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Six Benefits of Studying Physics At University

Dr. Thomas Swan is a published physicist who received his PhD in nuclear astrophysics from the University of Surrey.

Physics helps us to understand the world in which we live. Here, polarized light reveals stress lines on a bent plastic protractor.

Physics helps us to understand the world in which we live. Here, polarized light reveals stress lines on a bent plastic protractor.

Why Should I Study Physics?

Picking a subject to study at university can be one of the most difficult and important decisions for an individual to make. In this article, I will list the main reasons why physics might be a good choice for many intellectually-capable young people.

Physics is the study of the workings and limitations of nature’s laws. It is the oldest academic discipline and the most widely respected. From Newton to Einstein, the greatest geniuses who have ever lived were physicists. Whether you are still at school, or choosing a university degree, there are several reasons to consider studying physics.

1. Employability

Whether you want to become a professor or a banker, the skills you acquire during a physics degree are sought after by employers across the occupational spectrum. One of the most important skills to learn is mathematics. However, a physics education does a lot more than teach you how to add up. It teaches how to use your knowledge to solve practical problems.

Children often ask what the purpose of learning mathematics is. Physics shows us the answer with novel experiments that replicate real world phenomena, providing an avenue through which an individual can understand the relevance of the knowledge they are taught. Employers crave this skill because they want practical individuals who can apply their knowledge to their work.

Physics degrees also teach students how to use computers, do basic coding, plot graphs, understand trends, patterns and causal factors, solve complex problems, present to an audience, and write essays in clear and concise language that avoids the purple prose that may be applauded in English degrees. For almost any job in the world, a physics degree will put you in an excellent position to succeed and, for the most part, employers recognise this.

A medical physicist with a PET scanner.

A medical physicist with a PET scanner.

2. Several Specialized Occupations

Physics degrees qualify individuals for a diverse range of occupations. Studying physics is therefore a great idea for individuals who are intelligent but have no idea what they want to do with their lives. In such cases, there is little chance of reaching the end of the degree and regretting it as a waste of time.

This is no more evident than in the choice of careers within the physics profession. A generic physics degree can be taken in many directions, such as specialities in astrophysics, medical physics, nuclear physics, or theoretical physics. You could be gazing at the stars, curing cancer with radiation therapy, maintaining a nuclear power plant, or solving complex equations with as little as one year of specialized training. Typically a one year Masters degree is all that is needed to take an undergraduate physics qualification in the desired direction.

3. Travel and Experience

As part of my physics degree, I was sent to the USA to spend a year in a national laboratory. Research trips such as this are quite common for physicists. There is usually a lot of money allocated to building collaborations between international facilities, and this typically involves an interchange of researchers. As the UK is without a particle accelerator, my postgraduate nuclear physics degree involved travelling to Italy, Germany, Greece, USA, Australia, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

Not only was this very enjoyable, but it gave me a wealth of worldly experience. Organizing flights and hotels in foreign countries, conducting oneself appropriately on arrival, meeting new people, and working with foreign researchers are all skills that employers would love you to have. Learning to speak publicly to present your work at international conferences is also extremely beneficial.

Fun at the Large Hadron Collider (Switzerland).

4. A Prestigious and Interesting Qualification

When people ask what you study, and you tell them physics, they usually think “rocket scientist." This nearly always brings some level of respect, and perhaps even some opportunities for romance! Usually though, you are asked questions about space, time travel, the "God Particle," or something in the news. Sometimes you get deep philosophical questions about the nature of time and space. A physics degree can equip you with some profound answers. However, it’s always best to be modest! If someone complements you, it’s better to downplay your achievements. Nevertheless, the respect you earn can certainly help to build self-esteem and confidence.

Professor Brian Cox on the unusual questions he is asked.

5. Nerds Are Fashionable

Thanks to the TV show, The Big Bang Theory, and celebrity physicists like Brian Cox and Neil deGrasse Tyson, being a nerdy physicist is more fashionable than ever. In previous decades, physicists were disregarded as unsociable recluses, lofty, erudite snobs, or frizzy-haired maniacs who like to blow things up. Nowadays, the popular impression of physicists has changed to become more flattering. What's more, if you were ridiculed for being a nerd at school, don’t expect the same treatment at university!

The Astronomy Pick-Up Line

6. Become A Doctor!

After completing a PhD in physics, you will become a doctor. This is a title you can keep for the rest of your life, and one that could open many doors for you. Be careful when using your title though; most people associate being a doctor with medicine!

In summary, the world needs more physicists. If everyone studied physics we'd be flying around in spaceships and living off robot slaves by now. It is the language of innovation and advancement.

Other than being a noble profession, the benefits of studying physics are valuable and numerous. The employability of physics graduates is second to none because of the transferable skills that are learnt during physics degrees. So whether you're passionate about physics or have a vague interest in science, studying physics at university may be right for you.

Ultimately, it was not right for me. I studied nuclear physics and encountered several problems with that particular field. Nevertheless, for the reasons outlined in this article, I do not necessarily regret getting my doctorate in the subject.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Thomas Swan


Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on July 06, 2020:

You don't have to be "brilliant" at math to be an experimental physicist, but you should be very comfortable with equations and graphs (obviously) and good with calculus. To be a theoretical physicist you should probably be brilliant at math.

Femina on July 06, 2020:

Should we brilliant in maths to study physics..?

frankistiern on November 11, 2015:

physics sounds interesting and fun hoping to be among the nerds in co operative

Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on April 21, 2013:

Thanks mad scientist. I must say, it was great being a physics student, but I wouldn't recommend making a career of it. My other hub, 'reasons for leaving physics' explains my reasons. I suppose it depends which area of physics you want to go into though. I went into nuclear physics, which was a mistake. If you're more into astrophysics, it might be more fun. I wish I'd done that.

Dani Alicia from Myrtle Beach, SC on April 21, 2013:

Awesome hub. As a physics student, I can honestly say that studying Physics is a lot of fun. I love discovering how things work and I can't wait to learn more so that I could develop something interesting and innovative!

Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on April 06, 2013:

Thanks for the comment. It could be, though I did use a source for my claim about physics being the oldest. There are probably sources claiming mathematics is the oldest too. It's not too important though I think.

John on April 05, 2013:

Mathematics is the oldest discipline

Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on November 26, 2012:

Thanks for the comment grand old lady! I actually quit physics after gaining my PhD in it. I found a lot of problems with the field that were only going to get worse if I continued on that career path. Nevertheless, I don't regret doing the course in the first place. What was it that you studied, and why was it wrong for you?

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on November 25, 2012:

Well, I had to push 60 to learn that I was pursuing the wrong course in life. Too late to course correct. But physics sure sounds like it would have been a great course to study. Thanks for sharing:)