Pursuing a Degree in Physical Science
Physical Science is a branch of natural science that studies the non-living things in and around the Earth, including the universe. Physical science differs from other branches of natural science, in that it deals with the inorganic objects and phenomena vs the organic objects. Degree programs generally specialize in a specific subject, that is broadly classified into 4 categories, namely:
- Earth Science
4 Areas of Study
Due to its wide scope, each category of physical sciences has its own scope and depending upon the complexity can be further categorized for a specific area of study:
It is the aspect of science that studies the composition, structure, and properties of matter at the atomic and molecular levels. The different subcategories of Chemistry deal with the composition of the matter, the interaction between the different types of matter, or the effect of energy on the matter. The popular sub-categories in Chemistry are:
- Organic Chemistry
- Inorganic Chemistry
- Nuclear Chemistry
- Analytical Chemistry
It is the branch of science that is concerned with the study of matter, energy, and the forces in the universe. It not only studies the actions of different forces present in the universe such as gravity, electromagnetic and nuclear forces, but it also observes the behavior of objects subjected to these forces. Physics overlaps with the other branches of Physical Science and is highly dependent on Mathematics. Popular sub-disciplines in Physics include:
- Particle Physics
- Chemical Physics
- Quantum Mechanics
It is the science that studies different aspects of the Earth. It is not a single discipline as it encompasses different subjects that study Earth as a planet, the geographical divisions, the atmosphere, and the components that make up the planet Earth. The study of geosciences also involves environmental concerns, such as climate change, sustainable living, natural disasters, and environmental hazards caused by humans. Popular sub-disciplines in Geosciences include:
- Atmospheric Science
It is the science of celestial objects and their properties and existence in space. The scope of the study of Astronomy has widened since historical times as it has moved beyond the observation of the Sun, Moon, stars, and other planets. It now involves the study of the universe and how all the heavenly bodies exist together. The popular sub-categories in Astronomy are:
- Galactic Astronomy
- Stellar Astronomy
- Solar Astronomy
- Planetary Astronomy
Physical Science Programs
The programs that one can take in Physical Sciences include-
|2-3 years30-33 credits
Associates in Physical Science
Associate in Physical Science is not a very popular choice among students for a variety of reasons. Most of the job options require students to have at least an undergrad degree. An associate degree is therefore only taken by students for jobs requiring only introductory level education in Physical Science. An associate in Physical Science is either Associate of Science (AS) or an Associate of Arts (AA). They are generally 2 years long.
Degrees in Chemistry
The courses in Chemistry are available at Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctoral levels. As chemistry may involve knowing about different disciplines, many chemists have an M.S. or Ph.D. degree in Chemistry and additional degrees in mathematics, computer science, and related subjects. Students of Chemistry will also have to learn about the different laws and regulations relating to their study of substances.
It is recommended that when choosing a school offering Chemistry degrees, students should check if the course has been approved by the American Chemistry Society or accredited by the local state body at the very least. Popular degrees in Chemistry include:
- Bachelor's degree in Chemistry: There are BS and BA degrees available at undergrad level in Chemistry. While BA provides foundational knowledge in Physics, Chemistry, Math, and Biology, BS provides a more in-depth knowledge of these subjects, making it an ideal option for students looking to graduate in a related scientific field. BA is a popular option for students who want to take a science degree as a supplement to their graduate degree.
- Master's degree in Chemistry: Chemistry being a vast subject, there are many specializations and sub-specializations at Master's level. MS in Chemistry provides advanced level education in the subject with a focus on theoretical and practical topics.
- Doctorate degree in Chemistry: Unlike other branches of Physical Science, where a doctoral degree takes up to 5 years, a doctorate in Chemistry can easily take up to double the time, owing to the extensive course work and time-consuming project, but it is an ideal option for students wishing to pursue an advanced academic position in the field.
Degrees in Physics
There are Bachelor's and Master's programs available in Physics but the most popular ones are the Bachelor's programs. This is because Physics overlaps with other disciplines and interdisciplinary or mix-disciplinary degrees are a more popular option for a Master's degree. Popular degrees in Physics include:
- Bachelor's degree in Physics: There are Bachelor of Science (BS) and Bachelor of Arts (BA) degrees available in Physics. While BS takes a scientific approach, BA takes an applied approach making it less intensive. Regardless of the program chosen, students will be able to pursue Masters in any of the related fields.
