Becoming a Physicist in Scotland

  • Helena Kudiabor
  • Apr 24 2024

What do I need to study to become a physicist? How do I make my physics application stand out? Why is networking so important? This article will answer all of these questions and more, offering tips and advice to aspiring physicists based in Scotland.


Educational pathways for aspiring physicists

If you’re interested in studying physics at university, you’ll need to consider which Highers subjects universities will ask for. Most universities will ask that you’ve taken the Maths and Physics Highers courses, with Advanced Higher Maths also recommended. Taking Advanced Higher Physics will also be helpful, as you’ll gain advanced knowledge and may even be able to start university in second year.

To help you decide where to study, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best educational institutions for physics in Scotland. These institutions offer not just undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Physics, but also degrees in specialisms like Physics and Philosophy and Astrophysics.

However, it’s important to remember that you don’t need a degree to become a successful physicist, with many institutions offering diplomas, certificates and apprenticeships. For example, the Aircraft Engineering HNC offered by the University of the Highlands and Islands allows you to gain practical engineering skills in a fraction of the time it takes to complete a degree. Furthermore, if you’re interested in pursuing postgraduate study (a requirement for many senior research positions), completing a master’s-level apprenticeship allows you to combine hands-on learning and paid work experience. 

Key skills for success

Alongside qualifications, physics jobs require a number of theoretical and practical skills. Skills employers will ask for include: problem-solving, analytical thinking, teamwork, communication and adaptability. Taking time to develop these skills will come in handy in your future career, for example if you’re working with others to complete a project or dealing with setbacks in your research. 

Practical experience is a great way to develop these skills. It’s worth taking the time to look for internships, work shadowing opportunities and networking events even early on in your career. Furthermore, if you’re at university, taking on a committee role within your university’s physics society is a great way to show leadership and problem-solving skills.

However, internships are competitive, so don’t panic if you’re struggling to secure one. You can still make a convincing case that you’ve learnt transferable skills through non-physics experience. For example, a customer service role gives you the ability to be adaptable and communicate effectively.

Navigating the job market

Physics is a crucial part of Scotland’s past, present and future,with almost 10% of the country’s economic output coming from physics-based jobs. Furthermore, a number of successful physicists hail from Scotland, such as Alexander Graham Bell, who invented the telephone, and James Clerk Maxwell, who theorised electromagnetic radiation. 

With this in mind, there’s a range of jobs available for aspiring physicists. Roles in the field can take many forms, from engineers designing anything from robots to roads, to research-based roles focused on the application of biology to physics or the physical structure of the earth. Physicists tend to start out in more junior positions, such as research assistants or junior engineers, and gradually work their way up to higher level positions. Places which employ physicists include universities, research institutes, government agencies and private companies. 

Building a successful career

It can be difficult to secure your first physicist role, so here are some strategies to help you along the way. Networking is crucial to connecting with others in the field, who can share their career journey and any tips they have for aspiring physicists. Networking may even lead to internship or work shadowing opportunities. Plus, taking the time to reach out to employees at organisations you’re interested in shows initiative and that you’re genuinely passionate about working there.

Alongside online platforms like LinkedIn, there’s a number of professional organisations organising networking events and support for aspiring physicists. These include: The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scottish Universities Physics Alliance and the Institute of Physics.

Once you’ve found a job to apply to, make sure to: conduct thorough research into the organisation’s culture and values, tailor your CV and cover letter to the job description, and ask insightful questions that show you’ve done your research. 

Challenges and opportunities in the industry

Physicists in Scotland, and all over the world, face a number of challenges. It can be difficult to secure funding for one’s research, and communicating one’s research to the public effectively presents challenges. 

Despite these challenges, it’s an exciting time for the physics industry. Although women and other minorities remain underrepresented in physics, recent commitments to diversity and inclusion are creating a sector that’s bursting with new ideas. 

Similarly, physicists are at the forefront of the technological revolution, designing robots and AI systems that could improve efficiency and drastically reduce the amount of time we spend on menial tasks. Recent advances in space exploration and quantum technology also make physics an exciting industry to watch. Attending seminars and webinars, honing specialisms and completing professional development courses is crucial to showing engagement within the sector and remaining up to date with new developments. 

It’s an exciting time to start your career in physics, so make sure to make the most of it. Why not look into some of the jobs we’ve discussed, update your LinkedIn profile or see if there are any networking events happening near you?