Physicist Education Requirements and College Degree Information

Sep 18, 2019

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.

Becoming a physicist often requires a doctoral degree in physics. Many physicists also complete a 2-3 year postdoctoral fellowship before finding work in the field. In some cases, a master's degree in physics is enough to find work within research and development.

Essential Information

Physicists study the fundamental nature of matter and energy in the universe. Individuals in these research-intensive positions solve complicated mathematical equations in order to analyze research results and examine scientific theories and principles. Many physicists work in laboratories with special equipment, such as particle accelerators, as well as in office settings where they spend time writing up their research findings or planning new projects. They might be employed by private research organizations, universities or the federal government.

Most physicists have a doctoral degree in physics; however, master's degrees might qualify individuals for some positions with research and development firms.

Required Education Doctoral degrees are commonly required; master's degrees are accepted in some instances
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 9%* (for all physicists)
Median Salary (2018) $120,950* (for physicists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements

A master's degree can qualify prospective physicists for some positions, usually in the area of applied research for a health care or manufacturing firm. However, according to information from O*NET OnLine, many physicists hold a doctoral degree or have completed some form of postdoctoral training.

Physics master's degree programs generally take two years to complete. Earning a Ph.D. in Physics can take around four more years, depending on a student's educational background and the speed at which he or she completes dissertation research. Postdoctoral fellowships can last from 2-3 years.

Physics Degree Info

Both master's and doctoral degree programs admit students with a bachelor's degree in physics. Applicants who've completed an undergraduate program in an engineering or math discipline might also be accepted. Competitive scores on the general GRE exam as well as the GRE physics subject test are also among typical admissions requirements or recommendations.

Once admitted to a physics graduate program, students complete core coursework in such areas as theoretical physics, quantum mechanics, experimental physics and statistical mechanics. The remaining program requirements consist of electives in an area of interest. Specializations can include astrophysics, condensed matter physics, particle physics and quantum field theory. Students also gain valuable research experience by participating in faculty-led research projects and completing a program's master's thesis or doctoral dissertation requirements.

Postdoctoral Study

Before beginning full-time careers as independent researchers, aspiring physicists with a Ph.D. can apply for postdoctoral fellowships. Over the course of these 2-3-year programs, fellows are given the opportunity to conduct their own research, collaborate with other physicists and receive guidance from experienced faculty members.

Understanding the extensive educational background required to become a physicist is an important step in determining if this might be the right career path for you. It's likewise important to take into account the projected future job growth for physicists, which is expected to increase by 9% between 2018-2028.

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