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Summary of occupation

Physicists study the nature of all matter and energy, including structures, behaviour,formation/generation and the interactions between the two. Physics can broadly be divided into theoretical physics and experimental physics. Theoretical physics involves developing models, or theories, which attempt to explain and predict how and why certain aspects of the world work and behave. Experimental physics involves testing these theories, determining their limits and using the results to amend or strengthen the theory as appropriate. All physicists will generally work in both of these areas to some degree. Physicists working at universities will also be required to spend time teaching students.

ANZSCO description: Studies matter, space, time, energy, forces and  fields and the interrelationship between these physical phenomena to  further understanding of the laws governing the behaviour of the  universe, and seeks to apply these laws to solve practical problems  and discover new information about the earth and the universe.
Alternative names: Physical Scientist
Specialisations: Astronomer, Astrophysicist, Biophysicist, Condensed Matter Physicist, Health Physicist, Medical Physicist, Nanotechnologist, Nuclear Physicist, Optical Physicist
Job prospects: Average
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Knowledge, skills and attributes

A physicist needs:

  • the ability to make accurate and detailed observations
  • a methodical and analytical approach to work
  • strong communication skills
  • the ability to think clearly and logically
  • good problem solving skills
  • patience
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Working conditions

Physicists usually work in laboratories, offices or workshops, though some may also carry out fieldwork in various environments, depending on the nature of their research. Many physicists work in universities, where they split their time between teaching and research work, however there are also opportunities to work in government organisations or private industry. They may work with radioactive substances and other restricted and/or potentially harmful materials, which require strict safety and control procedures to be followed to minimise danger. Physicists usually work standard business hours, however overtime or weekend work may be required when setting up and carrying out experiments or when conducting fieldwork.

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Salary details

On average, physicists, classified under other natural and physical science professionals, can expect to earn between $1 500 and $1 999 per week ($78 000 and $103 999 per year), depending on the organisation they work for, and their level of experience. As a physicist develops their skills, their earning potential will generally increase.

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Tools and technologies

Physicists use a variety of highly specialised instruments and laboratory equipment to conduct, record and analyse experiments. Depending on the nature of the experiment, this equipment may be used to heat or cool materials to extreme temperatures, generate and measure electrical currents, examine the atomic structure of matter, and carry out many other highly technical and specialised tasks. They must also be familiar with computers to control equipment, run simulations and to write reports based on their findings.

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Education and training/entrance requirements

To become a physicist you usually need to study a degree in science with major in physics or nanotechnology. To improve your employment prospects, you may need to complete further postgraduate study.

Most of the universities in Western Australia offer relevant undergraduate courses. Contact the universities you are interested in for more information.

Related courses

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Apprenticeships and traineeships

As an apprentice or trainee, you enter into a formal training contract with an employer. You spend most of your time working and learning practical skills on the job and you spend some time undertaking structured training with a registered training provider of your choice. They will assess your skills and when you are competent in all areas, you will be awarded a nationally recognised qualification.

If you are still at school you can access an apprenticeship through your school. You generally start your school based apprenticeship by attending school three days a week, spending one day at a registered training organisation and one day at work. Talk to your school's VET Co-ordinator to start your training now through VET in Schools. If you get a full-time apprenticeship you can apply to leave school before reaching the school leaving age.

If you are no longer at school you can apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship and get paid while you learn and work.

Related apprenticeships

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Recognition of prior learning

If you think you already have some of the skills or competencies, obtained either through non-formal or informal learning, you may be able to gain credit through recognition of prior learning.

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