Science Journalist

Qualifications

A-levels
Physics, Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Chemistry

Degree (MSci)
Physics (Imperial College London)

MSc
Science Communication (Imperial College London)

Alok is a science journalist for the Guardian newspaper.

“The best part about being a journalist is talking to the most interesting people about the most interesting things. I’m humbled by the fact that a professor at Oxford would take my phone call and answer my (sometimes-silly) questions about their work. I just want to understand stuff and it feels incredible that I can get most of my info straight from the source. The highlight of my career so far has to be reporting on the final space shuttle launch from Florida – it was heart-stopping, emotional, beautiful and frantic.”

Alok explains how a background in physics helps him in his job. “Reporting on new areas of science can be daunting if you have no foothold whatsoever. Even knowing a completely different bit of science increases your confidence when tackling a new bit. I did a degree in physics because I was curious about how things worked and how we knew things. Afterwards, I wanted to become a journalist, so I did an extra year studying science communication as a gentle way out of the scientific mindset and into something more like the way everyone else thinks about science – which is useful when you’re writing for non-scientific audiences.”

Alok’s advice for becoming a journalist is to build up as much experience as possible. “To get a job in journalism you don’t just have to show that you want to do it, you have to show that that have already done it in some way. If you’re at university, write for the student paper; hang out at the TV station. Practice interviewing and talking to people and drawing their best stories out of them. Oh, and read, read, read good novels, newspapers, blogs and factual books. Listen and watch various media too. You have to know what’s out there already to work out where you can fit in and make the best contribution.”

You can find more information about careers in physics by visiting www.physics.org

Satellite Engineer

Qualifications

Degree
Physics

PhD
Mechanical Engineering

Maggie leads a team of scientists and engineers that make custom-built instruments for satellites.

After University, Maggie worked on military projects, including an early warning missile defence system for fighter pilots and mine detectors. “I did that for a couple of years, but then an opportunity came up to work on the Gemini Telescope and I just couldn’t turn it down – I’ve always been fascinated by space – it seems to transcend all human problems. You hear about people fighting each other, but from the perspective of space it looks like ants squabbling over a leaf. Now I build space-telescopes that improve our understanding of the universe and work on satellites that help monitor climate change.”

You can find more information about careers in physics by visiting www.physics.org

Solicitor

Qualifications

A-levels
Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry and General Studies

Degree and PhD
Physics

Diploma
Intellectual Property Law and Practise

Harjinder is a solicitor for Google.

“There are many people with a physics background in law. the way of thinking that physics develops is useful, as is the ability to understand technology when discussing the legal aspects of it. After my A levels, I considered doing medicine, but after talking to a GP I realised it wasn’t for me. Instead I did a physics degree.”

Harjinder followed his degree with a PhD at Cambridge University in high temperature superconductors. “It was the philosophical aspect of physics that inspired me to study it. Particularly quantum physics and how reality may be different from what we think it is,” he says.

Despite his clear love for the subject, Harjinder was also interested in legal issues. “My interest in law was originally sparked by conversations I used to have with friends from the basketball team whilst doing my degree. We discussed things like “Should man be able to patent a new form of life?” and I found those discussions fascinating,” he says. During his PhD research, he also kept bumping into intellectual property law and copyright issues. So after completing his PhD, Harjinder studied to become a solicitor.

He has worked in law ever since, initially in private practice then in-house for technology companies. For the last two years he has been employed by Google as litigation counsel in their London office. “I love my job. The best things about it are the intellectual challenge and the fact that my work makes a difference across the world.”

You can find more information about careers in physics by visiting www.physics.org

Solar Energy Physicist

Qualifications

A-level
Physics, Mathematics, History

Degree
Physics with a year in Europe (Imperial College London)

PhD
Quantum Solar Technology (Imperial College London)

 

Jess works on developing the next generation of solar cells.

Jess chose to study physics with a year in Europe for her degree after her A-levels. “Many universities offer degrees with a placement in another country. I spent my placement in France, it was great. I met loads of people, experienced a new culture, and learned how to snowboard – (badly!).”

After her degree, Jess studied a PhD in solar energy. “I really care about the environment and I knew that I wanted to work in renewable energy – but many of the jobs require specialist training. My PhD research focussed on increasing the efficiency of solar cells.  Higher efficiency cells convert more of the sun’s energy into electrical energy, and increasing efficiency is important if solar cells are to be used on a bigger scale so that we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.”

