Career Information

 

WHAT IS PHYSICS?

Physics is the science that describes how the physical world works. It is the most fundamental of all sciences. Other sciences build on physics.


Physicists conduct research into the fundamental laws of nature in an attempt to better understand the universe that surrounds us. They may also make use of what we already know about the physical world to design and develop new practical products. As a career, physics offers an astonishing variety of possibilities.


The world of the physicist stretches from the tiniest particles of subatomic matter to galaxies and beyond. It includes computer circuitry and spacecraft orbits, medical imaging and the search for controlled fusion power. Some of the questions that physicists try to answer are deeply philosophical: How did the universe begin? On a very small scale, does empty space become "granular" or "foamy"? But many of the questions that physicists deal with are highly practical: How can more information be packed into a smaller space? What will be the effect of adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere? Can chemical rockets be replaced by electromagnetic launchers? How can solar cells be made more efficient?


Most modern technology rests on physics. Sometimes new knowledge is put to work quickly. For example, many practical uses were found for the laser soon after its invention. Sometimes new knowledge is slow to be harnessed. In 1905 Albert Einstein explained how light can eject electrons from solid surfaces. It was many years before this "photoelectric effect" found application in television cameras.


Physics provides a deep understanding of the laws of nature and will continue to help shape the world of the future. Although we can never be sure when we have complete knowledge about a certain concept, it is probably safe to say that there still remains far more information about the world yet to be discovered than all the knowledge that we have accumulated from ancient times up to the present. There will always be a need for good physicists! Few careers are more exciting, more rewarding, and more important to society than physics.

IS A CAREER IN PHYSICS FOR ME?

Do you like mathematics? Mathematics is the language of physics. If you have a flair for math, very likely you will have a flair for physics. Do you like solving puzzles and other kinds of problems? Are you interested in new discoveries in science? Do you enjoy working with computers, or hope to work with them? If your answer to most of these questions is yes, you may want to consider physics as a career or simply as a field of study on which to base some other career.


The biggest myth about physics is that it is too difficult for all but the next Einsteins. This is simply not true. Yes, physics can be challenging, but so is anything that you study seriously. Many successful physicists can tell you that they were not the top students in their schools. What they had was interest and motivation.


As a career, physics offers challenge, excitement, an attractive salary, and a chance to make important contributions to society. As a physicist, you will help shape the world of tomorrow.

JOB OPPORTUNITIES

In the 1990s, the prospects for finding a job in physics are expected to be better than at almost any other time in recent history. For research positions and for college and university teaching, the Ph.D. degree is generally required. High-school teachers, who need at least a bachelor's degree, are likely to be in especially strong demand. If you are both science-oriented and people-oriented, high-school physics teaching is a career worth considering.


As might be expected, the starting salaries for physicists are higher at the higher degree levels. At each degree level, the physicist commands a higher salary than the average of his or her peers in other fields.


Here are some job opportunities and career planning ideas that are worth checking out.


WHERE PHYSICISTS WORK
Many physicists work in research laboratories--in industry, in universities, and in national laboratories-but that is only a beginning of a catalog of places where physicists can be found. Many teach--in high schools, colleges, and universities. Others can be found in hospitals, the military, oil fields, power plants, in the astronaut corps, in museums, in patent law firms, and in management positions in business and government. A young person trained in physics acquires a set of skills that makes him or her a valued employee in many settings.

PREPARATION

Take as much math as you can--algebra, trigonometry, and calculus, if possible, in preparation for taking physics courses.


Some training in computer programming--either in school or on your own--can also be valuable. Participation in science fairs is another way to gain useful experience and to size up your own interest in science. Hobbies and clubs can also help prepare you for future work in physics. With luck, you might find a part-time job that will give you some valuable experience.


Even students with career goals outside of science can be well served by taking one or more courses in physics. Often these courses do not require as much math background as those taken by the physics major. The knowledge and skills gained in physics can prove to be surprisingly useful in tackling other kinds of problems. A background in physics can help a technical writer or a computer programmer. It is an asset recognized by medical schools, law schools, and business schools.

COLLEGE AND UNIVERSITY STUDIES

College courses in physics include both classroom work and laboratory work. Students working toward bachelor's degrees may spend about 25 to 30 percent of their time in physics courses, and the rest in other areas, including mathematics. Some chemistry and biology is usually recommended. Most colleges wisely require students to take courses in other fields as well.


In college, the first course for physics majors usually covers a broad range of topics and uses some calculus. Later courses explore single areas of physics in greater depth, often using more advanced mathematics. In advanced laboratory courses, the physics student may encounter sophisticated electronic equipment and may also have a chance to be part of a research team.


Graduate students pursuing master's and doctoral degrees concentrate fully on physics. The master's program typically takes two years and may require a research project. An additional two to four years may be needed to earn a Ph.D. An essential ingredient of a Ph.D. program is a major piece of research (either theoretical or experimental) that is written up as the doctoral dissertation. It often leads to papers published in physics journals.

SPECIALIZED FIELDS OF STUDY IN PHYSICS

Within the general field, there are many branches of physics that may capture the interest of an advanced physics student. Each one of these branches can offer a lifetime of challenging work.

 

Want more information?

Contact Ms. Laura Fatuzzo, physics instructor, (831)770-7017; lfatuzzo@hartnell.edu