How Do I Become a Physical Scientist?

Learn about career options in the physical sciences. Find out about the educational requirements and typical duties of scientists focused on the physical world. Schools offering Environmental Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Physical Scientist?

Physical science encompasses areas of science dealing with non-living things. Job titles included under the envelope of physical science include atmospheric scientists, chemists, environmental scientists, geoscientists and physicists. Areas you may study include weather, chemicals, water supplies and petroleum.

If you would like to become any type of physical scientist, you'll likely need a strong background in chemistry and physics. Your time will be split between office work and laboratory work. However, conducting field work could also be a part of your regular job duties if you specialize in a field in which direct observation or data collection is possible. The information below provides an introduction to different types of physical scientists.

PhysicistsAtmospheric ScientistsChemistsEnvironmental ScientistsGeoscientists
Degree Required Doctorate Bachelor's degree to start Bachelor's degree to start Bachelor's degree to start Bachelor's degree to start
Education Field of Study Physics Meteorology or a related earth sciences field Chemistry Natural sciences Geology or geoscience
Key Responsibilities Develop theories for testing having to do with the properties of matter and energy Analyze meteorological data Research projects with chemical processes on nature or products Compile environmental data Carry out field studies on geological sites
Licensure Required Security clearance needed for certain federal government positions, like those in nuclear energy Voluntary certification N/A Voluntary certification License may be required by state
Job Growth (2014-2024) 8%* 9%* 3%* 11%* 10%*
Median Salary (2015) $111,580* $89,820* $71,260* $67,460* $89,700*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Atmospheric Scientist

As an atmospheric scientist, you study the functions and characteristics of the earth's atmosphere. Meteorology is an example of atmospheric science. If you work as a meteorologist, you predict, study and report weather conditions. Atmospheric science research also includes studying the ozone, pollution and agriculture.

Chemist

As a chemist, you'll explore materials and chemical compounds to discover ways to save energy, improve processes and create new products. Chemists may work in research and development conducting research on materials to discover their chemical compounds, structures and reactions to other materials. You use knowledge gained through research to develop new products to meet market needs.

Environmental Scientist

Environmental scientists research, study and work with matters related to nature. You may work on projects related to air, water and soil. Protecting the environment, creating better ways to grow crops and preserving natural areas are jobs you may handle. Your research and work may lead to the development of environmental regulations, new processing methods or the creation of new recycling procedures.

Geoscientist

Work as a geoscientist includes investigation of earth, rocks, water and other natural resources. Your job may involve studying the formation of rocks, researching evolution through fossil analysis, charting the activities of volcanoes and finding deposits of natural resources. Your work could help find radiation coming from the ground, prevent natural disasters from claiming lives in the future or bring new supplies of oil to the market.

Physicist

As a physicist, you research the laws and principles governing the universe and matter. You're responsible for analyzing theoretical and practical areas of physics from the earth's origins to nuclear energy. You may use what you discover to help invent new technologies, understand life on other planets or to find the origin of the planets.

What Education Do I Need?

Most physical scientist positions require a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions. Degrees are available to you in physical science with a concentration in your specialization or your major may be found within your concentration, such as physics, environmental science or geology. If you want to work in a research position, employers generally require an advanced degree, such as a Ph.D.

In a physical science program, you usually take classes in natural science, physical science and mathematics. Science topics studied may include chemistry, geology, oceanography, physics and conservation science.

Are There Other Requirements?

Some physical scientist positions may require certification, licensing or have other requirements you must meet. For example, meteorologists can become certified through the American Meteorological Society, but certification is not mandatory. In some states, geoscientists who work with the public are required to be licensed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Engineering is a broad field with many similar job duties and educational requirements to those of physical science. A civil engineer, for example, applies mathematical and physics principles to design and build construction projects like roads or buildings. Computer hardware engineers are responsible for the generation of advances in computer technology. They research, design, build and test various computer systems and components. As with many physical sciences, it is possible to get an entry-level job in both of these careers with a bachelor's degree, but higher education is required for advancement.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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