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American Physical Society

What do physicists do?

Select a degree path to see what fields of physics you might be interested in.

Welcome to the Fields in Physics Page!
This page is designed to help you discover more about career opportunities in Physics, at both the Bachelor's and Advanced Degree levels. In each tab, you'll find a series of tiles representing the areas which are typically pursued by recipients of that degree type. Within each of these fields tiles, you'll get a chance to "meet" actual Physicists working in these fields today and to learn more about how their Physics training helps them to do their job(note: tabs represent the highest Physics degree received).

Did you know: According to the AIP Statistical Research Center, most (57%) 2005-2006 Physics bachelors degree recipients went on to work in the private sector immediate after receiving their degrees, to pursue careers in a variety of areas-including careers which are non-science (for information about employment and salaries, check out our Physics Employment Facts page).
Graph: Field of Employment for Physics Bachelors in the Private Sector, Classes of 2005 and 2006

The remaining Physics bachelors pursued graduate school in Academia, typically going into the areas of Physics, Astronomy, or Engineering-with a significant proportion of them studying everything from Law and Business to Life Sciences and Medical Physics. So no matter what choices you make in terms of Physics degree, the possibilities are practically endless.
Graph: Fields of study for Physics Bachelors Continuing Directly on to Graduate School, Classes of 2005 and 2006

Physics Bachelor's degree recipients are mostly employed in the private sector, and largely in Science, Math, Technology or Engineering areas1. However, plenty of Physics Bachelors have gone on to be writers, actuaries, educators, patent attorneys, or even gone on to start their own companies! Find out more about some of the exciting careers held by Physics Bachelor's degree graduates:

Bio/Medical

Medical and Biophysicists deal with life processes-which could mean anything from studying DNA replication to curing cancer using protons. As these exciting fields continue to grow, so do the number of opportunities for Physics Bachelor graduates to have careers which are innovative, exciting, challenging, and most importantly, which help people live longer and healthier lives.

Photo of Alison Binkowski
Alison Binkowski
Health Policy Analyst, Government Accountability office

"Many fields--including international development and health policy--need more people with strong analytic backgrounds."

Photo of Urszula Tajchman
Urszula Tajchman
Pediatric Cardiologist

According to Urszula, the best things about her job are caring for patients, teaching children and parents about their health, and studying therapies for disease.

Photo of Allison Porter
Allison Porter
Biophysics Technician

Besides being a technician whose research which will help deepen the understanding of autoimmune diseases, Allison is also a boxer, an astrophysicist, and is currently Miss Washington.


Engineering and Applied

There's an almost endless variety of Industrial applications which a Physics background would be useful for. In fact, according to studies from the American Institute of Physics, the vast majority of Bachelor's degree recipients find employment in Industry, in Math, Science, and Technology related fields. So with so many exciting opportunities to choose from, as a Physics Bachelor's degree recipient, the world would definitely be your oyster!

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Laura Smoliar
Program Manager, Lighwave Laser Corp.

On her international group of laser engineers and physicists, Laura says "I have an awesome team; they are very, very bright people."

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Sharon Lappin
Intermediate Highway Designer

Sharon designs bridges, retaining walls, and culverts of highways which are used by millions of people every day.

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Michelle Rubin
Program Manager, Electronic Systems and Sensors Division

Michelle manages programs that support the Airborne Surveillance Department for Northrup-Grumman, a company which provides security systems and services to governments


Government and Military

Bachelor's degree recipients often go into careers in the private sector which have military applications, or get advanced degrees in engineering related areas to work in a variety of contexts--from global defense companies to National Labs and Organizations such as NIST or NASA. A Physics background has nearly limitless applications in these areas.

Photo of Matt Briggs
Matt Briggs
Pilot

"My job consists of 10-12 hour missions above 70,000 feet-alone, unarmed, and unafraid."

Photo of Michelle Rubin
Michelle Rubin
Program Manager, Electronic Systems and Sensors Division

Michelle manages programs that support the Airborne Surveillance Department for Northrup-Grumman, a company which provides security systems and services to governments


Computers and Information

Roughly 10% all Physics Bachelor's degrees recipients in 2005 and 2006 who entered the workforce directly after graduation went into careers involving Computers and Information processing. From designing and maintaining networks to complex modeling and simulation projects, a background in Physics readily supplies graduates with the technical skills needed to succeed in these widespread--and lucrative--jobs.

