Skip to main content Skip to local navigation
Home » Careers Overview

Careers Overview

The following downloadable documents are excellent descriptions of Careers in Physics:

  • To see why studying physics at York University can lead to an excellent career, click here. The study of physics and astronomy is both useful, relevant and advantageous for both tangible and intangible reasons. York physics alumni now have careers as teachers, professors, managers, researchers, software engineers, entrepreneurs, business owners and medical physicists, just to name a few.
  • To see why studying physics, in general, can lead to excellent career opportunities, go here.

Physics is the classic discipline that combines experiment and mathematical modelling or theory into a powerful entity. Experiments are used to observe phenomena in nature. Theories are constructed to understand the phenomena. They lead to further probing by refined experiments. This methodology is being applied increasingly to disciplines that were less mathematical in the past, such as biology, and even economics. Studying physics may be the best way to grasp this methodology. The traditional view of a physicist is that of someone hovering over apparatus on a bench. This is not quite right, as most physicists today are using computers to test their theories, as well as to collect data from their experiments, to visualize data, etc. A whole new field of physics has emerged, called Computational Physics. Graduates of physics who made use of computing have excellent prospects of finding computer-related and software-related jobs. It is important to realize this fact given that many jobs will be created in these fields in the private sector, and that computer science departments are both oversubscribed and providing very different training. As a physics student you acquire problem-solving skills, and at the same time obtain computer training, in reasonably small classes. A summary of a physicist's job, ability and background is:

  • A physicist's job consists of solving challenging problems, and the real world is full of problems to solve.
  • A physicist's ability to break a problem down into basic principles and deploy appropriate tools to analyze it can be applied to a wide range of fields and industries.
  • A physics background provides skills in quantitative reasoning, computing, critical thinking, and problem solving.  These skills are in great demand in industry and academia.  According to a recent survey, York physics alumni now have careers as teachers, professors, managers, researchers, software engineers, entrepreneurs, business owners and medical physicists.

Physics students find that their studies are excellent preparation for many different fields. That includes graduate

  • Physics and Astronomy majors going on to graduate school have the highest combined Verbal and Quantitative scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).
  • Physics majors and Math majors have the highest average scores of any major on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) for business school. [Based on data from 2006-2011]
  • Physics majors and Math majors have the highest average scores on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). [Based on data from 1991-1992 and 1994-1995 combined and from 1991-1992 alone.]
  • Physics majors and Biomedical Engineering majors have the highest average scores on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT). [Based on data from 2009.]

There are many career options for physics and astronomy graduates. That is because the skills taught in a physics and astronomy degree are applied routinely in almost every occupation.

B.Sc. graduates who want a career in research must go on to graduate studies. For those who do not wish to pursue graduate studies, opportunities for employment abound, but may not be obvious. Many jobs for which physicists or astronomers are suited aren't necessarily labelled as being for physicists or astronomers. Rather, they simply require individuals with the skills of physicists or astronomers. A B.Sc. graduate should focus on selling these skills. Where physicists and astronomers excel is in solving challenging problems, and they are aided in doing so by their strengths in:

  • reasoning
  • analysis
  • critical thinking
  • technical writing
  • mathematics
  • computing
  • experimentation
  • instrumentation and data acquisition
  • image processing (astronomy majors)

Because of the breadth of their training, graduates of the Undergraduate Physics and Astronomy Program at York University have a wide range of career options in both private and public sectors. Find out here where some have ended up. A fact sheet about careers for physics and astronomy graduates, including common job titles, is here. And keep reading the information on this page about career resources for Physics graduates.The American Institute of Physics (AIP) has tracked where B.Sc. graduates are employed, and statistical summaries are presented here. Check out AIP Career Resources for more advice. Information about the employment of Canadian B.Sc. graduates is presented by the Canadian Association of Physicists here. Physics B.Sc. graduates are paid well. For more information, visit here. A comparison with graduates in other fields is given here. To help you to prepare to embark on a career that utilizes your skills, check out the Careers Toolbox of the AIP Career Pathway Project.

Professional schools want people who can think. A student's educational path is of secondary importance. Physicists and astronomers can think. The proof is in the outstanding performances of physics majors on the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), and the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), all of which are summarized here.

Students who graduate from the Undergraduate Program in Physics and Astronomy have acquired strong backgrounds in physics, mathematics, and computing. This is a relatively rare set of skills that is in high demand in the school system. In Ontario, physics or astronomy majors who wish to become teachers would normally apply for admission into a teacher education program following completion of their degree. It is very difficult to undertake studies in education concurrently, partly because of the possibility of course conflicts, but particularly because of the teaching practicum, which requires students to work off campus.

Students who wish to embark upon a research career must go on to graduate studies. Those who wish to lead research require a Ph.D. York’s Undergraduate Program in Physics and Astronomy is a logical starting point, as it offers excellent preparation for graduate studies in physics or astronomy. Overall, students with a B.Sc. in physics or astronomy who choose to go on to graduate school are among the top performers on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). [see the interesting analysis of data from 2009-10, and also a summary of data from 2013-16].

While a physics career yields the intangible reward of gaining a deeper appreciation of the way the universe works, there are tangible rewards as well --- physicists have in-demand skills and are paid accordingly. Physicists who go on to earn a Master's or Ph.D. have median salaries that are among the highest for any profession, lower only than doctors, dentists, pilots and lawyers. 40±7% of York physics graduates who shared their income with us in a survey in 2010 had an annual income of $75,000 or more. For more information, visit the American Institute of Physics' Website for Data on Salaries of Physicists. Please also see the news item What's Your Science Degree Worth?

No two physicists or astronomers are the same, and each one chose this career for unique reasons. Here are the personal stories of several physicists, astronomers, and their careers. Even if your goal is not to become a physicist or an astronomer, it is important for each of us to understand the physics that affects our everyday lives and the society in which we live.

The York University Career Centre can help students with resume writing, preparing for interviews, and their website connects to multiple job search websites.