Careers in Physics

Professor Igor Zutic

There is a wide range of career opportunities available to students with both undergraduate and graduate degrees in physics. From research and teaching to work in the government and private sector, studying physics opens up numerous paths of both discovery and success.

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Academia

Whether you're an undergraduate taking your first class, or a doctoral candidate about to defend your dissertation, you've probably considered teaching physics at the university level. Working in academia has many advantages: access to space, equipment and funding to conduct your own research; support from other faculty and university personnel; and the opportunity to guide and shape new generations of physics scholars. 

Professors of Physics also publish books and journal articles, attend and speak at conferences, lend their expertise to national/interntional discourse and participate in the development of university-wide policies and procedures. To become a Professor of Physics, it is almost always necessary to complete a PhD. If you would like to learn more about pursuing a PhD in Physics, or what it's like to teach at UB, please contact  Sambandamurthy Ganapathy, director of Graduate Studies. 

Secondary Education

There is also high demand for talented physics teachers at the secondary school level (grades 7-12). High school physics is a prerequisite for nearly all STEM careers, yet physics has one of the most severe teacher shortages. Often, to fill the gap, schools are forced to hire less-than-qualified teachers, leading to a large percentage of poorly-prepared high school graduates. In general, there is a lack of diversity within the teacher pool, meaning that female and minority students rarely have access to immediate role models. 

By choosing to teach physics at the secondary level, you could be part of revolutionizing physics education. It's also a way to combine expertise in physics with skills in other areas, such as mathematics and chemistry. It's important to note that to teach high school physics in New York State, teachers are required to hold a Master's of Education degree. Visit the UB Graduate School of Education to learn more. If you are interested in teaching in other states, be sure to research that particular state's requirements

Industry

As a physicist working in research and development in the private sector, you will more than likely be part of a team tasked with a specific project or goal. This requires exceptional leadership, time management and problem-solving skills. The Department of Physics is part of the College of Arts and Sciences, and the overall mission of liberal arts is to encourage students to develop the ability to collaborate effectively, communicate clearly and respond to challenges with flexibility. If you are interested in an industry career, you've already taken an important step simply by choosing to pursue physics study here at UB.

Taking advantage of internships, mentoring and any opportunity for beyond-the-classroom learning is also important. Unlike many academic positions, experience in postdoctoral appointments is not considered a prerequisite for jobs in most private sector companies, so building your resume and CV while still in college is one more chance to set yourself up for success after graduation. 

Government Laboratories

National government laboratories rely on premier physicists to conduct crucial research that effects the lives of American citizens every day. Analysts, astronomers, geophysicists, health physicists, patent examiners and a plethora of other job titles are all needed to ensure that the government has access to the most cutting-edge research and technology. Should you choose to pursue federal employment, some examples of the type of project you may be tasked with include: developing a new simulation tool or component of a larger simulation effort, developing faster or more accurate numerical techniques, or developing improved diagnostic tools. Additionally, government physicists are often responsible for the management of resources and personnel, such as:

  • Seeking clients and funding for research, either alone or with a team of other scientists. Clients are usually government agencies, (e.g. Dept. of Energy, Dept. of Defense). Research areas may be classified or sensitive.
  • Traveling to test equipment at facilities which have better experimental capabilities than the home institution, or where the equipment can be developed more quickly, at less expense.
  • Interfacing with clients, laboratory staff and management to report research progress and challenges.
  • Developing designs with optimal program cost and schedule constraints.
  • Representing the laboratory, client or project at conferences or other presentations.

Physics Career Resources