Photo of Steve Calderone
Steve Calderone
Programmer Analyst, Baystate Health Systems

Working for Baystate Health, Steve analyzes design specifications for programs and reports, and maintains applications and systems.

Photo of Larry Shaltis
Larry Shaltis
Network Administrator, Grass Lake School District

In addition to maintaining software and systems for the whole school district, Larry has also spent 20 years teaching Physics, Chemistry, and Computer Programming at Grass Lake Schools.


Natural Sciences

Over the past century, a great deal of progress has been made towards understanding how our universe works, on sub-atomic scales all the way to the distances between galaxies. But as scientists who study planetary or geophysics will tell you, some of the most fascinating things can be learned right in front of our noses-or under our feet!

  • Natural Science jobs include meteorology, seismology, geophysics, and atmospheric science.
  • Over 8% of graduating Physics bachelors who enter the workforce upon graduation find employment in the natural sciences.
  • For a look at the types of Natural science jobs held by Advanced Physics Degree recipients, check out our Advanced Natural Sciences tile.

Education

Given the rate at which at which new problems (and new technologies to solve them) are developing, there is now a greater need for high-quality science education than ever before. A desire to help shape young minds is a noble pursuit, and a background in Physics-which not only covers scientific concepts but also teaches you how to think--makes you flexible enough to fill a variety of roles, from teaching Math, Physics, or even Chemistry in high schools to helping students develop their professional lives.

Photo of Larry Shaltis
Larry Shaltis
Network Administrator, Grass Lake School District

In addition to maintaining software and systems for the whole school district, Larry has also spent 20 years teaching Physics, Chemistry, and Computer Programming at Grass Lake Schools.

Photo of Mary Lee McJimsey
Mary Lee McJimsey
High School Physics Teacher

"I can help a student...become one of the next engineers or physicists who's going to change the world."


Energy

Of all the challenges which we will face in the next century, developing renewable, efficient, and environmentally sound Energy solutions which serve our planet's needs is perhaps one of the greatest. From working to develop high-altitude wind engines, more cost-effective solar cells, or safer and more efficient Nuclear power plants, Physicists are leading the charge in this potentially planet-saving effort.

In addition to coal, petroleum, and natural gas, hydroelectric and nuclear energy make a significant contribution to the world's energy production. However emerging renewable technologies--such as wind, solar, and geothermal energy--make up a small but growing contribution as well. Though coal and petroleum are currently among the cheapest forms of energy available today, factors such as environmental impact and sustainability provide motivation for developing cleaner, renewable energy technologies. Therefore this area is full of potential for technological innovation--and countless opportunities for Physics degree holders. For a look at careers in Energy technologies held by Advanced Physics Degree recipients, check out our Advanced Energy tile.

Non-Science

That many Physics bachelors go into scientific fields may not be a surprise-but what about the Michigan Physics Bachelor who is now a freelance writer (and composed the famous LHC Rap)? Or the Physics BA who worked in the Peace Corps? Ask anyone you meet what they majored in in College, and you may be surprised to hear them say, "I got my Bachelor's degree in Physics!"

Photo of Kate McAlpine
Kate McAlpine
Freelance Writer

"I'm a freelance writer and sometimes rapper, specializing in Physics."

Photo of Alison Binkowski
Alison Binkowski
Health Policy Analyst, Government Accountability office

"Many fields--including international development and health policy--need more people with strong analytic backgrounds."

Photo of Deborah Moore
Deborah Moore
Environmental Consultant

"The best things about my job are travelling worldwide, and helping people by improving the environment."

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Amanda Joy McDonald
Actuary

"An actuary has to do as we were trained to do in our physics courses - not to memorize formulas, but to think."


Academics/Research

Many Physicists who work at Universities of Colleges do more than teach classes--they also participate in exciting and cutting-edge research. According to the AIP Statistical Research Center, 43% of 2005 and 2006 Physics Bachelors found initial employment doing research in the private sector or at Colleges and Universities--so for a Physics Bachelor, there are abundant opportunities to get involved in these research fields.

Photo of Robert Cook
Robert Cook
Member of the USM Sports and High Performance Materials PhD program

At the USM Sports and High Performance Materials program, Robert conducts research in a new field dedicated to the analysis of sports, military, and first response equipment-in particular, the properties of high end snowboards.

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Randolph Wojciek
Physicist, Detector Development Group

Randolph develops and optimizes particle detectors used in the experiments at Jefferson Lab, a nationally funded research laboratory.




