Becoming a Physicist in Northern Ireland

  • Helena Kudiabor
  • Mar 28 2024

A career as a physicist is an exciting one, as you’ll conduct research that could change the way we see the universe. However, it can be difficult to know how to become a physicist if you’re only just starting out. Luckily, this article will show you how to become a successful physicist, with tips and insights tailored to people based in Northern Ireland.


Educational pathways

One of the first things aspiring physicists should consider are the educational options available to them. If you’re interested in studying physics at university, it’s worth thinking about your A-level choices. Most universities require you to have studied Physics and Maths at A-level, given the high maths content of a Physics degree. 

If you’re struggling to decide what else to study, you could choose a subject related to a subset of physics. For example, you could take Philosophy to prepare you for a degree in Physics and Philosophy, or study Biology to pursue a Biophysics degree. 

Many people assume that you need to do A-levels and go to university to become a physicist, but you certainly don’t have to. Pursuing an apprenticeship or taking a course at a technical college is a great way to kick-start your career as a physicist. University isn’t for everyone, and these courses tend to be cheaper and offer more hands-on learning than a traditional degree. Check out our list of every single physics apprenticeship in the UK to get started.

Physics Research & Institutions in Northern Ireland

If you’ve decided that university is for you, there’s a number of great institutions to choose from. We’ve put together a list of physics course providers in Northern Ireland, each offering a range of physics courses and research opportunities. From supporting Queen's University Belfast’s research developing new tech for space missions, to designing your own game through Ulster University’s degree in game design, there’s a range of institutions to choose from. 

There’s also a range of companies and colleges across Northern Ireland offering apprenticeships and technical courses. For example, Belfast Metropolitan College (Belfast Met) offers a range of full-time and part-time courses for aspiring physicists, from a Higher National Diploma in Computing (Software engineering) to a foundation degree in Esports. Institutions like these even offer free training in subjects like Maths and ICT, two subjects crucial for aspiring physicists. 

Industry & Career Opportunities

Many Northern Ireland-based physicists have made significant contributions to the scientific community, such as Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who was the first person to discover radio pulsars. Physics continues to play a crucial role in Northern Ireland, with physics-related businesses contributing over £3.2 billion to the economy annually. 

There’s a diverse range of career opportunities on offer for aspiring physicists. For example, physics jobs play an important role in tackling global warming, from renewable energy engineers producing cleaner energy to climate scientists predicting changes in weather patterns. Physics is also crucial in keeping the public safe and healthy, with medical physicists and vehicle crash test engineers ensuring diseases are diagnosed fast and cars are designed safely. 

Places where physicists can secure roles include universities, research institutes, government bodies and companies in the private or public sector. Tips on ensuring your application stands out includes conducting extensive research into the organisation you’re applying to, tailoring your application to align with the organisation’s values and skill requirements and attending networking events to speak to those already working there.

Professional Development & Networking

Networking is crucial to becoming a successful physicist. Learning from others in the field is crucial for professional development, and keeping up to date with developments in the field. Sparking up a conversation with another physicist could even lead to a collaboration on a research project, or a new job opportunity. Linkedin and Eventbrite are two great places to find physics events near you and connect with local physicists. 

There’s a number of events and organisations for physicists based in Northern Ireland. The Institute of Physics supports physics communities across the UK and Ireland, offering membership and support for physicists and aspiring physicists alike. They also work to encourage students across Northern Ireland to pursue careers in physics, through scholarship opportunities and practical support. Similarly, Pulsar is working to address the gender imbalance in STEM careers, offering courses, bursaries and funding opportunities to those from underrepresented groups. 

Challenges & Opportunities

Although a career as a physicist is an exciting one, you may face challenges along the way. For example, many senior research positions require a PhD, an experience that can be intense. Within the workplace, physicists can face additional challenges like securing funding for their work and maintaining a work-life balance.

When faced with challenges like these, it’s important to reach out for support. Connecting with colleagues or fellow students is a great way to remember that you’re not alone in the challenges you’re facing. Similarly, you can ask those around you what they do to maintain a work-life balance, and come up with a few tried and tested strategies (i.e positive visualisation, exercise, the pomodoro technique) that can help you when you’re struggling.

Within this article, we’ve shared tips and strategies for making the most of life as a physicist in Northern Ireland, from exploring different specialities to regular networking. We encourage you to put this advice into practice to ensure an impactful career in the physics industry.