Physics is the study of matter and energy. A degree in physics introduces you to the nature, properties, actions, and interactions that can help you understand the composition and behavior of the universe.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupations for life and physical scientists are projected to experience an 8% growth in employment from 2020 to 2030. As part of this group, physics professionals will benefit from the addition of nearly 114,000 new jobs. The BLS reported that the largest employers of physicists in 2020 were research and development services, government entities, and educational institutions.
Types of physics careers
As the study of matter and energy, physics branches off into various subfields. Below is a list of some categories within physics:
Quantum physics: Studies energy and matter at atomic and subatomic levels.
Magnetism: Explores magnetic forces and fields, how they interact with each other, and their contact with other forces like gravity and electricity.
Electricity and electronics: Exist as related subspecialties in physics, with the former focused on principles and properties of electrically charged particles and the latter looking closely at the application of electricity.
Electromagnetism: Studies the interactions between magnetic forces and fields and electricity.
Sound and oscillation: Looks closely at vibration, vibrating objects, and the range and activities of different frequencies.
Thermodynamics: Focuses on heat and how it relates to work and energy.
Optics: A branch of physics that looks at light, its behavior, and its properties.
Geophysics: Explores physics as it relates to geographical bodies and physical processes and properties.
Nuclear physics: Studies nuclei of atoms by looking at the forces and interactions within them.
Astrophysics: Blends chemistry and physics to explore the properties and activities of stars, planets, and other objects in the universe.
Best jobs for physics majors
Physics careers exist in numerous industries and professions. The list below provides some insight into the top jobs available to physics majors. Physics majors have options to enter the workforce right after graduation, but many physics degree jobs require experience and additional training.
To rank the best jobs for physics majors, we assessed roles based on: salary, job demand and projected growth, work-life balance, and work satisfaction.
Good fit for: Analytical thinkers, strong written and verbal communication skills, ability to use sophisticated equipment, detail-oriented
Description: Physicists often specialize in a subcategory of the field, carrying out experiments to understand the universe. Physicists work in laboratories with advanced equipment, test theories, analyze data, and present their findings to colleagues at conferences and in published works. Becoming a physicist requires advanced education and training alongside extensive lab experience.
Good fit for: Mathematical skills, analytical thinker, writing acumen, problem-solvers, able to work as part of a team and independently
Description: Aerospace engineers design, build, and test aircraft and spacecraft. Aerospace engineers work with colleagues to develop safe and feasible aviation and defense systems as well. Aerospace engineers may specialize in areas such as flight mechanics, acoustics, guidance and control systems, or aerodynamics. An entry-level role in aerospace engineering does not require licensure, but graduate degrees and industry certification benefit aerospace engineering professionals in their careers.
Minimum degree required: Doctoral or professional degree
Alternate job titles: Astrophysicist, cosmetologist, planetary and stellar astronomer
Good fit for: Mathematical skills, patience, analytical abilities, interpersonal communication abilities, problem-solvers
Description: Because astronomers cannot experiment directly on objects in space, they fall into two categories. Observational astronomers view celestial objects and collect data, while theoretical astronomers create models and speculate about how celestial objects function and change. Specialization areas within astronomy include optical and radio astronomy and cosmology and extragalactic astronomy.
Minimum degree required: Doctoral or professional degree
Alternate job titles: Biological physicist, medical physicist, applied biophysicist
Good fit for: Analytical thinkers, problem-solvers, comfortable working with potentially dangerous materials, patience and perseverance, can work in a lab or in an office
Description: The advanced knowledge and skills required to work as a biophysicist necessitates a doctoral or professional degree and extensive research experience. Biophysicists plan and conduct research on biological processes and entities to explore cell development and growth. Biophysicists may focus on nerve cells, proteins, or disease cells to design and improve medical products and medications. Additional applications for biophysics research includes agriculture and the environment.
Good fit for: Patience, ability to lead groups of adolescents and maintain classroom integrity, verbal and written communication skills, adaptability and creativity
Description: High school physics teachers instruct students in grades 9-12, developing lesson plans, presenting information, and carrying out assessments. Physics teachers supervise experiments, monitor classroom activities, and coordinate with colleagues. High school teachers also work with administrators, parents, and students to address concerns about performance. Physics teachers need at least a bachelor's degree, additional teacher certification is also required.
Good fit for: Work independently and as part of a team, creative, knowledge of programming languages, detail oriented, troubleshooting abilities
Description: Computer programmers create and test code used to facilitate the function of computer applications and software programs.They use programming languages such as Java and Python to write code and to update and expand existing code. Computer programmers coordinate with software developers and monitor and fix mistakes in code.
Good fit for: Detail-oriented, analytical, problem-solver, able to handle hazardous material, crisis management abilities, can work in an office or at a nuclear facility
Description: Nuclear engineers research nuclear energy and radiation to develop instruments and systems to harness benefits from radioactive material. They oversee operations at nuclear facilities, assess risks and mitigate problems, and ensure safety in the design, construction, and operation of nuclear facilities. Nuclear engineers benefit from certification as a professional engineer alongside training in safety procedures, practices, and regulations applicable to the field.
There are careers with a physics degree across economics sectors and skill levels. Jobs for physics majors, such as teaching, research, or engineering, allow you to use and apply the knowledge and skills developed during your physics degree. Occupation levels vary by degree level and experience, but finding the information here can help you determine which physics degree job is right for you.
This article was reviewed by Sarah Holliday, MS, GCDF
Sarah Holliday is a higher education administrator with over seven years of experience working with nontraditional and traditional-aged students in various areas related to career development, professional development, and personal enrichment. In addition to coaching students, Holliday works as an adjunct, teaching English, career development, and business courses in asynchronous, hybrid, and synchronous formats.
Holliday holds a BA from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in English communication and technology and a master's from Walden University in instructional design and technology (training and performance improvement). She is currently pursuing her doctor of science in information and interaction design from the University of Baltimore. Holliday also possesses her Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF) certificate from the Center for Credentialing and Education. She is passionate about education and technology and hopes to strengthen online learning for adult learners.
Sarah Holliday is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.