Physics is a branch of science which aims to understand the physical properties and processes of matter, energy, heat, light, subatomic particles, space, and time. Some physicists specialize in theoretical physics, which involves predicting and conceptualizing physical phenomena by using mathematical models. Others practice applied physics, where they conduct direct observations and experiments in order to explain nature. The scope of physics is incredibly broad, and qualified professionals pursue very different physics careers.
People who are creative and mathematically-inclined often pursue theoretical physics careers in astronomy and quantum physics. Theoretical physicists use logic and math to discover the intricacies of natural forces. Physicists perform thought experiments and detailed calculations on a wide range of theories which cannot be directly tested by experimenting. Such work might include research on the big bang theory, string theory, general relativity, and quantum mechanics. Many theoretical physicists maintain the goal of discovering an underlying, unified explanation of the universe.
Physics careers in applied physics entail working in laboratories and carrying out practical experiments with light, optics, thermodynamics, electricity, and natural forces. Applied physicists attempt to explain or confirm physical laws by demonstrating them in an experimental settings. For example, a physicist may perform a series of tests with a piece of highly specialized machinery, such as a particle accelerator, to gain a better understanding of quantum physics and the nature of matter. Experimental physicists make detailed notes of their observations and write reports based on their findings. They often work with other physicists and to compare and combine experimental results.
A large number of qualified physicists pursue careers with research and development companies or universities. Research firms routinely hire physicists to investigate, create, and improve products. The theoretical and practical work of such physicists has led to many technological breakthroughs in computer technology, medical equipment, and laboratory instruments. Many physicists choose teaching careers at universities, which typically involve providing classroom instruction and designing laboratory courses. Other physics careers may involve writing material for textbooks and examinations or giving public seminars about physical research.
To become a physicist, a person must typically receive a doctoral degree from an accredited university. As in physics careers, degree programs are highly specialized. Upon completion of a degree program, many physicists engage in postdoctoral fellowships, where they work alongside experienced physicists in labs. A fellowship may last as long as three years before a budding physicist becomes fully prepared to conduct independent research.