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What can you do with a physics degree?

James Davis

Careers Commentator
Postgraduate physics gives you the tools to understand the building blocks of our universe. In this article, we’ll show you some cool ways to apply that knowledge to a career.

Physics graduates are necessarily some of the brightest, as they must interpret some of the most mind-bending puzzles known to humankind. Their knowledge of the natural world and rules that govern it are applied across many fantastic industries. In this article, we’ll go over some popular career choices for physics grads and their appeal. The salaries mentioned are from PayScale Australia, are in Australian dollars and represent the median salary of users reporting as members of each field.

If you’re only thinking about doing a postgraduate course in physics, several skills and attributes are of common benefit. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Attention to detail
  • Exceptional mathematical ability
  • Exceptional patience

Physicist - $80,000 pa

Physicists attempt to understand and solve problems within their domain. Specialisations span widely, including astrophysics, computational physics, condensed matter physics, fluid dynamics, laser science, plasma physics and many more. From the smallest phenomena to largest, physicists of all types aim to advance their field, even if it’s by only a sliver. Every iota of knowledge is a building block for further study. As a result, every physicist tends to have different daily activities. Each and every experiment or goal demands different lines of inquiry and methodology.

Naturally, this is the dream career for many physics graduates. Its highly academic and experimental nature likely makes it the most comfortable transition from a master or PhD program to professional life. However, these positions can be highly competitive. Funding is limited, so only the best of the best, or those with highly practical projects, tend to be hired as physicists. Fortunately, even if you don’t get in this door, there are others you may find equally exciting.

Data analyst - $69,161 pa

Our century is defined partly by the amount of data we’re able to collect, store and interpret. As a data analyst, you’d be at the forefront of this surge. Data analysts collect all manner of data depending on their industry and employer, from sales to linguistics, behaviour, logistics and granular metadata. They then make informed interpretations about this data to make better decisions in both the private and public realms. It’s a role that can be performed as altruistically or as profit-seeking as you like, perhaps both at once! The heavy quantitative demands make it a nice fit for physics graduates who are already equipped to handle the data.

The ‘cool’ factor of this job lies in the puzzle every data analyst tries to solve. Is there a story being told here? What can we learn about these disparate data points? You’d be making sense of enormously complicated datasets that others wouldn’t even be able to begin describing. It’s a job that requires testing, designing a reporting environment, troubleshooting, generating reports and more. These are all things a physics graduate should be familiar with. If this doesn’t take your fancy, there’s plenty more to explore.

Geophysicist - $96,055 pa

If you feel like some time in the sun, becoming a geophysicist might be your thing. These professionals study the earth and collect data on seismic waves. This is incredibly valuable to the acquisition of resources like oil and gas, which explains the pay packet! You can be working in amongst a number of institutions, from environmental consulting with a government to working directly with a mining company to harvest minerals in the most sustainable way possible. This can give the role an almost interpersonal edge, as you’ll be responsible for not only modelling data and mapping environments, but explaining it all to inter-disciplinary colleagues.

Although you’re free to spend time conducting experiments offshore or indoors in a traditional physicist role, geophysicists have the unique opportunity to go out and survey sites or speak with stakeholders. It’s a highly practical application of your knowledge that can be of benefit to many people, if not as an employee of a mining company then as a key advocate for and developer of green, clean alternatives to otherwise environmentally dubious harvesting practices.

You should now have a slightly better idea of what’s available, but these are by no means the full extent of careers available to physicists. Even within those mentioned, there are specialisations within specialisations to explore! The trick is finding your passion. Which mystery are you keen to tackle? We look forward to hearing your choice when the Nobel prizes are called in a year or two.

Now you’ve got a better idea of your options, why not check out some postgrad physics courses right here? You’re free to compare, contrast and apply at your leisure.