The following is a practical guide to the activities that physics students should undertake at various stages of their degree to enhance their skills and future employability and to prepare for life after they graduate.
Freshers’s Week is the best time for students to join Nexus – the student division of the
Institute of Physics – as well as their university’s physics society. Both offer opportunities to find out more about the subject, to develop useful work-related skills and to network.
A physics degree, though valuable, is not enough on its own. It is important that students get involved in extracurricular activities that will make them more employable. Getting the Most from a Physics Degree offers tips on what they can do.
Getting involved in outreach work is a great way to develop communication skills, which are highly valued by employers in all fields. Nexus can help to point students in the right direction. In their 2nd, 3rd or 4th years, students might also consider helping out at their department’s open days. Getting active in the running of Nexus or a university physics society can also help to develop organisational skills.
Work experience and/or internships for the summer holidays are also a great way of garnering practical experience beyond the lecture theatre. Physics departments should be able to help students to organise a gap-year placement if they decide that they would like to gain some experience in industry.
Language skills are a great asset and can broaden future career opportunities. Many universities have a language centre that offers courses to students and staff. If yours doesn’t then students can use Hotcourses to identify a suitable evening class that is convenient for them. Alternatively, they might consider studying at a European university during their 3rd year as part of the Erasmus programme.
During the autumn term of their final year, students should attend careers events, such as the Institute’s Careers Evenings, which can put them directly in touch with potential employers.
The Institute also supports conferences for physics students each year. The Nexus Student Conference is held in November and the International Conference of Physics Students is held in August. Both offer excellent opportunities for networking as well as developing communication skills.
For tips and advice on networking see our dedicated page.
During their final year, students should start thinking about what they plan to do after they graduate. It is a good time to look into postgraduate courses and read the Physicist’s Guide to Choosing a PhD if they plan to go down that route.
For those who are interested in teaching, there are incentives to get physics graduates to train because of a shortage of physics teachers. Find out more at www.tda.gov.uk.
Those who don’t plan to continue their studies may find it useful to read about what others with a background in physics have gone on to do in our Once a Physicist series. Students interested in postgraduate studies should check the application deadline for their chosen course, which is often during the spring term of their final year. This is also a good time to start a job search for those who do not plan any further study. The Physicist’s Guides can help with writing a CV, filling out application forms and interviews.
last edited: February 05, 2013