Why Study Physics? Top 7 Careers in Physics

A student with science goggles on

What is physics?

How did life on Earth begin? Are there parallel universes beyond the one we live in that we don’t yet know about? The study of physics addresses these questions and tries to unravel the mysteries of how our world works; you’ll learn about everything from the smallest subatomic particles to the vast expanse of galaxies, and topics covering matter, motion, space, time, and energy. If you’re wondering, ‘What is a physicist and what do they do?’, read on to find out what the subject involves and how the University of Surrey International Study Centre can support your ambitions.

Why study physics?

If you like the idea of questioning existing theories, conducting cutting-edge research and learning about the forces that shape our universe, then a degree in physics could be for you. It can open doors to a wide range of careers in science, from working on cutting-edge projects such as the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, to conducting groundbreaking astrophysics research probing the mysteries of black holes, dark matter, and the evolution of the cosmos. Physics graduates go on to work in fields including technology, climate change, healthcare and more.

5 reasons to study physics

1. Explore the universe

Are you interested in learning as much as possible about the planet we live on? A physics degree can help you answer and contribute to questions about the world, such as where we came from, what will happen to the universe in the future and how we can power our towns and cities sustainably.

Through studying physics, you'll learn all about the universe, starting with how it began with the Big Bang and evolved over billions of years into the vast, structured expanse we see today. From examining the life cycles of stars to probing the behaviour of black holes and dark matter, you'll gain insights into the forces and materials that shape the universe on a grand scale.

2. Tackle global challenges

Physics graduates can use their skills to address the challenges facing the world, from developing green technologies to improving mobile technology.

With a solid grounding in physics, you can go on to work on projects tackling some of the planet’s greatest issues, such as pioneering sustainable energy solutions and renewable fuel alternatives, smart grid technologies, and mitigating climate change. You’ll gain advanced quantitative and analytical skills that will allow you to drive progress in areas including medicine, communications and transportation.

3. Start an exciting career

One of the benefits of studying physics is that you’ll graduate with research and data analysis skills that employers in a diverse set of industries value highly.

The analytical rigor developed through your studies will make you a perfect candidate for cutting-edge research roles in academia, government labs, or the private sector. Tech giants and innovative start-ups actively recruit physics graduates to tackle complex engineering challenges and drive technological disruption. You could also go down non-traditional paths like finance, consulting, and data science, or be involved in developing life-saving medical devices and next-generation microchips.

4. Develop key skills

As well as learning about the world and how it works, the complex nature of a physics degree provides plenty of opportunities to strengthen your problem-solving, research, and reasoning skills.

As a physics graduate, you’ll be used to grappling with abstract theoretical concepts while conducting hands-on experimental work. You'll master techniques for breaking down complex problems into fundamental components, constructing mathematical models, and coming up with solutions through logic and quantitative reasoning.

5. Keep advancing

Physics is a field that is constantly evolving and existing theories are consistently being challenged and replaced, thanks to new research.

Studying physics means contributing to scientific progress reshaping our understanding of the universe. Rather than just absorbing static knowledge, you’ll learn how to question information and come up with new science-based theories and solutions. 

Top 7 Careers in Physics

So, what can you do with a physics degree? There are several career paths that you could take and many physics degree jobs available to you; you could work in a variety of fields and be employed by global companies such as Google, NASA, Boeing, Nikon and Amazon to name a few. Here are the top 7 careers that physics graduates go on to pursue:

Medical physicist

Medical physicists play a vital role in healthcare, focusing on the development and safety of medical imaging and therapeutic equipment. Good communication skills and attention to detail are crucial as the role involves ensuring that all medical radiation treatments are administered safely and effectively. Medical physicists are also involved in designing treatment plans and maintaining the equipment used in medical diagnostics and treatments.

In the UK, medical physicists start with a salary of about £40,000, which can increase to £57,000 or more with experience in their roles (Glassdoor).

Physics research scientist 

The work carried out by physics research scientists involves conducting detailed experiments to test hypotheses and explore new phenomena. Through meticulous analysis of data, these scientists develop insights that can lead to significant breakthroughs. They also publish their findings, contributing to the global body of scientific knowledge and fostering further research and development.

In the UK, the salary for a physics research scientist varies widely based on experience and specific field of research, with an average salary ranging from £24,000 to £39,000 annually (Glassdoor).

Computational physicist

Computational physicists use advanced computing techniques to solve complex physical problems that are difficult or impossible to tackle using analytical methods alone. They use a range of tools and techniques including computer simulations, numerical methods, and theoretical modelling to predict the behaviour of these systems, explore new physical phenomena, and validate theoretical models with empirical data.  

