Scientific research

Physics graduates may wish to further their understanding of physics by working with organisations at the cutting edge of science.

Roughly 10% of students completing a physics degree stay in the fields of research, analysis and development. Those wishing to stay in pure physics tend to have an academic slant, and a fascination for one or more of the core principles of the science. Popular routes for further research include astrophysics, particle physics, electromagnetism, quantum and classical mechanics, statistical physics and thermodynamics, wave phenomena and the properties of matter.

Typically, those who succeed in making physics research a viable career have excellent technical skills, such as numeracy and mathematical modelling; good problem-solving and analytical skills; and the ability to manage projects effectively. They must also be highly self-motivated because research can often involve lots of dead ends before useful results emerge. Candidates may also show a strong desire to work in a team, and they generally understand the constraints of working to a brief and staying within prearranged budgets.

While the UK accounts for only 1% of the world's population, we receive around 10% of the internationally recognised scientific prizes each year. In turn, UK scientists and institutes have seen licensing income, patent applications and spin-out companies increase four-fold since 1998. With 12% of the citations to published scientific papers going to UK-based research, British scientists are highly acclaimed and in demand. Although most research takes place in universities, other well known institutions that regularly take British physicists include:

  • CERN
    The world-famous particle physics research centre on the border of France and Switzerland
  • The National Physical Laboratory (NPL)
    The UK's national measurement institute, aiming to protect the environment, support industry and improve the quality of life
  • Fermilab
    One of the world's leading particle physics labs, based in Chicago, Illinois, US
  • The Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY)
    With a research centre based in Hamburg, DESY is concerned with investigating the structure of matter. Its careers page also features links for PhD and summer courses for graduates
  • Bell Labs in the US
    One of the premier private research institutions in the world

Although a PhD is not essential for a research career outside the university sector, you may find that a PhD or Master's degree will help your career prospects. There's more advice about finding suitable courses in the further study section.

Feel like scientific research is what you’re meant to be doing? Why not find out more about life as a researcher?

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last edited: October 15, 2019

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