Physics is all about the interaction of matter--it focuses on gravity, velocity and other material marvels. While some physicists reach for the stars, others change the way people live on Earth (think of lasers and microwaves). To make a big bang in this field, you have to be loaded with curiosity, intelligence and initiative--and love solving problems.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Challenging
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Earn a bachelor's degree in physics and a teaching credential if you want to teach high-school physics.
Get a master's degree in physics if you plan to work in applied or practical physics, conduct research or teach at a two-year college. Explore professional master's degree programs that prepare you for work in the private sector. See 155 Get Into Grad School.
Gain experience in other areas such as computer technology if you want to work in applied physics. Many people study physics and then work in information technology fields as software engineers or systems developers.
Become a theoretical physicist and explore topics such as the origin of the universe, or work in a practical field developing new materials and equipment. You'll need at least a doctoral degree in physics to work in theoretical research and development. Expect to do postdoctoral work to land a permanent university or government job.
Specialize in a subfield such as acoustics or fluids. If you think small is beautiful, pick atomic physics. If your interests are farreaching, go into astronomy (which some consider a subfield of physics).
Look for work in government, commerce or education. You can teach at a university, work for a drug company or find a job at NASA. Some entrepreneurs form their own companies to develop new products and ideas. You can work on everything from electronics and optics to medical and navigation equipment.
Slip on that white lab coat--many physicists spend their careers in research laboratories. If you specialize in a field such as nuclear energy, you may need to share bigger, more expensive equipment in a larger team setting.
Sharpen your grant-writing skills or find someone else to write those proposals. They're usually essential to keep your work funded.
Become an author as Stephen Hawking (A Brief History of Time) has done and write about physics.
Tips and warnings
- Be flexible--specialties sometimes overlap, and you may find yourself switching among them. And you don't have to limit yourself to one science; you can choose a double field such as biophysics or geophysics.
- Physicists earned a median annual income of $85,020 in 2002.
- Expect stiff competition, especially if you want to work in theoretical research. You'll be up against qualified candidates from all over the world vying for a limited number of jobs.