Online PhD in Physics

Learn about the physics specializations that are available as online programs, as well as what you will study and the classes typically offered. Find out how online programs work, and explore career opportunities.

Can I Earn a Ph.D. Degree in Physics Online?

Online Ph.D. degree programs in physics are hard to come by. The few colleges that do offer physics at the Ph.D. level online usually focus on a specific area; the two most common are Beam Physics (a.k.a. Physics and Astronomy) or Health Physics (a.k.a. radiation physics). In some cases, these programs are actually hybrid programs and require at least some on-campus interaction.

Ph.D. in Physics OnlineBeam physics or health physics, hybrid programs
Common coursesOptics, electrodynamics, quantum physics, computational physics, radiology
Online ProgramsVideo lectures, videoconferencing
Potential Salary (2014)$109,290 (median for physicists and astronomers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will I Learn?

Beam physics encompasses the principles of lasers, astronomy and matter. Along with math courses, some of the subjects that you may encounter during your study include optics, plasma physics, electrodynamics, quantum physics, computational physics, astrophysics and particle accelerators. Topical studies may include current issues, trends and technologies in the study of space and physics.

Health physics covers radiation and nuclear theories. You'll look into radiation, radiochemistry, radiology and the body, neutron imaging, radioisotopes and nuclear engineering. This program is not too different from the beam physics program, as both look into beam ports and study energy and matter. In this instance, nuclear and biomedical engineering help to improve the quality of health care and diagnostics through radiation research.

How Does Online Learning Work?

Many of the online or distance learning courses stream video lectures. Some of these lectures may be streamed live and expect you to sit in along with the campus class (synchronous); others are recorded for watching at your own pace (asynchronous). Lecture notes are posted on the Internet and some programs use videoconferences so you can interact with professors.

What Jobs Can I Consider?

If you earn your Ph.D. in beam physics you can consider a job as a physicist or astronomer. As a physicist you will look at how matter and energy react to each other. You'll research hypotheses related to understanding the laws of gravity and matter. In some cases you will look at controversial issues such as the big bang theory and the creation of man. As an astronomer you'll help to work with advancing technologies such as satellites and shuttles. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, physicists and astronomers earned a median salary of $119,580 as of May 2018 ( Job opportunities for the field is expected to grow 14 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average.

If you earn your Ph.D. in radiation health physics you'll be able to work as a health physicist, protecting people and the environment from radiation and helping to improve the use of radiation in medicine. Of course, a Ph.D. in either specialty can enable you to teach at the college level.