What can I do with a degree in Physics?

Jenni Adams, Physics

Physics aims to understand the behaviour of matter and energy from the scale of subatomic particles to that of the Universe itself. From digital watches, fridges and cars, through computers and communication systems to water supplies and electrical systems, modern life is built using the understanding of nature that physics provides. For example, architecture, the various fields of engineering, nursing, medicine and other health professions, and agricultural science all use aspects of physics.

We are currently in an incredibly exciting period in physics. The technological advances of the last 20 years have had an enormous impact on all our lives and almost all of these advances rely on advances in physics (indeed this is true of virtually all technological advances since the Industrial Revolution). Modern physics provides a framework for understanding – and contributing to – major advances in technology.

Physics is a very broad discipline: it encompasses everything from building huge laser equipment to study gravitational waves, to creating tiny nanoelectronic devices that can act as transistors or sensors, to measuring the behaviour of the upper atmosphere in order to understand global warming, to obtaining fundamental theoretical understandings of cosmology and sub-atomic physics.

Through their Physics degree, graduates gain a valuable set of transferable skills that includes:

  • Problem solving
  • Ability to communicate orally and in writing
  • Mathematical and computer skills
  • Capacity to think creatively, logically and quantitatively
  • Cooperation, teamwork and leadership
  • Innovation and imagination
  • Planning and organisation skills.

Applied learning opportunities are available such as laboratory sessions, fieldtrips and internships. These experiences deepen your skillset, awareness of others, working knowledge and employability.

Many Physics graduates are employed at:

  • Crown Research Institutes
  • The National Radiation Laboratory
  • Hospitals and District Health Boards
  • Universities
  • Meteorological Service.

Some are not employed as specific scientists — their Physics skills are valued in industries such as:

  • IT, computer and electronics
  • Banking and finance
  • The armed services and police
  • Aerospace and aeronautics (including airlines)
  • School teaching
  • Geotechnical
  • Telecommunications
  • Agribusiness
  • Energy
  • Journalism and publishing.

Some recent UC alumni have done postgraduate study or postdoctoral research at universities around the world including China, Germany, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Pakistan, and the USA.

Graduates with this degree are employed in a range of jobs — see some examples below.

Note: Some of the jobs listed may require postgraduate study. See the ‘Further study’ section.

Field / laboratory technician

  • Plans and carries out research experiments
  • Maintains and calibrates equipment
  • Liaises with scientists and industry personnel
  • Collects and collates data, and drafts reports

Research scientist, postdoctoral researcher

  • Organises and conducts research
  • Tests theories and operates instruments
  • Analyses data and scientific phenomena to develop explanatory theories
  • Writes reports and publishes articles
  • Consults with and advises industry

Medical physics registrar

  • Operates and improves diagnostic and therapeutic equipment
  • Uses knowledge and skills to help prevent, diagnose and treat different diseases/conditions
  • Ensures radiology, nuclear medicine and radiation treatments are safe and effective

Telecommunications / software engineer

  • Analyses customer needs, evaluates computer software and researches new technologies
  • Develops software programs for new products
  • Manages software development projects

Programmer, software developer

  • Determines specifications and writes code
  • Builds prototypes of software programs
  • Tests and fixes computer programs and systems
  • Maintains and upgrades programs and systems
  • May develop and integrate technical aspects of websites/mobile apps along with other workers

Secondary school teacher

  • Plans and delivers instructional lessons
  • Evaluates performance and provides feedback
  • Sets and marks assignments and tests

Patent advisor

  • Researches technical or scientific documents, to assess if a product is new and innovative
  • Maintains knowledge of laws and regulations
  • Advises businesses, government and industry

Meteorologist

  • Monitors weather systems and atmospheric patterns
  • Analyses data and uses forecasting models to predict weather conditions and climate trends
  • Prepares weather maps, forecasts and alerts
  • Designs tests to measure air quality, ozone etc

Librarian, library assistant

  • Categorises and catalogues library materials
  • Selects materials for library use
  • Helps customers find and use materials

Entrepreneur and CEO

  • Develops an idea to form their own business
  • Gets involved in a start-up
  • Offers their services as a consultant

Get started with Entrepreneurship here

As they progress, students and graduates often join professional bodies relevant to their area of interest. These organisations can provide regular communications and offer the chance to network.

Social media networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter can provide avenues to keep up with the latest industry knowledge, events and jobs.

Learn from our students' experiences

For more information

see the Physics subject page