- Master's degree in Physics: There are Master's of Science (MS) and Master's of Arts degrees in Physics. While MS is focused more on scientific and mathematical approaches, MA is focused on practical and philosophical approaches. Regardless of the course chosen, a Master's in Physics is an advanced level course that opens a plethora of career options for a student because of the lack of students in this field.
- Doctorate degree in Physics: A PhD in Physics is the most coveted scientific degree there is. It takes a good amount of 5-6 years with the first 2-3 years involved in the general coursework and the remaining years spent in the thesis and research project. A doctor in Physics can pick a career in almost any field they desire.
Degrees in Geosciences
The most popular degree in Geosciences is BS in Geosciences. There are various specializations, like data analysis, environmental science, and Natural Resources and Conservation. Master's degrees are not very popular in this field and students end up pursuing a graduate-level degree in a related field. Doctoral degrees are rarer still that are pursued by people looking for a career in the academic field. There are many online programs available in Geosciences and many accredited certifications available at the state level. Based upon the career option chosen by the candidate, they might have to take a certification test, if required by their state. Popular degrees in Geosciences include:
- Bachelor's degree in Geosciences: BS in Geosciences is usually a 4-year program offered in person or online. It provides foundational knowledge on topics like the past and presents geological structures and the effects on the future of the Earth and other planets. Students are taught to make decisions based on the effects on the environment.
- Master's degree in Geosciences: Master's degree although not popular, is opted for students looking to work in the teaching field. It is also offered online in many places and can be completed in 2 years.
Degrees in Astronomy
Astronomy is a field of Physical Science that requires the most coursework from students. It spans various majors like Mathematics and Physics at its core but also includes Chemistry and Computer Science. Students need to have advanced knowledge in these subjects and should be ready to put in the leg work that is required by the course. Popular degrees in Astronomy include:
- Bachelor's degree in Astronomy: Students need to have Mathematics and Science as a major subject in High School to meet the eligibility requirements of the universities to enter a Bachelor's program. Most universities require students to have taken Advanced Placement classes or enrichment classes in these fields to be eligible for the Astronomy program. If students do not meet these requirements, they will be required to take additional classes to fulfill this criterion before they can enroll in the Astronomy program.
- Master's degree in Astronomy: Master's degree in Astrology requires students to have an undergrad degree in Mathematics and Science. Depending upon the path chosen by the student, they will need to have a degree in a related Science field like Physics, Chemistry, or the less popular but equally important field of Geosciences. These fields can be further broken down into sub-specialties depending upon the program being chosen.
- Doctorate degree in Astronomy: Doctorate degree in Astronomy requires painstaking research that can take the better part of the course duration, which is usually 5 to 6 years long. Apart from taking related courses at the Master's level, students will have to focus on problem-solving and study the trends. They will have to complete a research topic in their final years.
Top Universities for Physical Science
|California Institute of Technology
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology
|University of California, Berkeley
|University of Chicago
|New York, NY
|University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign
|University of Colorado
|University of Arizona
|Pennsylvania State University, University Park
|University Park, PA
Stanford University, CA
Established in 1885, this institution has around 17,200 students and around 15,000 administrative staff. The institution has set its mark in research within the field of physical sciences including physics, chemistry, astrophysics, and geosciences. They have programs that are internationally acclaimed in the fields of physics and chemistry with the undergraduate and graduate programs being ranked as the best in the country. The geosciences programs offered here are considered to be the 31st best university in the country with a global score of 95.6.
California Institute of Technology, CA
Established in the year 1891, this institution has a student population of around 2,500 along with over 300 academic staff. Caltech has a division of physics, mathematics, and astronomy which is centered around research combining all three fields. Candidates will be able to take up undergraduate and graduate programs in fields like physics, chemistry, astronomy, and geosciences here with physics and chemistry being the second best in the country and geosciences being the best program offered in the country with a subject score of 100.
