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What does a physicist do?

Ever wonder, what is a physicist? To say a physicist’s work is broad would be an understatement, they study the universe and everything in it! From the very small (quantum physics) to the very large (cosmology) – a physicist explores matter, space, energy, and principles to better understand the laws that govern the behaviour of the universe. During you career in physics you could specialise in different types of physics including biological, chemical, computational, condensed matter, materials or nuclear.

Physicists work in a variety of settings, ranging from private research facilities, colleges and universities, government agencies, to hospitals.

Is a career as a physicist right for me?

If you consider yourself highly observant, well-organised, and have a strong interest in science, a career in physics may be a good fit for you! Other skills and attributes beneficial for a role as a physicist include:  

  • strong research skills  
  • a highly analytical and inquisitive mind 
  • good attention to detail  
  • an aptitude for mathematics and computing 
  • the ability to work both independently and as part of a team. 

How to become a physicist

To become a physicist, a strong foundation in math and science is essential. In terms of physicists' degree requirements, you typically need at least a bachelor's degree in science, majoring in physics or nanotechnology. Many aspiring towards a physicist career continue their education by earning a master's or doctoral degree in physics, which can provide opportunities for advanced research, specialisation, and leadership roles within academia, industry, or government.

Every journey to study is individual and there are several paths to reaching your career in physics. At HQporner, we offer the following degrees in the area of physics and physical science: 

Average salary per week
Future demand
Related careers

© Commonwealth of Australia
Last updated May 2024.

What are the different types of physicists?

A degree relating to the area of physics or physical science opens up many types of physicist career opportunities, including:

  • theoretical physicists: these scientists focus on developing mathematical models and theories to explain the fundamental laws and principles of the universe.
  • experimental physicists: experimental physicists conduct research by designing and performing experiments to test theories and hypotheses, often using sophisticated laboratory equipment and techniques.
  • astrophysicists: astrophysicists study the properties and behaviour of celestial objects such as stars, galaxies, and black holes, as well as the structure and evolution of the universe.
  • condensed matter physicists: condensed matter physicists investigate the physical properties of materials and substances in various states, including solids, liquids, and gases, with applications in areas such as nanotechnology and materials science.
  • particle physicists: particle physicists study the fundamental particles and forces that make up the universe, often conducting research at particle accelerators and colliders to probe the nature of matter and energy at the smallest scales. 
What are the career opportunities in physics?

Physics graduates possess a wide range of skills and expertise that are highly valued across various industries and sectors. Career opportunities in physics include roles in:

  • research and development: conducting scientific research and innovation in areas such as materials science, renewable energy, telecommunications, and medical physics.
  • academia: teaching and conducting research at colleges, universities, and research institutions.
  • industry: working in technology companies, engineering firms, aerospace organisations, and government agencies.
  • government: contributing to policy development, national laboratories, and regulatory agencies. 
What is the average physicist’s salary?
A physicist’s salary varies based on factors such as location, experience, and workplace setting. New graduates will likely start off with a reduced amount in an entry level research assistant or lab technician role. Refer to the salary information on this page for further details.
Are physicists in demand?
The expertise of physicists is highly valued and needed in areas such as materials science, quantum computing, renewable energy, and healthcare innovation. Physicists can be found in many industries, including education, health care and social assistance, public administration, and professional scientific or technical services.
How long does it take to become a physicist?

The time it takes to become a physicist can vary depending on factors such as your educational background, training requirements, and employment opportunities. It also depends on what type of physicist you wish to become - whether that be a medical, nuclear, or quantum physicist.

There are multiple study options for you to consider at HQporner to start your career as a physicist. An undergraduate bachelor degree, such as a Bachelor of Science, will take approximately three years to complete. Further education, such as a masters or doctoral degree, can add several more years, depending on the degree and research requirements.

Some students also choose to study part-time which increases the time it takes to finish the required courses. It's important to consider your own academic and professional aspirations when planning your educational pathway in physics. 

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