What does a Physicist do?

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A physicist apply themselves to the discovery and study of the ways that energy and matter interact. Physicist often times conduct, investigate, and conclude to solutions or theories in science. They also design scientific equipment for example electron microscopes, particle accelerators, and lasers that can be used to perform experiments.

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How to Become a Physicist

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To become a physicist one must earn a doctorate degree (PhD). However with a bachelor’s degree in physics one would qualify as a research assistant and technician in similar fields like computer science and engineering. Those holding master’s degree sometimes find employment in the federal government or become teachers in middle or high school. However, to secure jobs in academia or research as a physicist one needs a PhD degree. Most start out their careers in a 2-3 year temporary postdoctoral research position and work with experienced scientist until they are qualified to begin working more on their own.

Job Description of a Physicist

A physicist is curious about the properties of the natural world like atom formations or the force of gravity and develop scientific theories and models that helps them understand and explain it. They may study the evolution of the universe and the fundamental properties of molecules and atoms. In the case of the application of practical areas, a physicist may develop medical equipment and advanced materials.

There are physicists that do basic research to increase scientific knowledge by working in teams with other scientists, engineers, and technicians. Physicists can work on applied physics which has a focus on fiber optics, medical, or nuclear physics. This is considered more practical and can be used for the general public more immediately, whereas those who work in theoretical physics are more focused on what could be. They use abstract thinking and mathematical equations to explain physical properties that interact with the world or universe, thus having a less direct effect the general public.

Physicist mostly work in laboratories for private industries, hospitals, research centers or universities. Most work full time, but at times can work under grant funds. Many physicist present their research findings at conferences and lectures and also write scientific reports that are sometimes published in scholarly journals. This occupational field primary focus is designing, implementing, and drawing conclusions on scientific experiments which in turn will hopefully advance of science and industry. Most opportunities will present in the medical field for those entering this career field.

Physics Resources for Students and Teachers

The American Physical Society (link opens in a new tab) hosts free physics material for middle school, high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. They also recommend the following books for aspiring physicists (links open in a new tab).

Physicist Career Video Transcript

Physicists and astronomers explore the dimensions of the universe… from the vastness of intergalactic space… to minute subatomic particles. They study the ways different forms of matter and energy interact. Physicists explore the laws that govern space and time. They may focus on theoretical areas like how the universe was formed, or take a more practical direction such as developing laser surgery technology.

Astronomers study planets, stars, and other celestial bodies. Using telescopes and space-based equipment, their research may examine our own solar system, or aim at distant galaxies. Most physicists and astronomers work full time, often on teams with engineers and other scientists. They are employed by higher education institutions, scientific research and development organizations, and the federal government (especially NASA and the Department of Defense). Some need to apply for research grants to fund their work. Astronomers and physicists do most of their work in offices.

Astronomers visit observatories occasionally as data from observations has become widely available via the Internet. Some physics experiments require particle accelerators or nuclear reactors, but most research is conducted in smaller laboratories. Research and academic positions require a Ph.D. A master’s degree qualifies candidates for most positions in manufacturing and healthcare. The Federal government employs scientists with degrees ranging from a bachelor’s to a Ph.D., depending on the position and agency.

Article Citations

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Physicists and Astronomers.

National Center for O*NET Development. 19-2012.00. O*NET OnLine.

The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.