The education sector attracts many physicists who want to either continue with their education or to pass on their enthusiasm to a new generation of scientists.
Higher education is a major employer of research scientists, and for those wanting to pursue their own research interests it offers a uniquely independent career. Some of the paths through the education sector are described below.
A postgraduate qualification is essential for some research paths (particularly in academia, where a PhD is required) and can help you to progress in many careers.
A range of Master's programmes are available and can be the most effective way of moving into specific technical areas.
For example, those wishing to work in medicine may require a specific Master's degree to work in the ultrasound, radiography and diagnosis fields.
An additional year of focused-study may improve your chances of moving into a specific area as well as providing an opportunity to study a topic of interest.
Postgraduate qualifications may also help those looking to change careers, such as to teaching, law or IT. For more details, see the further study section. Types of postgraduate studies and funding information can be found in the section information for postgraduates.
Many physicists have been inspired by schoolteachers and college lecturers to study physics at university. If you feel that you have the enthusiasm and passion to stimulate young people's interest in science, then teaching could be a perfect choice.
To teach in state-maintained schools in England and Wales, and in institutes and organisations that employ teachers (e.g. the Armed Forces), you will need to obtain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).
The duration of this course is either one year full-time, or two years part-time. This combines study with placements and teaching practice, giving you an opportunity to experience the reality of the profession during your training.
Science teachers in England may be eligible for financial upgrades on their bursary during their period of study. The IOP offers a range of support for teachers, including lesson resources, events for children, and a teachers' support network.
Find out more about:
- The routes into physics teacher training
- Bursaries of up to £20,000 for physics teacher training from the Department for Education
- Support from the IOP
University life can be fantastic, and the buzz of being part of a large academic institution may convince some graduates to help others to have a similar experience. The key driver for an academic career must be an interest in independent research, and a determination to find funding for research and publish your work. Although as an undergraduate your awareness of university life is dominated by teaching, the time of most academics is split between research and administrative responsibilities. To succeed on this path, a PhD is likely to be followed by one or more contracts as a researcher on a specific project (a postdoctoral research assistant or "postdoc"). For those wishing to remain in academia, talk to academics and researchers in your department. To discover opportunities in academia see below:
- The Times Higher Education Supplement advertises many university posts and contains articles about academic life
- For posts in research and academic organisations in the UK and abroad, jobs.ac.uk is a useful website
- Brightrecruits contains a list of academic postings
Feel strongly that teaching is for you? Why not check out another physicist’s inside story?
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last edited: June 12, 2015