Jess now works in the USA. “I met my current employer at a conference in Hawaii, where I was presenting the results of PhD research. I work for a small company in Chicago developing very thin solar cells that can be rolled up like a blanket, then used to produce electricity while on the move.”

“When a lot of people think about solar energy, they often think of it in terms of the fight against climate change, but the fact that solar cells do not need to be connected to the grid is also important, they can produce electricity out in remote areas that otherwise would not have power. This can have a huge impact on education in places like sub-Saharan Africa and villages in India – solar panels can be used to charge up torches and allow people to learn and read after a day at work.”

You can find more information about careers in physics by visiting www.physics.org

Renewable Energy Manager

Qualifications

A-levels
Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology

Degree
Physics with a year in America

PhD
Low Temperature Physics

David manages projects that introduce renewable energies across the UK.

Of the many physics inventions, David thinks that wind-turbines or solar panels are probably his favourite. “In principle they’re so simple; they take something that is just there [wind and sun] and turn it into something really useful [electricity].”

David studied physics at university after his A-levels and feels that this really has helped him do his job. “I manage a number of projects to introduce renewable energies; my physics knowledge makes it so much easier to understand the technology. The skills you learn whilst studying physics also help you to approach projects in a much more logical way. That’s an important part of most jobs and so studying physics really does keep your options open; you can pretty much go into whatever area you want.”

You can find more information about careers in physics by visiting www.physics.org

TV Science Advisor

Qualifications

At College
Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry

Degree
Physics (Princeton University)

PhD
Particle Physics (University of Chicago)

David is a lecturer and TV science advisor.

“Until I worked on the show, I never knew so much thought, effort and talent into making a TV program,” says David, who advises on the hit US comedy show, The Big Bang Theory.

“The writers send me scripts in advance. I check that they’ve got the physics right.  Sometimes it’s something straightforward, like calculating how long it takes a bottle to drop down the elevator-shaft so that the sound effect can be put at the right time. Other times the writers want me to put something new in, and I end up writing the equations for time-travel using wormholes on Sheldon’s whiteboard”

David’s background is in particle physics. “After college, I studied physics at Princeton University, where I was hired to work as a research assistant at a cyclotron after my first year. I later carried out research at Fermilab’s Tevatron, which was the highest energy particle accelerator until the LHC at Cern came along.”

“I’m now a professor at UCLA and I really enjoy the balance between research and teaching. Interacting with students helps keep me on my toes. Lecturing is particularly rewarding, especially when students I have taught overtake my own knowledge and develop a new approach to problem I’ve been working on.”

“Young people might think that physicists work alone in a laboratory for days on end, and are socially inept, a bit like Sheldon from the show. But that is typically far from the truth. Even in the labs, we work in teams. We share our problems, results and ideas with each other – science can be very social.”

You can find more information about careers in physics by visiting www.physics.org

Poker Player

Qualifications

A-levels
Maths, Physics, Geography and Biology

Degree
BSc Physics with Astrophysics

Liv uses the skills that she learned studying physics to help her play poker at the very top level.

“People always say to me, ‘you did this amazing degree, why are you wasting it playing poker?’ My answer is, ‘I’m not wasting my degree; it’s what enables me to be a fantastic poker player.’ Poker’s a game about making complex decisions, under pressure, in a short period of time. There are so many variables that you have to filter through to make the correct decision – well, that’s what physics is all about – and that’s what has helped me when I am playing on the tables for millions of dollars.

“I chose physics at A-level because it was my favourite science, the most challenging and fascinating subject. I also knew that it’d give me a wide range of options for university and careers. And my advice for anyone choosing their A-levels is to do at least two “tough” subjects such as maths or science. Almost all employers look for that as it shows an ability to think analytically.

“After I graduated from university I did not know what I really wanted to do, although I knew I didn’t want to continue into research science. I saw an advert for a reality TV Poker show, with the tagline ‘Can you use your deception and skills to win £100,000?’.I thought it sounded like fun, so I entered and they taught us how to play poker. After I met some professional poker players and saw how they lived, I thought, “wow, this is an awesome job – that’s what I want to do. And I’ve done pretty well at it. So far I’ve won over 2 million pounds playing poker.

