How do I get Started in Physics Research?

Carol Francois
Carol Francois
A physics student might look into interning at a radio telescope array.
A physics student might look into interning at a radio telescope array.

There are four ways to get started in physics research: post-secondary educational training, research assistant positions, reviewing academic journals, and referrals. Physics research is a growing field, with new advances occurring as we learn more about the forces that shape our world. Since physics is essentially the study of all matter, how it moves, and the creation of energy, it is applicable to every aspect of our lives.

The first place to look for information about getting started in physics research is your university or college. Talk to your career or program counselor, research services, your faculty liaison officer, or administrative program manager. They can advise you about the different options available, skill level required for the various roles, and what qualifications are necessary.

In order to work in physics research, there are specific academic credentials that must be met. Candidates must have successfully completed at least a bachelor's degree program in physics or engineering, with most researchers requiring at least a master’s level of education in physics. The grade point average is very important, as it reflects your dedication and potential.

Positions in research typically require working experience as a research assistant in that area. For example, an astrophysics research assistant position is only suitable for candidates who are in that program. The best research positions are available at a national level, and often require research experience in a very specific area.

A great place to learn more about physics research is academic journals. Review the articles and studies published to date and enhance your understanding of the work already completed. By reviewing this information, you can find out who the primary researchers are, where they are located, and the type of work they are doing.

Graduate program advisers and coordinators may provide information about projects to students who they feel would be a strong candidate in these projects. These types of opportunities may be focused on a specific area of research, involve travel to other locations, or may require a certain background. Keep in contact with your academic adviser and let him or her know what types of physics research projects you are interested in. Advisers have the advantage of a long history in the field, have a larger number of contacts, and background knowledge.

People who do not have the academic credentials to work in the scientific area of physics research may find opportunities in administrative or outreach programs. There is a trend in North America to create science clubs and teams that explore various fields of study. Physics is a great subject for this, as the projects are physical and the effects are obvious. Talk with your local elementary school about developing these types of clubs and teams.

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Discussion Comments


In addition to a strong commitment to academics, university selection is key in preparing for work in physics.

Of course, schools like Cal Tech and MIT have excellent reputations for scientific research, but many public and private universities also have excellent programs in a wide array of scientific endeavors.

As with any field, researching the best collegiate programs will go a long way toward future success.

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    • A physics student might look into interning at a radio telescope array.
      A physics student might look into interning at a radio telescope array.