Physics is an incredibly far-reaching science, covering a number of complex areas and ultimately aiming to get to the bottom of how things work. It’s also a very important subject – a vast number of technological and scientific developments are rooted in physics.
What A-levels do you need?
Almost all courses will require A-levels in physics and maths. A physics degree at most unis isn’t exactly a breeze to get on to, so expect the top unis to ask for top grades; the
University of Nottingham’s physics BSc requires AAA - A*AA, while Warwick, Durham and St Andrews all want A*AA for their 4-year physics courses. If your grades are a little lower though, don’t panic – there are still plenty of options out there. The University of Aberdeen ask for straight Bs for their physics BSc, while Nottingham Trent University ask for 280 UCAS points.
What are the study options?
Although a lot of physics courses are the standard three years in length, many universities now also offer an MPhys (which lasts for an extra year and includes a master’s qualification). Plenty of physics courses will also give you the option of doing an extra year in industry (where you’ll get the chance to sample the world of work and bag some welcome experience for your CV); some unis even offer you the chance to spend your industry year abroad on a research placement, so you should make sure you take this into account when deciding which course to choose.
Physics courses will usually be assessed by an even mixture of exams and course work, and you’ll find you get time in the lab as well as in the lecture theatre. In your first year you’ll probably cover a range of different physics topics, such as computational physics, core maths principles, motion and relativity, and the solar system. Then, as you progress with your degree you’ll have more flexibility in your choice of modules, and you’ll have the chance to go in depth on anything from lasers to applied nuclear physics.
In terms of joint honours options, many unis will allow you to combine physics with the likes of maths, astronomy or engineering (as these subjects all tend to complement each other and overlap).
If you’re studying physics you’ll be at the cutting edge of new technology developments and advancements, which can be a very fast-paced and exciting world to be a part of! If you have a curiosity for how things work and you like the idea of getting to the bottom of the universe’s biggest mysteries, a degree in physics could be just the ticket.
The other good point to a physics degree is that you’ll hone your research and analysis skills, not to mention your ability to solve problems and apply reason and logic to a situation – all of which are very useful skills to have in the eyes of an employer.
After your degree
As we mentioned above, you’ll have good job prospects after you complete your degree, thanks to those handy transferable skills your course will teach you.
Physics grads go into all sorts of careers – from researching for big technology firms to putting those analytic skills to use in financial or computing roles. You could also stay on at uni and get your master’s degree, and then – if you want to be like Sheldon and go into research – you could even go on to do a PhD and become a doctor.
Q & A with a Physics student
Ciaran Fairhurst is studying a BSc in Physics with Astrophysics at the University of Sussex...
What are you enjoying most about your course?
I think what I enjoy most is that I get to do loads of cool stuff all the time! Looking at data from satellites, using mathematics to prove theories that seem obvious, but really aren’t when you think about it, etc. It's very rare that I come out of a lecture thinking ‘well that was dull’.
What key modules did you study in your first year?
I wouldn’t exactly call any of them key — the thing with physics is you start off studying lots of different areas seemingly at random, which all start to come together as you get further into the course. The ones that stood out for me were vector calculus, introduction to astrophysics, and physics laboratories 1, where you have four hours per week to carry out an experiment, and are marked on how well you do it.
What are you hoping to do after you’ve graduated?
I'd like to go on to do a PHD in astrophysics, specifically galaxy formation and evolution.
How has the course helped you achieve your ambitions so far?
Pretty well — we have regular careers talks tied in with the less taxing modules, which so far has really helped me with CV writing (both academic and corporate), and we’ve also covered other areas like how much we should expect to be paid upon graduation in certain fields. We’ve had lots of graduates come in and talk about their experiences too, which has been really useful.
Top image via NASA, via pingnews