How to become a physicist

  • Helena Kudiabor
  • Jan 10 2024

A career as a physicist is a natural progression for someone who's interested in physics and learning more about the universe. But how do you qualify as a physicist? This article will explain the different options available for aspiring physicists, and even provide some tips to help you figure out which route is right for you.


What is a physicist?

A physicist is someone who studies the universe: Earth, Earth’s atmosphere, the solar system, laws (Newton’s laws, theory of relativity) that influence our perception of the universe. Through researching the universe’s natural phenomena, physicists help us better understand why these phenomena take place and how they’ve evolved over time. Physicist’s insights can even be used to help us improve our understanding of other phenomena. 

Physicists tend to specialise in a specific area of physics, so they can carry out in-depth research. Luckily, there’s so many specialties to choose from. If you’re interested in space, you could pursue a career as an astrophysicist (studying the physics of space) or a space systems engineer (designing and building spacecraft). Or, if you’re interested in the intersection of biology and physics, how about a career as a medical physicist (using physics to design and develop medical equipment) or a biophysicist (how biological systems are affected by the laws of physics).

Furthermore, it’s worth acknowledging that unlike the legal and medical fields, you don’t need a specific degree to call yourself a physicist. A physicist is just someone who is interested in physics or who is working in a physics or physics-related field. So, even if you’re studying physics as part of your GCSEs, National 5s or international qualification, you can still call yourself a physicist, and discover ways to boost your physics knowledge. However, this article will focus on how you can pursue a career as a professional physicist, where the focus is on conducting research.  

How do I become a physicist? 

When most people imagine becoming a physicist, they typically imagine attending university. You could complete your undergraduate degree in physics or a related subject, such as maths, engineering or computer science. Some universities even offer specialised physics degrees, for example in astrophysics or engineering physics. Worried about grades? Many universities offer the option to complete a foundation course before a full degree. 

After graduating from an undergraduate degree, you’ll then go on to postgraduate study, for example a PhD in your chosen speciality. 

University is a great way to become a physicist, but it’s not for everyone. An apprenticeship is a work-based training programme, where you’ll complete paid work experience with an employer and fully funded education. At the end of the apprenticeship, you’ll receive a qualification, and maybe even a full-time job with your employer. There’s a range of physics apprenticeships on offer, including:

Which route should I take to become a physicist?

There’s no right route; it depends on your values and preferences. Here are some factors to consider: 


Apprenticeships are a lot less expensive than university. You’ll receive a fully funded degree or qualification, so you don’t need to worry about taking out student loans. Furthermore, you’ll receive a salary for your work experience, so you don’t need to worry about taking up a part-time job to support yourself. Apprentices also receive increases in their salary as they progress; you can find out more here.  

Learning style

If you learn better via hand-on experience, apprenticeships are an excellent option for you. Work experience is a great way for you to consolidate the theory you’ve learnt in classes, and your employer will always be on hand to demonstrate tricky concepts.

However, one disadvantage of apprenticeships is that you won’t get the typical university experience. You won’t have the same opportunities to join societies or attend careers fairs, two opportunities that could’ve contributed to your professional development.  

The working world

If you’re not sure what you want to do as a career, it might be best to attend university. This way, you’ll gain more transferable skills and work with your university’s career team to figure out what you want to do.

However, if you’re pretty sure about your career path, an apprenticeship offers a myriad of benefits. You’ll gain a large volume of work experience, which will make you stand out from university graduates when you’re applying for jobs. Plus, you’ll be able to meet and network with people from your organisation. You’ll also get used to the challenges of a full-time job, such as maintaining a work-life balance and dealing with difficult clients.

With passion and dedication to physics and science research, you’ll be sure to have a fulfilling career no matter which route you choose.