1From the AIP Statistical Research Center

Extending your Educational path to an Advanced Physics (a Master's or PhD) degree leads to further opportunities for research in Scientific and Technological fields-either in Industry, as a professional researcher (working at Universities or National Labs), or as a professor at the Academic level1. An advanced degree in Physics provides a depth and breadth of scientific knowledge, as well as an ability to think independently and innovatively about solving problems-so it's no wonder why people with Advanced Physics go on to do many rewarding, interesting, and important things with their careers.

Bio/Medical

Medical and Biophysicists deal with life processes-which could mean anything from studying DNA replication to curing cancer using protons. Many entry level Biophysics positions require advanced degrees in science, and Senior Medical Physicists at Molecular Therapy clinics around the country have an MS or PhD in Physics. Therefore earning an Advanced degree in Physics can help prepare you for careers in these fascinating fields.

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Terence Hwa
Professor

"Physicists face nothing less than resolving the mysteries of life created by billions of years of natural evolution."

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Albin Gonzalez
Chief Medical Physicist

"This is actually taking care of real people. You cannot put people in danger."

Photo of Albert-Laszlo Barabasi
Albert-Laszlo Barabasi
Physics Professor and Networks Expert

Albert's discovery that all networks-from computers, to city infrastructure, to biological systems-have similar properties has lead to many surprising discoveries in these areas.

Photo of Luz Martinez-Miranda
Luz Martinez-Miranda
Professor

"There was something about lenses and things that attracted me in particular and made me want to study more…When I came [to MIT] for graduate school, I knew I could do physics."

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Michelle O'Brien
Manager of the NIST Mammography Calibration Facility

Michelle works in a facility which is used to calibrate Mammography equipment used in medical practices all over the country.

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Gordon Thomas
Professor and Biomedical Engineer

Gordon works on devices to prevent blindness through the New Jersey Vision Technology Center.


Engineering and Applied

Careers in Science, Math, and Technology make a lot of sense for Advanced Physics degree recipients, given the 70% employment rate for MS and PhDs in those fields-and what's more, typical Physics PhDs starting salaries were over twice those of Physics Bachelors' in these areas! An advanced Physics degree could put you in charge of producing the products which make our world possible--or even inventing new products which change the way we live.

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Alice White
Physicist and Team Leader, Bell Labs

"[Doing research] gives you a lot of flexibility. I've had a chance to learn many things."

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Alfred DeAngelis
Research Physicist, Miliken and Company

Alfred researches production methods for textiles which are used in everything from shop towels to Astronaut's uniforms.

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Steve Gass
Entrepreneur, Patent Attorney

"From a physics standpoint, it was really a very interesting project," says Steve Gass, on his invention SawStop, a device which stops a saw blade when it contacts human flesh.


Government and Military

An advanced Physics degree creates many opportunities for careers involving research or military applications, and recipients work in a variety of contexts-often at National Laboratories such as NIST, or even for NASA. The problem solving skills and advanced knowledge of Physics topics they acquired during graduate school prepares them for rewarding and potentially high-profile careers in Government or Military related areas.

Photo of Madhulika Guhathakurta
Madhulika Guhathakurta
Astrophysicist

Madhulika studies the solar corona, and is the Lead Program Scientist for NASA's initiative called "Living With a Star" which focuses on predicting solar variability and its effects on Earth, human technology and astronauts in space.

Photo of Michelle O'Brien
Michelle O'Brien
Manager of the NIST Mammography Calibration Facility

Michelle works in a facility which is used to calibrate Mammography equipment used in medical practices all over the country.


Computers and Information

By the time they graduate, recipients of advanced degrees in Physics will have had extensive experience with using computers as problem solving tools-from doing complex calculations to analyzing large amounts of data. Given the broad applicability of computers and information technology in our modern world, by training graduates to become problem solvers through the medium of computers, an advanced Physics degree can help them achieve almost any goal--from starting a business to mapping out the effects of pharmaceuticals on the brain.

Photo of Albert-Laszlo Barabasi
Albert-Laszlo Barabasi
Physics Professor and Networks Expert

Albert's discovery that all networks-from computers, to city infrastructure, to biological systems-have similar properties has lead to many surprising discoveries in these areas.

 

Natural Sciences

Over the past century, a great deal of progress has been made towards understanding how our universe works, on sub-atomic scales all the way to the distances between galaxies. But as scientists who study planetary or geophysics will tell you, some of the most fascinating things can be learned right in front of our noses-or under our feet!

