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What is a physics degree?
Physics is a field that keeps changing as discoveries are made. This means that the field asks at least as many questions as it answers. Students of physics degree programs study matter and energy. They learn about the relationships between the measurable quantities in the universe, which include velocity, electric field, and kinetic energy.
In simple terms, the study of physics is an attempt to figure out why objects move in the way that they do. This requires learning about and understanding several concepts and laws, including the following:
- one-dimensional motion (motion along a straight line)
- two-dimensional motion (motion that happens along two axes at the same time)
- the concept of force
- Newton’s Laws
- conservation of energy
- conservation of momentum
- rotational motion
- conservation of angular momentum
- fluids and thermal physics
- electricity and magnetism
- Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity
Associate Degree in Physics – Two Year Duration
The physics associate curriculum provides students with the general education requirements of most bachelor’s programs. Students who earn an Associate Degree in Physics typically go on to continue their studies at the bachelor’s level.
- Linear Algebra
- Organic Chemistry
- Calculus with Analytic Geometry
- Physics – Mechanics
- Physics – Electricity and Magnetism
- Computer programming
The general education courses in associate programs cover communication, English composition, public speaking, critical reading, critical thinking, and the social/behavioral sciences.
Bachelor’s Degree in Physics – Four Year Duration
Most jobs in the physics field require at least a bachelor’s degree. Many graduates begin their career as a research assistant or a research technician.
In addition to the topics listed above in the Associate Degree section, bachelor’s degree programs in physics cover:
- Advanced Linear Algebra
- Advanced Calculus
- Ordinary Differential Equations
- Heat and Waves
- Experimental Methods
- Laws of Thermodynamics
- Quantum Theory
- Introduction to Astrophysics
- Physics and Relativity
- Nanoscience and Nanotechnology
Master’s Degree in Physics – Two Year Duration
Graduates with a Master’s in Physics qualify for senior positions with science and research labs.
At this level, students choose a research field, such as:
- Astrophysics and Gravitation
- Atomic Molecular and Optical Physics
- Chemical Physics
- Condensed Matter and Materials Physics
- Industrial and Applied Physics
- Quantum Computing
- Subatomic Physics
Coursework varies depending on the research field chosen.
Doctoral Degree in Physics – Four to Six Year Duration
Holders of a Doctorate in Physics may work as a physicist, nuclear physicist, physics professor, or astronomer.
Doctoral candidates continue to focus on their master’s field of research. Therefore, courses vary. Much of the second half of the Ph.D. program is made up of dissertation or thesis research. Here are some examples of Ph.D. level courses:
- Quantum Mechanics
- Quantum Field Theory
- Quantum Information Processing
- Nuclear Physics
- Statistical Physics
Degrees similar to physics
Applied physics looks at how to use physics to solve practical problems. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the bridge between physics and engineering.
Degree programs in architectural engineering combine architecture and engineering. Their goal is to produce engineers with technical skills in all aspects of building design and construction. Courses, therefore, cover subjects like architectural drawing and design, building construction, lighting and acoustics, energy systems, and fire safety.
Astronomy students use math, physics, and chemistry to study celestial objects like planets, stars, comets, meteors, and galaxies.
Civil engineers design large construction projects. They are concerned with things like how much weight a structure can support and the environmental issues presented by construction.
Computer science programs teach computer systems and the way humans and computers interact. Coursework covers mathematics for computer science, artificial intelligence, data structures and algorithms, introduction to program design, and the theory of formal languages.
Degree programs in mathematics typically teach both the theory of pure mathematics and its practical application to the world, known as applied mathematics. In other words, math majors study more than algebra, geometry, calculus, and statistics. They learn about how math concepts are used in business management, computer science, economics, finance, music, philosophy, physics, and sports science.
Students of nuclear engineering learn how energy released from nuclear reactions can be used in power plants, medical diagnostic equipment, and other industries. Nuclear engineering courses cover nuclear reactor theory, design, safety, and risks.
It has been said that physics needs philosophy and philosophy needs physics. This is because philosophy encourages the asking of big questions and the formulation of arguments to attempt to answer them. Both physics and philosophy aim to answer questions by pure reasoning.
Skills you'll learn
Physics students learn skills that are useful not only in ‘physics degree jobs,’ but in all kinds of work:
- Attention to detail
- Reasoning and problem-solving
- Research and data analysis
- Communicating complex concepts and ideas
- Report writing
- Information technology
What can you do with a physics degree?
Graduates with a physics degree can work in a variety of occupational categories:
These are some of the specialized areas of research in physics: astrophysics, particle physics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, climate science, meteorology, condensed matter theory, quantum dynamics, applied physics, plasma physic, aerospace dynamics, atomic and laser physics, atmospheric physics, oceanic physics, and planetary physics.
Teaching physics is a career option for graduates in the field.
Energy and Renewable Energy
In these fields, physics graduates work on finding better ways to extract fossil fuel reserves and on harnessing wind and solar energy.
Physics graduates often find themselves working in the engineering sector, designing products and manufacturing processes. They may work in various industries including defense, transport, automotive, telecommunications, architecture, energy, renewable energy, aerospace, and space exploration.
Geophysics, Meteorology, and Climate Change
In these areas, physicists help predict natural disasters, forecast weather, and research climate change.
In the healthcare field, medical physicists collaborate with biomedical engineers. They develop and test medical technologies and equipment for radiology, radiation oncology, and nuclear medicine. The may also conduct research for medical technology companies and healthcare providers.
Media and Entertainment
Scientific journalism, film special effects, and video game design all offer potential employment options for physics graduates.
Space and Astronomy
Research institutes, universities, museums, and planetariums offer potential jobs in this sector.
Physicists also work in the fields of nanoscience, nanotechnology, and robotics to come up with new ideas and products that can be used for many purposes. For example, nanotechnologists have developed nanoscale devices that can interact with biological molecules in cancer cells.
The career trajectory of people with a Physics degree appears to be focused around a few careers. The most common career that users with Physics degrees have experience in is Physicist, followed by Astronomer, Scientist, Engineer, Mathematician, Particle Physicist, Materials Scientist, Electrical Engineer, Software Engineer, and Chemist.
|Career||% of graduates||% of population||Multiple|
Physics graduates earn on average $45k, putting them in the 70th percentile of earners with a degree.
|Percentile||Earnings after graduation ($1000s USD)|
|25th (bottom earners)||$30k|
|Median (average earners)||$45k|
|75th (top earners)||$68k|
Physics graduates are highly employed compared to other graduates. We have collected data on three types of underemployment. Part-time refers to work that is less than 30 hours per week. Non-college refers to work that does not require a college degree. Low-paying includes a list of low-wage service jobs such as janitorial work, serving, or dishwashing.
|Employment Type||Proportion of graduates|
|Jobs that don't require college||20%|