Department of Physics and Astronomy

Areas of Possible Employment

A degree in Physics and Astronomy from Sussex will equip you with a wide range of skills both specific to physics and astronomy and also more generally. Specific physics skills will include knowledge and understanding of fundamental physics laws and principles and the ability to apply them, an analytical approach to problem solving, and effective use of IT for analysing data. In addition you will develop the ability to work independently, work to tight deadlines and develop skills to communicate scientific information. All of these are highly prized by employers.

There are a wide variety of careers in which your physics knowledge can be employed including:

Acoustic Consultant/Engineer

Acoustic consultants are specialists in the science of sound; managing, controlling and regulating noise levels in the workplace and the environment. Activities could range from working on the design of a recording studio or concert hall, to giving evidence at a public enquiry. Specialist areas include architectural and building acoustics, design and manufacture of machinery, electro-acoustics (for the music and entertainment industries) and medical acoustics e.g. ultrasound.

Aerospace Engineer

The job entails researching and developing aircraft and aircraft related technology; engineers are also involved in production, testing and maintenance.

Air Traffic Controller

Air traffic controllers are responsible for giving pilots accurate information about their flight course in order to ensure an organised and safe flow of air traffic and avoid mid-air collisions. They need to have an excellent memory and situational awareness skills, and also be exceptionally numerate and competent using a computer. An Air Traffic Control Licence is needed in order to do this job, and rigorous training must be undertaken in order to attain this; much of the training is on-the-job.


Astronomers use scientific techniques to study objects outside Earth's atmosphere; astrophysics examines their behaviour, motion and physical properties. The job entails using research findings to formulate theories which can then be tested, in order to advance our understanding of celestial bodies. Astronomers and astrophysicists will usually specialise in a particular area of study such as galactic structure or the distant universe. Computers are involved at every stage of this type of work; a high level of proficiency in this area is therefore a required to do the job. A good first degree may be sufficient for a trainee research post at a university or government laboratory; however postgraduate study may improve chances of employment.


This might be mobile phones, satellite communications or internet for example, and could involve researching and exploiting new materials to create faster high speed internet connection as a Research Scientist or Materials Engineer, working in the capacity of an Electronics Engineer, or even Technical Sales and Marketing of the finished product.

Computer Programmer

Computer programmers write, test, and maintain computer programs according to the specifications determined by computer software engineers.


This could involve working for the Government (e.g. the Ministry of Defence) in communications, national security or intelligence; or for companies such as BAE systems who work in global aerospace and weaponry.


Physicists may decide to teach in a school, college or university; some take the option of designing educational materials to be used in these settings. You would need to undertake postgraduate study before being considered for a teaching post, to teach at a school or college you need to have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) which can be attained through either a PGCE or employment based training such as the Graduate Teacher Program. A doctorate is usually pre-requisite to teach at a University.

Electronics Engineer

Electronics engineers research, design and develop electronic components and products, for use in commercial, industrial and military fields. They will usually work on projects as part of a team of engineers and technicians, and also create inspection, testing and maintenance programmes for the products they develop.


Gas, nuclear power and oil companies are the main employers. It is possible to work as an engineer in many different capacities, for example:

Nuclear operations and engineering support, coal-fired engineering, working for oil companies as a drilling and completion engineer, as an instrument, control and electrical engineer or as a petroleum/reservoir engineer who finds the best location and design for oil wells.

There are many opportunities for Geophysicists, involving the exploration, appraisal and analysis of sites to find commercially viable oil and gas reserves. These companies also look to recruit physics graduates for roles within digital communications and technology, finance, accounting, HR, procurement and supply chain management, among others.

Environmental Health Officer

Usually employed by a government local authority, they evaluate environmental threats to the population, from air, water or noise pollution for example, and also visit local businesses and restaurants to check they are adhering to hygiene standards.

Factory Inspector

Researches and assesses risk and health and safety to maintain standards in workplaces. An inspector might for example examine the noise, movement and heat generated by machinery. Suitable for physics, environmental health or engineering graduates as it involves comprehensive investigation of equipment.

Finance e.g. banking, insurance and accountancy

Banking, insurance and accountancy firms are all keen to employ physics graduates due to their analytical approach to work, proven numeric and technical skills, problem-solving capabilities, strong attention to detail and investigative nature.


Geophysicists study the Earth and its natural resources using quantitative, physical methods of investigation, including drilling, seismic surveying, satellite and aerial imagery, and electromagnetic measurement. They may be involved with projects such as locating sites for landfill or storing nuclear waste, evaluating the safety of creating a dam or tunnel in a particular location or finding new water supplies. Geophysicists are also involved in the exploration, appraisal and analysis of sites to find oil and gas reserves, and in the study of how these natural resources can be optimised. (See Energy).

Marine Physicist

Marine Physicists, or Physical Oceanographers, study the seas and oceans and their physical attributes. As a marine physicist you may study water temperature-salinity structure and density, wave motion, tides and currents.

Materials engineer

A Materials engineer studies the composition and attributes of pure materials and how they can be modified and fabricated, usually with the goal of finding valuable materials to aid industrial progress and meet the needs of modern technology.

