CHOOSING A CAREER / AUG. 22, 2014
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How to Become a Physicist

Physicist
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Physicists study the laws that explain the existence and behavior of various objects. They conduct extensive research with a view of unveiling more information about matter, space, time and energy. Physics is a wide field. As such, most physicists often specialize in a specific aspect of physics, such as atomic and molecular physics, astrophysics and medical physics. If you are passionate about maths and science, and possess excellent research skills, this could be the ideal job for you.

The Work

As an aspiring physicist, you could work as a theoretical analyst or applied researcher. While theoretical anlysists use computer aided software and creative skills to develop new ideas and make predictions, applied researchers focus on conducting experiments to test the accuracy of various theories.

Regardless of speciality, physicists generally have the following duties;

  • Developing advanced equipment and improving existing ones
  • Developing new equipment to be used in scientific experiments and analytical processes
  • Training and mentoring upcoming physicists
  • Forecasting changes in various phenomena, such as weather climate
  • Writing reports and presenting findings to project managers or lead physicist
  • Creating publications to inform the public about their findings.

Work Environment

Physicists are usually on the job for 37 hours a week. They spend their time a range of settings, from laboratories and lecture rooms to workshops and factories. Fieldwork is also common.

While at work, physicists may need to wear protective clothing to avoid being exposed to hazards, such as radiations.

Salary

The salaries for physicists vary with the level experience and academic qualifications, as shown below;

Level of experience

Annual pay

Beginning physicists (with bachelor or master’s degrees)

£21,000-£25,000

PhD holders

£24,000-£35,000

Senior physicists (project managers)

£35,000-£45,000

Higher education lecturers and trainers

up to £55,000

Source: National Careers Service

Entry Requirements

If you prefer jobs that require little formal training, this is not the field for you. Most physicists are highly trained professionals. Therefore, to get started as a physicist, you need to;

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree in physics, applied physics or a relevant engineering field – To secure an admission, you must have five GCSEs, including maths, science and English, at grades A to C, and at least two A levels in maths and physics. If you lack a background in science, you may be required to complete a bridging or foundation course.
  • Earn a master’s degree in physics, followed by a doctoral degree.

During the course of your undergraduate studies or immediately after completing the program, you could find work placements to gain some practical experience. For more information on work placements, visit Future Morph and physics.org.

Important Skills and Abilities

Besides the technical knowledge and experience, physicists should have the following competencies;

  • An inquisitive mind
  • A clear and logical approach to situations
  • A high level of accuracy to avoid small mistakes
  • Good scientific and mathematical skills for analysis
  • Good communication skills to relay information effectively
  • Ability to work effectively in a team (strong teamwork skills)
  • Awareness of occupations safety precautions
  • Strong project management skills –for senior physicists.

Training and Development

After finding paid employment, your employer will give you on-the-job training to improve your knowledge of relevant IT software, safety and health precautions, as well as boost your practical skills.

If you hadn’t pursued a graduate or postgraduate qualification, this is the perfect time to do so. If you already possess these qualifications, you can work toward being a chartered physicist or chartered scientist, designations that are offered by the Institute of Physics and Chartered Scientist, respectively.

If you wish to become a medical physicist, you will need to complete a two-year program accredited by the Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine.

Finally, it is important to stay abreast of industry trends by attending relevant conferences.

Job Opportunities

As a qualified physicist, you can work in industries such as defense, aerospace, electronics, energy and robotics. The top employers include;

  • Engineering and development firms
  • Computing and research institutions
  • Technical consulting firms
  • Government agencies, such as defense
  • the National Health Service

With vast experience and advanced knowledge in physics, you could move into education and become a higher education lecturer responsible for modeling the next generation of physicists.

Useful Links

Feel you have what it takes to become a physicist? Well, coupled with this article, your career is now cleared for takeoff!

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