Physicist Education Requirements and College Degree Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a physicist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs and job duties to find out if this is the career for you.

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Essential Information

A physicist studies the universe by examining matter, particles, energy and movement. It is a research-intensive position that uses math to develop theories and principles. Many physicists work in a lab with special equipment, such as particle accelerators, while others work in the federal government and higher education. Most physicists have a doctoral degree in physics; however master's and bachelor's degrees may qualify individuals for related careers, such as research assistant or secondary school teacher. Those who plan to teach physics at a secondary school need to become certified.

Required Education Bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree in physics
Other Requirements State certification for physics secondary school teachers
Projected Job Growth10% for physicists from 2012-2022*
Median Salary (2013) $110,110 for physicists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements

A graduate who holds a bachelor's degree in physics may be able to secure a position as a physicist's research assistant or enter into a related field such as computer science. A master's degree in physics provides more employment options in manufacturing and applied research areas that do not require a Ph.D.

Terminal master's degree programs in physics offer students various concentration areas. Some common concentration areas include accelerator physics, solid state physics and elementary fields and particles. Some master's degree programs may also allow a student to choose a secondary education option, which qualifies graduates to teach at a public high school. This secondary education option includes a teaching experience practicum that is supervised by a state licensed, physics teacher.

A Ph.D. in Physics is the highest degree in the field and can take up to four years or longer to complete. The duration of a student's enrollment depends largely on how quickly he or she is progressing with the research and the writing of a dissertation. Like a master's degree in physics, doctoral students are expected to focus on a particular aspect of physics and develop a research proposal, which culminates in the submission of a dissertation and its defense. Core courses in graduate-level physics programs cover areas such as electromagnetic theory, quantum mechanics, statistical physics and classical mechanics. Elective courses vary and depend largely on the interests of a student.

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