Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics

Physicist Career Path | Scope, Growth Prospects & More

For those who love science and answering the universe’s big questions, a physicist career path can be a great idea. Here’s a guide by industry professional Dr. Sagnik Chakraborty to help you know whether this is the right profession for you.

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1. Physicist Career Path: What Does a Physicist Do?

What is a physicist? Simply said, a physicist is a scientist who studies theoretical or practical physics. Physicists study how the universe works, the matter and its motion. The primary job of a physicist is to understand and explain natural phenomenon from fundamental laws and principles and make scientific predictions.

Here are some of the skill-sets physicists have:

  • Mastering physics at the highest academic level
  • Coding in Matlab/Python
  • Analytical skills in Research and Development
  • Problem solving and Troubleshooting

As a physicist, I usually collaborate with scientists from other disciplines to publish the findings in scientific journals. During my doctoral research, I also used to teach physics to undergraduates. Other than that, I have had experience in technology development of a big-tech semiconductor company. Currently, I have started an educational institute where we teach and mentor physics students from secondary to master’s level. I founded this startup with my wife, who is also a physicist.

What kind of jobs do physics majors get

Contents: Jump to Section

1.1 Industry/Sector
1.2 Social Image
1.3 Reasons to Become a Physicist
2.1 Personality Traits Required
2.2 Physical Demands
2.3 Psychological Demands
3.1 Extra-Curricular Activities Recommended
3.2 Related Hobbies to Take Up
3.3 Related Movies/ TV Shows
3.4 Related Fiction to Read/ Novels
4.1 Part-Time Options
4.2 Traveling Required
4.3 Average Workday/What to Expect
5.1 Retirement Prospects
5.2 Threats from Automation
5.3 Common Reasons for People to Quit

1.1  Industry/Sector

Private and Government.

Physicists mostly work in academia, such as universities where they conduct research and also teach part-time. They may also work at private or government owned research institutes. Or they may be employed in the industry  in Research and Development departments. Finally, consulting firms also employ physicists.

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1.2 Social Image

Very well respected but not well-understood.

I would say, it depends on who you talk to. Some people perceive physicists as smart professionals just because they do not understand what physicists do. This should never be the case in an educated society. I believe that public or private funded research should be communicated effectively and efficiently in a way that anyone who cares to know should be able to do so in a seamless way. Also, there is ample scope of improvement in the way physics, or science in general, is taught from the foundation level. The perception is evolving but it is a work in progress. 

1.3 Reasons to Become a Physicist

Creative job, opportunities to meet intellectual people, life-long learning, work fulfillment.

Creative fulfilment is certainly an important aspect. I get to collaborate with fellow experts in our research pursuits and get to interact with young, bright minds that I mentor. I always maintain that learning is a two-way process. In my profession, I get to learn everyday from my interactions with others and that is certainly fulfilling.

2. What It Takes to Be a Physicist

2.1 Personality Traits Required/ Preferred

Meticulous, strong academic prowess, creativity, good communication skills, confidence.

I would say it is a combination of several personality traits that an aspiring physicist should have. There are times when one must meticulously learn the fundamentals and be creative to think out of the box to make a fruitful contribution. That is how we make progress. Excellent communication skills are indeed a plus, unless one can communicate in clear and efficient terms people would not know and would not care about how smart that person is. One doesn’t have to be an extrovert necessarily but needs to be assertive and confident for sure.

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2.2 Physical Demands

None as such.

The physicist career path requires a lot of exercise for the brain, which is rewarding in a sense.

2.3 Psychological Demands in the Physicist Career Path

No

Most professions have monthly targets or work-related stress. A career in physics is not like that.

On the contrary, daily interaction with young, inquisitive minds helps me challenge myself, which I look forward to. The interactions are not solemn or sombre, but a lot of fun.

3. How to Build Interest in a Career in Physics

3.1 Extra-Curricular Activities Recommended

Learn life-skills from people around you.

I would urge upon aspiring students to learn life-skills as much as possible. There is no standard recipe for success. One can learn from a book, a movie, a life-event. We see a lot of troubleshooting around us on a day-to-day basis: learn from the mechanic fixing your car, the electrician fixing your air-conditioner, the cook preparing a perfect dish. You would be amazed to learn how important these would turn out to be in your career as a physicist.

3.2 Related Hobbies to Take Up

Reading science books and magazines.

I recommend all students who wish to take up the physicist career path to read popular science magazines. It will help you develop an interest in the field early on. Also, following scientific news, major breakthroughs and current affairs in research and technology development is a great idea for aspirants.

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3.3 Related Movies/ TV Shows

Gravity and Interstellar are good movies for space enthusiasts.

  • Gravity [PG-13]
  • Interstellar [PG-13]

3.4 Related Books to Read

Any good novel might help one to enhance critical thinking. Fictions often help one to think out of the box and innovate. I would also recommend A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! By Richard Feynman. These are certainly among the best non-academic works authored by great physicists.

4. Life as a Physicist

4.1 Part-Time Options

Limited part-time jobs.

The physicist career path is fairly time-consuming, and as mentioned before, involves a lot of exercise for the brain. So physicists hardly get the time to explore part-time jobs. However, your work will involve going to conferences, writing and publishing research papers, and in some cases, teaching.

4.2 Traveling Required

Possible but not mandatory.

Yes, traveling to annual conferences to showcase and publicize one’s research is recommended, but is not required as such.

What are the 5 areas of personal development

4.3 Average Workday/ What to Expect in the Physicist Career Path

For my current job, an average workday would be interacting with students for a good 8-10 hours and performing administrative work, attending meetings, discussing strategies and for the rest of the time. There are roles which are research intensive, others are teaching intensive and there is usually a balance between the two. A career in physics in India involves a lot of hard work, but I would say it is worth it!

5. Future of the Physicist Career Path

5.1 Retirement Prospects

Retirement age depends on organization/institution.

It would depend on the policies of the organization that employs a physicist, but there are people who can work for as long as they want to even after they retire. You can work for as long you can in most cases. Retired physicists work as educators and consultants post retirement.

5.2  Threats from Automation

You cannot automate interaction between two human beings. Automation is and will be a tool to eliminate redundancy so that people can focus on more important challenges at hand.

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5.3 Common Reasons for People to Quit the Physicist Career Path

Funding issues, additional work in the form of admin or teaching tasks.

Inadequate research funding, paperwork and too much administrative work could be exhausting for a physicist. Also not all physicists are great educators , so teaching responsibilities make them overwhelmed and quit at times.

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Read next:

How to Become a Physicist: Qualification, Fees, Salary & More

Are you curious about the laws that govern the universe? A career in physics is highly competitive, yet really exciting. Here’s a full guide on how to become a Physicist by Dr. Sagnik Chakraborty.

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