Harvard University, MA
Established in the year 1636, this institution is easily one of the oldest in the country. It has a student population of around 20,000 along with over 2,400 academic staff. It offers programs in the physical sciences at undergraduate, postgraduate, and research levels with an emphasis mainly on the latter. The best subjects under physical sciences here include physics, chemistry, astronomy, and geosciences. Physics is the 2nd best program in the country along with geosciences and chemistry being the 5th best in the country.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA
Established in 1861, this institution is one of the best technical institutions in the country. It has a student population of around 12,000 along with around 1,000 academic staff. The most commonly opted programs here include physics and geoscience. Though there is no program for astronomy as such, the institution is known for its space engineering program that includes aerospace and aeronautical studies. The chemistry program here is ranked as the best in the country.
Princeton University, NJ
Established in the year 1746, this institution has a student population of around 8,500 along with over 1,300 academic staff. The most valued physical sciences programs here include physics, chemistry, geoscience, and astronomy with programs being offered at undergraduate, graduate, and research levels. Candidates who take up a bachelor’s program here often move on to doctoral programs and further research in their field of interest.
University of California, Berkeley, CA
Established in the year 1868, this institution has a student population of around 45,000 along with over 23,000 academic and administrative staff. Physical sciences degrees here are best for physics, chemistry, astronomy, and geosciences. The former three subjects have programs offered at undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. Geosciences, on the other hand, only has a doctoral degree which comes under the Earth and Planetary Sciences division.
University of Chicago, IL
Established in 1856, this institution has a student population of around 18,500 along with over 2,900 academic staff. The best physical sciences programs offered here include physics and chemistry with both the programs being the 7th best in the country. The institution offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral level programs in both these subjects. Here, candidates will be able to take joint degrees in different fields from the physical sciences if they wish to combine areas for future research.
Cornell University, NY
Established in 1865, this institution has around 25,500 students along with over 1,600 academic staff on each campus. It has programs at undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels for earth sciences, astronomy, physics, and chemistry out of which only physics and chemistry are the most sought after. The chemistry programs here are considered to be the 11th best in the country and the physics programs are considered to be the 8th best in the country.
Columbia University, NY
Established in 1754, this institution has a student population of around 33,500 along with over 4,300 academic staff. Their best physical sciences programs include physics, chemistry, and geoscience. The institution provides programs for these fields at undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. It has a school for astronomy and astrophysics with in-depth programs in the field but these programs have not made the best in the country lost, yet. The physics programs here are considered to be the 9th best in the country and chemistry the 12th best along with geosciences which is the 4th best in the country.
University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, IL
Established in 1885, this institution has a student population of around 56,000 along with around 2,500 academic staff. The institution offers plenty of degrees at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels within the field of physical sciences. Out of them, the best programs are in physics, chemistry, and astrophysics with a concentration on research more than foundational programs.
University of Colorado, CO
Established in 1876, this institution has a student population of around 38,000 along with around 3,500 academic staff. The institution offers mainly research programs in physical sciences. The best physical science fields here include physics, geosciences, and astronomy. The physics department here has been ranked as of one the top ten research departments at public universities in the country, especially for the graduate programs it offers in the subject.
University of Arizona, AZ
Established in 1885, this institution has a student population of around 49,500 along with over 3,500 academic staff. The best physical science programs offered here are in the fields of geosciences and astronomy with a focus on research in both fields. The institution also offers programs for physics, chemistry, etc. at levels like undergraduate and postgraduate.
Pennsylvania State University, PA
Established in 1855, this institution has a student population of around 89,800 out of which 46,700 are from University Park. It also has around 8,000 academic staff. The best physical science programs are in the subjects of geoscience and astronomy. The programs are offered at undergraduate, graduate, and research levels.
Career Opportunities in Physical Sciences
With such a broad scope, people with a degree in Physical Sciences have a lot of options when it comes to a career choice. The career choice will largely depend upon the specialization chosen by the candidate. Regardless, some options are popular in this field:
- Teacher/Professor: Since a degree in Physical Science requires a lot of theoretical and practical work, candidates are very academic oriented, and being a teacher or a college professor in their specialization is a popular choice.
