Career outlook

What is Physics?

Physics is the natural science that studies all facets of the Universe we inhabit. It is concerned with the nature of all things and seeks an understanding of a very wide range of phenomena. 

From its relatively modest beginnings during the 17th century Scientific Revolution, Physics has evolved into an overarching and fundamental view of nature which provides an understanding of space and time, the laws of motion, the structure and constituents of matter, their origin, as well the elementary forces that determine their properties. 

Physics is interested in phenomena taking place at all scales from the realm of microscopic subatomic particles to the vast and mind-boggling scale of galaxies and cosmic structures. As such, physicists have branched out into many subfields including particle physics, nuclear physics, atomic physics, biophysics, medical physics, condensed matter physics, material sciences, electronics, physical engineering, astrophysics, cosmology, and many more endeavors. 

Physicists use mathematics, computers, and the scientific method to study all things and formulate broad and overarching theoretical frameworks that inform our understanding and vision of Nature. These include theories such as the standard model of particle physics which describe with acute precision the structure and properties of matter, as well as the standard model of  cosmology that provides us with a detailed and comprehensive understanding of the evolution of our Universe since its beginning, the Big Bang. 

Modern physics is also the very basis for all the technologies we now all take for granted in our everyday lives, including electricity and its production, transportation vehicles of all kinds from cars to rockets, as well as computers and all forms of electronics and communication devices.

However, while Physics provides us with powerful and comprehensive views and understanding of Nature, there remain lots of big and fundamental questions about the constituents of matter, the cosmos we inhabit, and the fundamental mechanisms that sustain living cells and multicellular organisms. Physics is not a static field and is continuously branching out into new subfields with fascinating possibilities. 

What can I do with a degree in physics?

Physics provides a comprehensive and overarching view of the world around us,  inside us, and beyond us. As the most basic and fundamental science, it equips us with a comprehensive and unifying understanding of all things in our Universe ranging from the largest galaxies to the smallest subatomic particles.  It provides us with a framework that enables the development of the technologies we cherish. Additionally, it also stands to become a cornerstone in the solution of the big and difficult problems our planet is now facing, including climate change, accelerating extinction of species and decrease in biodiversity, as well as overpopulation, migrations, and all the political issues they ensue. 

Students earning a physics degree gain more than just a degree: they become equipped with a broad and comprehensive understanding of the universe as well as the technologies in use today. As such, graduates benefit from a vast array of career choices ranging from research careers based in academia, governmental institutions as well as corporations; education careers at colleges, universities, high schools, and technical schools; development and use of advanced technologies for startups as well as large corporations; scientific journalisms, and much more.  Whether in academia, governments, or corporations, physics graduate may conduct research into new physical phenomena, further develop or invent new scientific theories, or work towards the creation and improvement of technologies. Graduate may also endeavor to become educators or reporters and contribute to the public dissemination of knowledge, or partake in the regulation of human activities based on a sound and comprehensive understanding of physics knowledge and the impact of human activities, particularly technologies, on our local and global environments.  

Transferable skills

A physics or astronomy degree offers skills in:

  • Science, mathematics, and computing 
  • Deductive and inductive reasoning
  • Critical thinking and information processing 
  • Complex problem solving
  • Data analysis and interpretation competences
  • Operation of complex technologies, including softwares
  • Organizational and planning skills
  • Laboratory and research competence to analyze data and solve complex problems

Some careers in physics

Physics Programs Offered at Wayne State

Career Paths

  • Educator at colleges, universities, and high schools,
  • Fundamental research at universities, startup and large corporations, national laboratories, as well as government and military agencies, 
  • Applied research and developments of technologies,
  • Development and analysis of data models for banks, insurance companies, and financial institutions,
  • (Big) Data analysis and modeling for corporations,
  • Artificial intelligence research and applications, 
  • Regulations of technologies, products, and their impact on the environment and societies, 
  • News organizations,
  • Law Maker (national or state governments)
  • Non-profit organizations promoting the safeguard of the environment and safe use and development of technologies,
  • Patent offices
  • And much more…

