How Do I Become a Physicist?

If you have an excellent understanding of mathematics and an interest in learning more about the physical universe, you might be wondering how to become a physicist. Physics is the branch of science that studies concepts of the universe, such as matter and energy, in order to determine how the universe works. Physicists research space, tiny subatomic particles and other aspects of the universe in order to devise new models and theories of how the universe works and invent new technologies, like sophisticated telescopes and lasers, that allow for future advances in research.

Physics research includes the planning and implementing of experiments to evaluate the accuracy of a theory and increase knowledge about energy and matter. In their research physicists use technical tools, data analysis software and complicated mathematic formulas, equations and calculations. Physicists share their discoveries through presentations at conferences and lectures and through written scientific papers in scholarly journals.

Some physicists study theoretical physics to learn more about the universe itself, others practice applying physics knowledge to real life through creating devices like electronics and medical equipment, and still others invent complex technical equipment for further research. Physics as a whole seeks to understand the laws and properties of energy, matter, time and space with the intention of expanding scientific knowledge to make substantial contributions to real life. Physicists typically find employment in research and development offices and departments, the federal government, universities and colleges, the healthcare field and scientific and technical consulting firms.

Aspiring physicists should be prepared to invest a significant amount of time in their education. Earning a bachelor’s degree in physics during the student’s undergraduate years of education helps provide him or her with a thorough background in thermodynamics, classical and quantum mechanics, optics, electromagnetism and other fundamental concepts and theories of physics. While a master’s degree may be sufficient for graduates to enter some positions in manufacturing and healthcare companies’ applied research and development departments, many career opportunities for physicists require a Ph.D., which demands approximately five to seven years of study. During graduate-level courses, students study physics, calculus, linear algebra, statistics and computer science. Upon completing their Ph.D., physicists often continue developing their skills through two to three years of working in a postdoctoral appointment under the guidance of established scientists.

The United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates career opportunities for physicists to expand by 14 percent during the 2010 to 2020 decade, an amount of growth which is equal to the overall job growth rate for all occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a more positive job outlook for physicists in applied research and development fields than in theoretical and other fields. As of May 2010, physicists earned a median salary of $106,370 per year. If you possess superior math, analytical and critical thinking skills and an interest in discovering how the universe works, knowing how to become a physicist might be your first step toward a fascinating new career.

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