Particle physics in a physics degree

A physics degree will be a good choice for you if you enjoy studying A-Level Maths and Physics.

The degree itself is catered towards people who are interested in astrophysics as well as those who love maths and enjoy computer science.

Job prospects are varied and will include astronomy, engineering, and further education (teaching or further academic research).

Unsure if you should do a Physics Degree?

Among the other sciences, physics can be very theoretical or practical depending on which path you choose and the kind of job prospects in which you are most interested.

With Brexit, it may be harder to seek work in the EU – unless you have an in-demand degree, and physics certainly qualifies. If you would like to study or live abroad for a while, a STEM degree is one of your best bets to achieve that aim, and physics is one of the most universally desirable degrees in that respect.

Physics is also a field that is very heavy on problem-solving. While that may seem obvious, consider how many jobs out there ask for their employees to have “problem-solving skills.” When you can solve equations with more than a few Greek letters in them, or explain how NASA engineers overcame problems to build the Apollo rockets and send man to the moon, your problem-solving skills should be pretty well demonstrated to any worthwhile employer.

Are you a student that excels in puzzles, especially those of a mathematical nature? Physics may be a great way to put that passion for problem-solving to practical use in a field that’s worthwhile and lucrative.

Whilst a good paycheck is important, it won’t mean anything if you don’t find your work to be meaningful and enjoyable. You will find physics at university to be challenging and fun.

What career can I have with a Physics Degree?

STEM degrees are based on problem-solving. Lots of industries want problem-solvers.

This is why as a physics graduate, you will find that many doors will be open to you.

Astronomy after a physics degree

Space and Astronomy

Careers in the space sector are limited. However, with a physics degree, you do have a good chance. This is because you’ll be able to study the relevant postgraduate courses you’ll need to get into this industry. (Also check out our article on “How to become an Astronaut“).

Being a professional Astronomer can be a research-heavy career. You’ll be conducting investigations with satellites and spacecraft, and most likely teaching in Universities.

But, you could also be involved in the design process of space-related technologies – putting your problem-solving skills into practice.

Engineering

Physics and engineering generally go hand-in-hand.

However, when it comes to job prospects – becoming an engineer is usually easier if you’ve actually done an engineering-related degree, rather than a physics degree.

This doesn’t mean you can’t become one.

It’s a logical transition to go from physics to engineering.

However, you may find that you will need to go the extra mile when acquiring experience for your desired job (applying for engineering internships and opportunities during your time at university).

When you enter the real world, you will find that some engineering positions specifically want an engineering degree. Whether it’s due to the bias of confusing ‘physicists’ with ‘theoretical physicists’, or genuine lack of real-world knowledge and experience is an argument for another day.

Coding and programming in a physics degree

Programming / Computer Science

You will undoubtedly learn some programming during your time at university. This is because you will study some physics modules where programming languages like python are needed to complete lab reports and findings.

Python can also be used to simulate the motion of objects. This ranges from planetary orbits to projectile motion and much more. When you get snazzy enough with python you can even include the gravitational effects that other objects may have on that object.

Interestingly, physics graduates usually know a lot more “useful” mathematics compared to actual maths graduates by the time they’ve completed the degree.

This is why jobs in computer science and software engineering are very common and accessible for a physics graduate.

Finance

Since physics students will be extremely competent in maths, a career in finance is a very popular route that physics graduates take.

Crunching numbers and data will become second nature to you, which is why big accounting companies and others are always on the lookout for STEM graduates.

Although it may not be the career you’re thinking of at the moment, having a job in accounting provides a lot of job security and a decent career ladder.

Here are some common fields for physics graduates

  • Research Fellow: Use your physics degree to research any number of pressing academic topics that are influencing the trajectory of work and thought throughout the physics community
  • Astronomer: Explore the stars via everything from telescopes to NASA missions to conceptual models of the universe
  • Medical Physics: Explore the impact of physics on our own bodies and help medical teams make vital breakthroughs
  • Nuclear Engineer: Work with some of the most powerful materials on Earth to generate energy and do groundbreaking research
  • Nanotechnologist: Help computer and tech teams problem solve their way through some of today’s most pressing tech questions relating to physics (for example, building planetary rovers)

As you can see, there is a huge range of variation here depending on where your interests lie and how practical versus theoretical you want to take your degree.

That can make it practically impossible to say something accurate for all subfields that relate back to a degree in physics in terms of what they pay and the individual timescale for each.

That said, as a general rule, physics degrees pay well. Upon completion of a physics degree, you can expect a median pay of around £26,000 per year.

What do you study in a Physics Degree?

Some modules you can expect to take in a typical physics degree include:

  • Vector Mechanics
  • Introduction to Astrophysics 
  • Properties of Matter
  • Waves and Optics
  • Mathematics for Physicists
  • Practical Physics
  • Electromagnetism
  • Quantum Mechanics

In introductory classes to astrophysics, for example, astrophysical phenomena are explained within the context of concepts such as quantum mechanics and special relativity.

And once you study quantum mechanics at university, you’ll finally be able to understand the Schrödinger’s Cat memes.

Schrödinger cat meme quantum mechanics in a physics degree

Mechanics vs. Pure Maths

Here’s an interesting insight from a recent Queen Mary University Physics Graduate:

Being strong in Maths is a must. Physics as well, although A-Level Physics is nowhere near mathsy enough to get you prepared for a degree in it.

In your first year of a physics degree, it will basically be like going through A-Level Further Maths. What’s also interesting is that you’d think the mechanics side of A-Level Maths will help you in a physics degree, but it’s actually the pure stuff that is much more useful.

PHYSICS GRADUATE FROM QUEEN MARY UNIVERSITY

What skills do you need to study physics at university?

Creativity

Many things in a physics degree are counterintuitive. As a result, you have to approach them differently. You will need to get creative when solving physics and maths problems.

Mathematics

Einstein may have struggled with basic mathematics in his youth, but if you’re going to succeed in physics, there’s no getting around it – you need to be great at math.

Problem-Solving Skills

As explained above, any field in physics is going to require lots of work with concepts and equations, necessitating good problem-solving skills.

Written Communication

Physicists often have to write up reports on experiments and lab work because being able to explain your findings and results is very important. Being as efficient as possible in your writing but still sounding smart is a unique skill.

What kind of extra Physics experience should I get?

Whatever path you take in the sciences, experience is always invaluable, and that’s certainly true in the case of a physics degree.

To get into top university programs or jobs, experience in the field will be essential.

Participating in the Crest Awards will be a powerful talking point in your personal statement or interview. Doing that extra step will impress admission teams and employers as it shows you’re ahead of your peers in your interest in STEM.

If you’re a single-maths student, learning some further maths will be impressive for the admissions team reading your personal statement.

Even if you’re already a further maths student, showing that you’re learning more maths will go a long way.

Here are some good “extra-studying” topics you could learn before you start a physics degree:

Syllabus for the “Mathematical Methods for Physicists” module at UCL

extra topics to study for those interested in physics degree

There are also lots of free lectures, online courses, and videos provided by some universities, like MIT, that you can watch and indulge yourself in.

I’m still unsure if I should do a Physics Degree!

Is it a bit more clear if you should do a maths degree? If you’re still confused, ask any question you like on our forum.