Where physics could take you: Career paths
If you enjoy studying physics but aren't sure how it could help your job prospects, we have good news. Employers across a huge range of industries are crying out for people with physics skills right now. These are just a few of your options.
Where do you think choosing physics could take you?
Could it be to a game studio, designing the next Minecraft? Or to the Met Office, creating computer models to predict climate change? Perhaps into education, to inspire the next generation? Or to a hospital, using physics to help to save lives?
There are thousands of exciting, rewarding physics-related careers to choose from – picking just one is hard. We’ve talked to people working in some of those industries to help you understand what their jobs involve, and to see what a future with physics could look like.
Astronomy and space
Astronomy is extreme – distances, time periods, temperatures – and astronomers study these extremes to answer some of the biggest questions we can ask, like: How did the universe begin? How will it end? And are we alone? If you want to go beyond the here and now to explore the deepest mysteries our universe can offer, then astronomy is the career for you.
Climate science and meteorology
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges humanity has ever faced. If you want to make a difference there are a huge and growing number of career choices open to you. These range from the obvious, like becoming a meteorologist who works to understand the climate and weather systems, to the surprising, such as working in environmental law or developing agricultural technology.
A good teacher is more than just someone who teaches. In the classroom, they motivate and inspire their students to learn about the world around them. They run exciting extra-curricular activities to keep young minds engaged. And they can even spread their knowledge by managing and supporting other teachers. As a result, a teacher can have a huge and lasting impact on the lives of young people.
Engineering boils down to building things to solve problems. It used to be restricted to constructing roads, bridges, vehicles and other machinery, but today an engineer might build ultra-accurate lasers for surgery, smaller, more powerful microchips, or new smartphone apps. If it solves a problem and makes life easier, chances are an engineer built it – and that engineer could be you.
Lasers and photonics
Photonics is the science of making, controlling and using light. It’s the basis of everyday technologies such as barcode readers and high-speed broadband, but is also at the heart of cutting-edge research like laser-driven nuclear fusion. The applications are vast and growing, so the future’s bright if you want to work in this area.
Medical physics and digital healthcare
Physics plays a crucial role in healthcare. In hospitals, medical physicists deliver radiation to patients, either helping diagnose disease through nuclear medical imaging or fighting diseases like cancer with radiotherapy. Away from hospitals, people with physics backgrounds are needed in a wide range of roles – from predicting how infectious diseases spread to developing new healthcare technologies.
Fossil fuels continue to pollute the planet and contribute to climate change, but energy technology is starting to have an impact – solar, wind and wave power is gradually replacing coal, oil and gas. More work is needed to make renewables more efficient and affordable, and alternatives like nuclear fusion are taking big steps. You could help to power the world with clean electricity.
Robotics and AI
It recommends friends and products on your social media, it powers Siri and Alexa, and it even makes your smartphone pictures better. Machine learning is already making a big mark on society, but AI and robotics will shape the workplace of the future. A career in robotics and AI will see you working on cutting-edge technologies that can make our lives easier, safer and more enjoyable.
VFX and gaming
Few careers combine tech skills with creativity like VFX and game development. It takes physics, maths, art and coding to make your favourite character walk and jump realistically. With a physics background you could become a programmer, writing code based on the laws of physics to make gameplay look uncannily real, or an environment artist, conjuring up intricate CGI worlds for movies.
Finance and law
Why are people with physics backgrounds sought after in finance and law? The kind of complicated, interconnected problems found in law and finance require the practical mathematical problem-solving skills physicists use to understand the world – sometimes even using the same equations. It’s a bonus that physicists tend to be good at computer modelling and working with big data.