Career field resources

Graduate study

A bachelors degree in physics or astronomy provides a solid foundation for graduate studies in:

  • Astronomy or astrophysics
  • Biophysics
  • Climate studies
  • Computer engineering
  • Condensed matter physics
  • Electronics and electrical engineering
  • Forensic Sciences
  • Material Sciences 
  • Medicine and other health professions
  • Medical physics
  • Meteorology
  • Nuclear physics
  • Nuclear engineering
  • Particle physics
  • Patent law (Law school)
  • And much more

Notable people with a physics major

  • James Cameron  (filmmaker, director, producer, screenwriter for The Terminator, Titanic, Avatar)
  • Marie Curie (research of radioactivity, first woman to receive Nobel Prize)
  • Albert Einstein (developed the general theory of relativity and E=mc2)
  • Brian May (co-founder, lead guitarist, and singer of rock group, Queen; astrophysicist)
  • Elon Musk  (founder/CEO of SpaceX, co-founder, CEO and product architect of Tesla, Inc.)
  • Vera Rubin (studied galaxy rotation rates, provided evidence for the existence of dark matter)
  • Carl Sagan (astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, science communicator)
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and science communicator)
  • Angela Merkel (Chancellor of Germany)
  • Richard Phillips Feynman (physicist who played an important role on the Presidential Rogers Commission that investigated the Challenger disaster)
  • Stephen Hawking (significantly developed the theory of black holes)
  • Steven Chu (Energy Secretary under President Obama)
  • Bill Foster (US House of Representatives (2012- ))

Physics majors pull in high starting-salaries

Physics graduates receive some of the top starting-salaries after graduating from college. A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers of starting salaries offered by campus recruiters shows that students graduating with a bachelor's in physics can make up to $64,000 per year when starting right out of school. More commonly, the survey found that physics graduates can expect a starting salary between $46,000 and $58,000 per year.

This generally exceeds the starting salaries of graduates in most other scientific fields. The mean starting salary for a physicist is higher than that of graduates who majored in chemistry, psychology, or biology. Graduates with physics degrees also tend to outpace other fields outside of the sciences, including those graduating with degrees in marketing, accounting, and even finance.

Source: American Institute of Physics (AIP)

Physics majors get readily admitted to medical and law schools

Admission to medical schools

Students with a bachelor's degree in physics typically perform very well on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and stand an above than average chance of being admitted into medical schools.

The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) has three sections of standardized multiple-choice questions (total of 219 items) with an additional writing sample comprised of two essays. Scores of 9.5 to 11 in each section are considered competitive by most medical schools.

Source: Association of American Medical Colleges, data warehouse

Average MCAT scores by selected majors (2009)

Discipline (major) Physical sciences Biological sciences Verbal reasoning Number of applicants
Biomedical engineering 10.9 10.7 9.6 1,005
Physics 11.1 10.3 9.6 207
Electrical engineering 10.9 10.5 9.4 195
Economics 10.4 10.5 9.7 566
Neuroscience 9.9 10.6 9.5 1,066
Mathematics 10.3 10.1 9.6 374
All majors 9.2 9.8 9.0 41,487

Note: Admission results vary from year to year but the above statistics are considered representative of the various fields applying for admission at medical schools across the nation.

Admission to law schools

Physics bachelors receive higher scores on the LSAT than other undergraduate majors and are highly regarded by law schools.

Discipline (major) Mean score Number of applicants
Physics 161.5 180
Mathematics 159.7 336
Economics 157.4 3,047
Electrical Engineering 156.3 546
Mechanical Engineering 156.0 427
Chemistry 155.7 355
All majors 152.6 81,530

Note: Admission results vary from year to year but the above statistics are considered representative of the various fields applying for admission at law schools across the nation.