Physics is the scientific study of nature and how its laws and theories relate to energy and matter. Explore job options in the field of theoretical and mathematical physics, and read about the education requirements, employment outlook and salary potential for several positions.
Physicists often work at high-tech international research facilities. Many mathematical and theoretical physicists work as college professors. High school physics teachers, and many careers in academia or industry also heavily draw upon deep theoretical physical concepts, leaving you with many physics-related career options.
As a physicist, you can work in classrooms, laboratories and other controlled environments, both in conjunction with large groups and independently, during regular hours or during odd hours when rare natural phenomena or test results are expected. As a professional, you could mainly give public lectures and write popular science books or do extensive lab work and technical writing for academic journals.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physicists are expected to see average job growth at a rate of 10% during the 2012-2022 decade (www.bls.gov). Furthermore, in May of 2012, the median wage for physicists was $106,840, and the top-earning 10% of theoretical and mathematical physicists made $176,630 or more. The BLS also reported that in the same year, astronomers received a median wage of $96,460.
While some research posts are available to master's degree holders, nearly all professional positions in theoretical and mathematical physics require a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Students who enroll in a mathematics or physics bachelor's degree program take advanced mathematics classes in algebra, calculus, trigonometry and analysis. They also take classes in technical physics, electricity, magnetism, quantum mechanics, aerodynamics and scientific computing. Opportunities for online physics bachelor's degrees are available as well.
Next, you will need to pursue a master's degree in physics or a Ph.D. program in physics. In a mathematical physics or theoretical physics graduate degree program, you can specialize and assist in researching areas of study like string theory, quantum field theory, quantum computing, particle physics, astronomy, cosmology and energy.
A Ph.D. program in physics requires passing a candidacy exam and completing advanced physics courses, like experimental physics, condensed matter physics, particle physics and large-scale physics. Students must conduct independent research in a specific area of theoretical or mathematical physics of their choice and write and defend a dissertation to a faculty committee.