- Instructor: This is another career option that requires explaining and guiding people in their field, like museums, scientific labs, etc.
- Researcher: Students in this field are used to spending time researching. Many of them go into the research field, trying to find solutions to life-size problems.
Other career options based on individual specialization include:
Career Options with Chemistry
- Chemist: There are various types of Chemists that study the behavior and reaction of chemical compounds with other elements in their respective fields. Some examples include biochemists and Organic Chemists.
- Pharmacologist: They work in pharma companies to research and come up with new drugs.
- Chemical Engineer: Chemical engineers research or use the research performed by other scientists to create new products and equipment that help society.
- Forensic Analyst: They help study the chemicals and elements found in a crime scene and do lab work to help solve a case. They are also involved in the autopsy report which also requires them to have a background in Biology.
- Toxicologist: Like Pharmacologists, Toxicologists are also employed by big pharma companies to understand the effects of chemical compounds on living beings. A background in Biology is a big plus.
- Environmental Specialist: They research the changes in the environment and the effect on human life and how humans affect the environment. Environment pollution and climate changes are the key topics of research.
Career Options with Physics
Many frequently think that the most viable job for physics majors is to become a college professor. However, there are a variety of career options for students studying physics. They can either take jobs relevant to their degree or pursue advanced degrees in related subjects like medicine, mathematics, engineering, computer science, and astronomy. There are different jobs available for those with degrees in physics, which include:
- Research and Data Scientist
- Medical Physicist
- Optical Engineer
- Teachers and Professors for educational institutions
- Lab Manager
- Branches of Aviation and Nuclear power in the Army
The Society of Physics Students (SPS), points out that only 30% of students studying physics pursue careers in academia. According to the American Institute of Physics, 50% of physics graduates pursue careers in a variety of fields and are hired for jobs relating to engineering and computer science.
For the students of Chemistry
It is possible to be a chemist with a degree in related fields such as Chemical Engineering, Environmental Science, and Materials Science. It is recommended that students take up positions relating to chemistry that would help them in university and get a job. Important courses that one can take up in college to supplement their degree are biology, physics, and calculus. There are lucrative options available to students who have completed their degrees in chemistry, such as:
- Research scientists for consumer product industries.
- Agricultural and Food Scientist
- Teachers and Professors
- Forensic Scientist
- Occupational Health and Safety Specialist
- Materials Engineer
For job opportunities at the American Chemistry Society, visit their careers page
For the students of Geosciences
For the geoscientists, the jobs have been projected to grow at a quicker rate than the average in order to match up to the demand for more energy as well as better and more efficient ways of protecting the environment. Students of geosciences are also eligible for jobs in different industries dealing with the natural resources of the Earth. These include:
- Environmental Scientist
- Environmental consulting
- Government agencies for policy positions about the environment and natural resources.
- Positions in NGOs and environmental foundations.
- Geophysical consulting
- Positions in resources industries like petroleum, natural gas, and mining.
- Climate change analyst
- Geotechincal consulting
For the students of Astronomy
An advantage of working in the field of astronomy is that it is a relatively small community in the US, which allows its professionals to be in immediate contact with others. According to the American Astronomical Society (AAS), there are 6000 professional astronomers in North America. Therefore, students require a degree in the subject and relevant work experience for a career in astronomy. Jobs in astronomy
- Science Journalist
- Planetarium Director
- Teachers and Professors of Science
- Research Scientists or Assistant
- Senior Consultant for government or private companies
- Data Scientist
As work experience is recommended for better job opportunities, students can visit the American Astronomical Society page
for more information on internships and summer jobs.
All the above-mentioned jobs require a major's degree in science, and some courses in the subject of mathematics.
As per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), one can get employment for almost all science-related jobs with a bachelor's degree in physical sciences.
Students can also major in Computer Science, Mathematics, or Engineering and add these subject programs to a physical science degree. For administrative, faculty positions, or research, obtaining a Ph.D. degree is essential. Working as a geoscientist would require a license in most states, according to the BLS.
Thus, the students of physical sciences have a wide range of opportunities, both in education and careers. As most of the courses require the integration of different subjects, students will have to work hard to achieve innovation and success in their respective fields.