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Doctoral degree

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What They Do

Physicists Career Video

Insider Info

"Someone should only get involved in theoretical physics if they love math, computers and science," says Robert J. Ragan. He is an assistant professor in the physics department at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. "They should also always want to know the reasons why things work, and they should like explaining things."

Physicists are generally trained in the areas of experimental techniques, mathematical analysis and computation.

"Someone with a degree in physics is considered a trained problem solver," says Allen Mincer. He is a professor of physics and the chairman of the physics department at New York University.

"This is often much more important than specific knowledge. Since you know how to learn and think creatively, you can pick up whatever you need to know as needed."

Physicists can work as space scientists, optical engineers, government employees in research and development or high school science teachers.

With advanced degrees, physicists can become professors, research astronomers or computer engineers. It's common for engineers and physicists to work with one another.

Physicists often work regular hours in their labs and offices. Those involved in research may work long or irregular hours.

Mincer says manual dexterity is useful. "I have also found myself doing anything from climbing up flimsy scaffolding to scuba diving in order to repair detectors," he says.

Those with physical challenges can be successful in physics. Many areas of physics, such as theory, don't require physical fitness.

"Stephen Hawking comes to mind immediately as someone with severe physical limitations who is internationally recognized for major contributions," says Mincer.

Just the Facts

Want a quick overview of what this career is about?Check out Just the Facts for simple lists of characteristics.

At a Glance

Study the structure of matter

  • Physicists can work as anything from space scientists to high school teachers
  • If you work in research, you could work long or irregular hours
  • Get at least a bachelor's degree -- you'll need at least a master's to do research or be a professor