In the UK, the average salary ranges broadly, with typical earnings ranging from about £24,000 to £43,000 annually (Glassdoor).


Astrophysics is a branch of astronomy that involves studying celestial objects beyond the Earth's atmosphere. Astrophysicists use a blend of observational astronomy, computer simulations, and theoretical modelling to explore and understand stars, planets, galaxies, black holes, and the universe's cosmic web.

According to data from Glassdoor, the average salary for an astrophysicist in the United Kingdom varies, with reported earnings ranging from approximately £22,000 to £42,000 annually, reflecting the specialised knowledge and skills required in this field.

Laser engineer 

Laser Engineers design, develop, and maintain laser systems for various things across a wide range of industries. They apply their knowledge of optics, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics to optimise laser performance and work on developing systems for applications in photonics/optics, telecommunications, manufacturing, medical procedures, scientific research, and more.

The salary for laser engineers in the UK typically range from approximately £27,000 to £36,000 annually (Glassdoor).

Optical engineer

With a degree in physics, optical engineers gain a deep understanding of the fundamental principles governing the generation, propagation, and manipulation of light. This knowledge enables them to design and optimise optical systems for various purposes, such as transmitting data through fiber-optic cables, capturing high-resolution images, or developing advanced optical sensors.

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for optical engineers in the UK ranges from £31,000 to £44,000 annually.

Biophysics researcher

Biophysics researchers study how physics and the laws of nature apply to living things and biological processes. They investigate how molecules, cells, tissues, and organisms work and behave from a physics perspective. Key focus areas include studying the folding, structure and dynamics of biomolecules like proteins and DNA and exploring the mechanical forces involved in cellular functions. This research can then be used to, for example, develop non-invasive methods for detecting biomarkers for diseases such as cancer.

According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a biophysics researcher in the UK from approximately £24,000 to £39,000 annually, depending on experience, specific role, and the institution of employment. 

Study Physics at the University of Surrey?

The University of Surrey's Department of Physics is home to excellent research facilities, ensuring that students are at the forefront of the newest discoveries and technologies. The University is also partnered with the National Physical Laboratory, offering distinctive physics courses that reflect the diverse nature of the subject.

Degrees at the University include flexible modules across many topics, so you can find the subject area that appeals to you the most. By combining core modules that introduce you to the subject with optional modules, you will be able to tailor your course to suit your requirements. First year students at the University can also benefit from the opportunity to switch between any of the specialist physics courses on offer.

The Professional Training Year programme provides work placement opportunities for undergraduate students at the University. This is your chance to gain crucial work experience that can help kickstart your career in physics.

The programme has been running successfully for more than 40 years and includes over 2,300 professional placement partners, which have included The National Physical Laboratory, Tesla Engineering, IBM UK and BAE Systems.

As well as being shortlisted for University of the Year in 2023 by The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide, the University of Surrey also ranked 12th in the Complete University Guide 2025. As a student here, you’ll learn from outstanding scientists in their fields. You’ll also be best placed to start laying the foundations of a successful career - 95% of Surrey undergraduates are currently in work or further education according to the Graduate Outcomes survey 2022.

We have advisors on hand to help you choose the course that’s best for you, and discuss entry requirements, fees and visa requirements, so reach out to our support team with any questions that you have.


What can you do with a physics degree?

As well as working as an academic, a researcher at national laboratories, or scientist working on pioneering projects like particle accelerators and space missions, you can also work in the corporate world. You could work as an engineer developing cutting-edge technologies, a data scientist analysing complex datasets, or a financial analyst applying physics-based modelling techniques. You can also contribute your expertise as a consultant, technical specialist, or science communicator in fields ranging from energy and telecommunications to healthcare and technology. 

Why is studying physics important?

Studying physics helps us understand the fundamental laws and forces that govern the universe at every level - from the smallest subatomic particles to the largest galaxies. By understanding and quantifying natural phenomena, physicists are able to contribute to developing new materials, energy sources, devices and life-changing applications across fields including engineering, medicine, electronics, and space exploration.

Is a physics masters worth it?

It depends on your specific goals and aspirations. A masters in physics is valuable if you want to go down an academic or research-focused career path, as it provides advanced training, specialised knowledge, and research experience to prepare for doctoral studies or research roles at universities, labs, and institutions. It’s not strictly required for industry jobs in areas like engineering, technology, data science, or finance, but it will make you a stronger candidate with deeper technical expertise.

Note: Salary information is sourced externally. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of the salary ranges.