Bachelor’s Degree or a Master’s Degree. Jobs are often available with the military, including the US Air Force.
While a federal government job may not require a Doctoral Degree, it typically requires a thorough background check. Any prior convictions or bad credit history may disqualify candidates from certain positions.
Step 6: Earn a Doctoral Degree
A Doctoral Degree is required for most Physicist positions outside of the federal government. Earning a Doctoral Degree often requires an extensive research project. The project may take several years to complete and is followed by a thesis. The entire process often takes up to six years.
When completing research and a thesis, Doctoral students may be required to work as Teacher Assistants to Professors and other senior faculty members.
Along with a research project, Doctoral students need to take courses. The first two years of the program often include core courses in classical mechanics, mathematical physics, quantum mechanics, computational physics, and electromagnetic physics. Some of the courses may be completed in laboratories while others are taught in a classroom setting.
After completing the core courses, some Doctoral programs require students to complete written and oral exams. The exams are typically called “qualifying exams” as they determine whether a student is qualified to progress to the next stage of the program.
Students who pass the exam may begin focusing on their research projects. Students collaborate on their research projects with faculty members. The research project must also be approved.
Students spend the final year or two of the Doctoral programs preparing a dissertation or thesis. The dissertation is presented in front of a committee while a thesis is reviewed by faculty.
After presenting the dissertation or thesis, students earn their Doctoral Degree and can include the “PhD” designation when signing their names.
Step 7: Complete a Postdoctoral Fellowship
Physicists often complete a fellowship or research project after earning their Doctoral Degrees. Fellowships often last two to three years while research projects can last anywhere from one year to several years. Fellowships and research projects are typically offered through universities and independent research facilities.
Step 8: Look for Work as a Physicist
After finishing your education, begin looking for work as a Physicist. By this point, you should already have experience from an internship or entry-level job before earning a Master’s Degree. Physicists often use connections from their previous work experiences to find employment after finishing school.
Physicists often work for research institutes and universities. Some Physicists find work in other industries, such as engineering and health care.
What degree do most Physicists have
We did a survey to ask other Physicists what degree they had when they first became one. Here are the results.
How long does it take
Physicists often need a Doctoral Degree, which may take four to six years after earning a Master’s Degree. Many Physicists also complete a two-year to three-year postdoctoral fellowship.