Medical Physicist

Medical Physics aims to improve and advance healthcare using physics. Possible careers include radiotherapy, nuclear medicine, radiology and radiation protection.

Medical Statistician

Analysing and evaluating the causes and preventions of disease, the job involves research, teaching and sometimes consultancy. See Statistician.


A meteorologist studies climate, developing ways to forecast weather and collecting and analysing data on atmospheric conditions for use by industries such as agriculture, aviation, the armed forces and the media. There are two main categories for this type of work, forecasting and research. A research meteorologist may study climate change, develop computer models for forecasting or use their findings to predict and solve problems such as flooding.


Involving the study, analysis and exploitation of atom-level activity, Nanotechnology is a growing industry which develops new technologies that influence important elements of everyday life such as healthcare and computers.

Nuclear Industries

Nuclear engineers research and design processes and equipment for the nuclear energy industry using their specialist knowledge of nuclear physics. Coming from a variety of backgrounds including physics or mechanical, electrical or chemical engineering, they usually work in power generation, on tasks such as running nuclear power stations and equipment, fuel reprocessing, waste management, decommissioning nuclear power stations and radiation protection and safety. Nuclear engineers also work in healthcare, the military and in academic and government research.

Patent work

A Patent Officer examines patent applications to ensure that inventions are new, original designs and not an update of an existing product. It is essential for patent examiners to continually keep up to date with the legal, technical and scientific issues affecting patent research.

Production and Quality Assurance

A quality assurance officer collects and analyses data, compiling reports that provide evidence to customers and stakeholders that quality procedures are being adhered to, thus instilling confidence that a product or service will fulfil requirements for quality. Procedures cover areas such as design, development, production, installation, servicing and documentation and also include the regulation of the quality of raw materials, assemblies, products and components.

Project Management

Project managers oversee the planning and execution projects generally relating to the construction industry, architecture or software development, as well as many other fields in production, design and service. The main objective of a project manager is to facilitate the success of a project, minimizing risk caused by uncertainty and conflict by asking detailed questions, resolving interpersonal conflicts, and using systematic management skills.

Radiation Protection Practitioner

Assesses and advises on the risk involving radiation and radioactive materials using knowledge of the health and safety legal requirements of working with radioactive substances. Also involves conducting research resulting in the creation of new policies and advice.

Research and development

Scientists working in this field develop new products and industrial processes, improve efficiency, and carry out laboratory experiments, converting them into large scale manufacturing enterprises.

Research Scientist

Research Scientists work in a variety of different fields including:

Accelerator physics, Acoustics, Agrophysics, Ballistics, Biophysics, Computational physics, Communication Physics, Econophysics, Engineering physics, Fibre Optics, Fluid dynamics, Laser physics, Force microscopy and imaging, Geophysics, Quantum electronics, Medical physics, Microfluidics, Nanotechnology, Nondestructive testing, Nuclear engineering, Nuclear technology, Optics, Optoelectronics, Photovoltaics, Plasma physics, Semiconductor physics and devices, Soil Physics, Solid state physics, Superconductors, Space physics, Spintronics and Vehicle dynamics.

The job involves planning and conducting experiments, analysing results and making predictions based on findings. They also create and test ways of employing new innovations to make things faster, safer, more efficient, cheaper, more effective or more environmentally friendly. Other day-to-day activities could include collecting and analysing samples, presenting their findings to others, teaching, or applying for funding. Research scientists tend to work in teams which are supported by technicians and other administrative staff. A good first degree may be sufficient for a trainee research post at a university or government laboratory; however postgraduate study may improve chances of employment.

Scientific Journalism

The work involves researching, writing and editing scientific articles for professional publications, scientific and technical journals, and the media. A journalist may visit academic conferences and research establishments; attend press conferences; write reports for internet and printed publications and interview experts.

Scientific laboratory technician

Laboratory technicians support scientists working in research and development, scientific analysis and investigation, or education, by undertaking experiments and technical tasks that facilitate their research. Day-to-day activities could include making sure equipment is clean and in working order, preparing solutions, cultures or specimens, setting-up experiments or investigations, analysing samples, recording data, ordering stock or collecting samples or specimens in the field. Schools, colleges and universities also employ technicians to set out equipment, create and demonstrate experiments, and maintain equipment.

Software Engineer

Researching, analysing and designing software customized according to a client's needs.


Statisticians collate and analyse numerical data and report the results in the form of graphs, charts, diagrams, tables and written or oral reports. They can interpret findings to identify patterns and trends, designing models to predict or estimate potential outcomes. Statisticians work in a number of areas including the financial sector, health services (see Medical Statistician), environmental sciences, forensics and Education.

Technical Sales and Marketing

Suitable for Physics graduates due to the technological understanding required, the work involves using this knowledge to sell hi-tech products.

Web development

A web designer/developer is responsible for the design, layout and writing the programming code of a website. They deal with the technical and graphical aspects of a website as well as being involved with the maintenance and update of existing sites. Websites will be tailored to the individual needs of the client or target audience, uploaded onto a server and registered with different search engines.