“That’s the beauty studying of physics – you can apply the skills you learn to so many areas. Many of them, like poker, are not so obvious until you try them.”

You can find more information about careers in physics by visiting www.physics.org

Particle Physicist

Qualifications

A-levels
Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Maths

Degree
MSc Physics with Space Science and Technology (University of Leicester)

Ben works on the T2K experiment, doing research into neutrino oscillation. The experiment is based in Japan and scientists from several countries contribute.

“I always enjoyed science and physics in particular, so after my A levels I did a masters in Physics with Space Science and Technology. I’d advise anyone to stick with the subjects you enjoy – if you enjoy it, it will never seem like hard work. My degree also left me with the flexibility to change my mind about what I wanted to do. Eventually, despite having studied space science, I decided that I wanted to become a particle physicist.

“A typical day sees me attending global video conferences, writing computer code, and reading up on other research within and outside my experiment. My job also involves a lot of data analysis. I process and produce both real and simulated data and help transfer the information worldwide through a network of computers called the Grid. I then develop new methods of squeezing physics out of the data using statistical methods.

“As my work involves collaborating with scientists based in other countries, I often travel for work and have been to all sorts of amazing places around the world. I’d say that the best part of my job is the variety of problems to solve, the different people you meet and above all the places you visit worldwide.

“An A-level in physics lays a solid foundation for pretty much any career path you could hope to take. Physics is in everything around us as it describes the entire Universe in which we live. The problem solving and scientific skill set you will learn are coveted by all industries so if you do want your end game to be engineer, doctor, accountant, video game designer or scientist then start with physics. I have friends who took physics degrees who have gone on to all of these careers and many more jobs too.”

You can find more information about careers in physics by visiting www.physics.org

Mechanical Engineer

Naomi works as a car safety engineer.

She became interested in engineering during her GCSEs. “I did some work experience at British Aerospace. That’s when I realised what it was all about; it’s very hard to understand what an engineer does without seeing it for yourself. It’s very hands on; you’re always producing something or making something.”

After completing a degree in engineering, Naomi now investigates how people are injured in accidents and terrorist attacks. “The best bit of my job is when I get to crash cars and blow up fake people – it’s great fun. But it is also good to know that you’re preventing people from being injured or killed in the real world.”

You can find more information about careers in physics by visiting www.physics.org

Material Scientist

Qualifications

A-levels
Physics, Maths, Further Maths, General Studies and Graphical Design

Degree
MPhys Physics at Oxford University

Postgraduate degree
DPhil in experimental condensed matter physics at Oxford University

Rachel uses ultrasound to ensure your safety on planes, trains and rollercoaster rides.

‘I use high frequency sound waves to investigate the properties of materials. Most of the work my research group does is on non-destructive testing – a way of making sure railway tracks, pipework, theme park rides and all sorts of other structures are safe. Ultrasound can reveal hidden wear, defects and cracks before the damage becomes catastrophic.’

Some physicists have to choose between fundamental and applied science, but Rachel’s current research combines both, allowing her to investigate the properties of materials and then apply this knowledge to the real world.

‘The best thing about my job is whatever I’m doing at the time! If you ask me while I’m doing experiments, I’ll tell you how exciting it is to be building equipment, measuring samples and finding out things that no-one else knows. If you ask me while I’m analysing data and writing papers, I’ll talk about how brilliant it is to be able to confirm new ideas and tell other people about them. And if you ask me while I’m teaching, I’ll mention how the nerves of facing a large group of students are easily overcome by the enjoyable challenge of inspiring the next generation of physicists.’

Although Rachel’s focus since school has been on physics and maths, studying graphical design at A-level and learning circus skills in her spare time has proved surprisingly beneficial. ‘Having a bit of art and design to balance all the mathematical subjects was good and it has really come in handy when I’ve been designing new pieces of equipment. And being able to juggle clubs is a great way of introducing linear and rotational motion to my students.’

Juggling may be fun, but for Rachel the most important skill in her job is communication. ‘People picture scientists being stuck in a lab on their own, but there are seven people in my group and we all work together. We also have to communicate our results to other people – there’s no point finding things out and then keeping them secret!’

You can find more information about careers in physics by visiting www.physics.org