Photo of Juli Morgan
Juli Morgan
Geophysicist

Of her trips aboard research ships, mapping the ocean floor, Julie says that "what's most exciting about going on a cruise is being able to explore a part of the world that's never been seen before."

Photo of David Stevenson
David Stevenson
Professor of Planetary Science

The study of planetary composition "is a playground for the application of physics."


Education

Given the rate at which new problems are developing (and new technologies to solve them), the need for high-quality science education is greater now than ever before. In order to achieve that goal, advances in the way that we teach science are also being developed, often involving original and creative approaches. An advanced degree in Physics opens the door to these exciting opportunities to innovate, instruct, and inspire others as we move into the Future.

Photo of Andrew Post-Zwicker
Andrew Post-Zwicker
Director of Science Education, Princeton Plasma Physics Lab

Andrew strikes balance between education with research by using his undergraduate and high school students to help with his Plasma physics research-"No one can top my Job," he says.

Photo of Jennifer Groppe
Jennifer Groppe
Physics teacher

Jennifer says the best thing about her job-teaching Physics at a small, private K-12 school in metro D.C.-is getting to interact with students and teachers.

Photo of Gay Stewart
Gay Stewart
Physics Professor

"A desperate need in this country is for science education to improve at all levels. Fixing it at the University level is important, as that is where we prepare our future teachers."


Energy

Of all the challenges which we will face in the next century, developing renewable, efficient, and environmentally sound Energy solutions which serve our planet's needs is perhaps one of the greatest. From working to develop high-altitude wind engines, more cost-effective solar cells, or safer and more efficient Nuclear power plants, Physicists are leading the charge in this potentially planet-saving effort.

Photo of Fred Begay
Fred Begay
Research Physicist

Born on the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation in Colorado, Fred says the connection between his Navajo beliefs and science is natural because "we strongly rely on natural phenomena. We believe we're children of nature."

Photo of Kenneth Jensen
Kenneth Jensen
Control Systems Engineer for a High-Altitude Wind Energy Startup

"Energy will be one of the great problems facing humanity in the 21st century, and physicists...are especially well positioned to attack this problem."


Non-Science

Earning an Advanced degree in Physics can prepare you to solve problems and think innovatively, in addition to gaining a thorough knowledge of Physics principles. These skills are useful in a variety of career contexts - from consulting clients about better ways to run their businesses, to founding your own web-based company.

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Sam Wurzel
Company Founder

"I'm still amazed that you can describe things in the world using math."

Photo of Steve Gass
Steve Gass
Entrepreneur, Patent Attorney

"From a physics standpoint, it was really a very interesting project," says Steve Gass, on his invention SawStop, a device which stops a saw blade when it contacts human flesh.

To learn more about Careers in Patent Law for Physics Majors, check out this article published in AAPT's The Physics Teacher. You can also attend a free webinar offered by APS on Careers in Patent Law. For more details visit the APS webinar page.

Photo of Kimberly Wiefling
Kimberly Wiefling
Consultant

"My education in physics and engineering teams uniquely qualify me to successfully engage technical professionals."


Academics/Research

Many Physicists who work at Universities of Colleges do more than teach classes--they also participate in exciting and cutting-edge research. Physicists working at research institutions are constantly pushing the boundaries of what we know about our Universe.

Photo of Hakeem Oluseyi
Hakeem Oluseyi
Physics professor, studies role of dark energy in universe expansion

Born in Mississippi and raised in different ghettos around the South, Hakeem says that he was drawn to Physics because Einstein's work "just knocked [my] socks off!"

Photo of Lene Hau
Lene Hau
Research Scientist

Hau is researching how to slow down or even stop light: "We can park a light pulse in the cloud for a millisecond…that's long enough for light at its normal speed to travel 300 kilometers."

Photo of Fred Begay
Fred Begay
Research Physicist

Born on the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation in Colorado, Fred says the connection between his Navajo beliefs and science is natural because "we strongly rely on natural phenomena. We believe we're children of nature."

Photo of Andrew Post-Zwicker
Andrew Post-Zwicker
Director of Science Education, Princeton Plasma Physics Lab

Andrew strikes balance between education with research by using his undergraduate and high school students to help with his Plasma physics research-"No one can top my Job," he says.




1From the AIP Statistical Research Center