Master's & PhD Programs in Nuclear Physics

Professionals working in or looking to get into the nuclear industry can advance their career with a graduate degree in nuclear physics. Degrees are available at the Ph.D. and master's level and teach theories and methods that are important to a career in the field.

Program Admission Requirements

No matter which path you choose to pursue, you will need at least a bachelor's degree. A specific major is typically not required, but schools will generally look for relevant coursework and work experience when considering an applicant for the program. Some programs also require a minimum score on the GRE or GMAT. Other standard application requirements include essays, letters of recommendation, and copies of transcripts from undergraduate programs.

How to Earn a Master's or Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics

Nuclear Physics programs cover a wide range of topics that can include physics, chemistry, mathematics, and engineering. Most programs take between two and five years to complete.

Fundamentals of Nuclear Reactor Technology

Typically taken at the beginning of a graduate program in nuclear physics, this course introduces candidates to the most important concepts in nuclear engineering. Subjects covered typically include fission, neutron moderation, nuclear structure, and radioactivity. Students might learn the basics about how nuclear fission reactors behave and how to look for flaws.

Power Plant Technology

Power plants are a major component of the nuclear science equation, and students looking to work in the field of nuclear physics will need to have an in-depth understanding of their design and functionality. These courses typically focus on all aspects of power plants and teach concepts like cycle analysis and plant operation. They also focus on the less immediate areas of interest, such as environmental impact and economic strategy.

Nuclear Reactor Dynamics

Courses in nuclear reactor dynamics aim to teach the equations and practices surrounding nuclear reactors. Students in these courses can expect to study point reactor kinetics, space-time reactor dynamics, and reactor excursions. Nuclear reactor safety is a major theme in courses like these.

Nuclear Materials Laboratory

As with most STEM programs, nuclear physics degrees generally contain a practical component in which students get hands-on experience. This course focuses on ideas and methods that are best taught in a practical setting, including optical microscopy, welding, and electron microscopy. Nuclear materials labs take a deeper dive into nuclear principles at the molecular level.

Principles of Corrosion

Corrosion is a major issue for anyone working in nuclear physics, thus programs offer courses that enlighten students about its properties, effects, and countermeasures. These courses usually cover topics like thermodynamics, kinetics and sulphidation. Students will also have a chance to look at corrosion prevention and testing reactors for susceptibility.

Nuclear Physics Career Paths

Nuclear Engineer

Nuclear engineers are directly involved in the monitoring and execution of duties at nuclear facilities. They design equipment such as reactor cores, ensure proper handling of hazardous materials, monitor operations, and take corrective action to address and prevent emergencies. Nuclear engineers also keep an eye towards the future and take part in the exploration of new uses for nuclear technology, such as medical imaging.

Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technicians

This career path is not exclusive to the realm of nuclear physics, but professionals with an advanced degree can find work in this role. These technicians design electrical systems and prototypes, calibrate instruments and perform maintenance to keep devices running. As power plants feature a vast array of machines and computers, these professionals are frequently needed to keep operations running at peak efficiency.

Materials Engineers

Materials engineers create, test, and build a range of products using metals, plastics, ceramics, and other materials. These products can include just about anything, from hockey sticks to computer chips and even nuclear reactors. Because the nuclear industry has a constant need for new equipment, those who hold a degree in nuclear physics can use their degree to find work in this role.


If you've earned a degree in nuclear physics but feel a career change is in order, you can eschew the nuclear field and find work as a more general physicist. These professionals spend their time exploring the world of physics, and job duties generally include conducting experiments, developing theories, and carrying out mathematical equations.

Mechanical Engineering Technicians

Mechanical Engineering Technicians work with mechanical engineers to develop and manufacture mechanical devices. Power plants are essentially one big collection of mechanical devices, and a candidate with a degree in nuclear physics can use the engineering knowledge earned in the degree to combine the two fields. Standard job duties for this profession include evaluating design schematics, conducting tests, and providing estimates for the cost of projects.

Job Title Median Salary (2018)* Job Growth (2018-2018)*
Nuclear Engineer $107,600 -1%
Electrical and Electronics Engineering Technicians $64,330 0%
Materials Engineer $92,390 0%
Physicist $119,580 9%
Mechanical Engineering Technicians $56,250 3%

Graduate degrees in nuclear physics are available at the master's and Ph.D. levels. These programs typically have a lot of overlap in terms of the subjects they cover, to the extent that some schools offer combined programs that award both degrees. Upon completion of these degrees, candidates can pursue a variety of job titles within the nuclear industry.