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Career Profiles:

General Physics Jobs

Unlike the general physics jobs from generations past, careers in physics, today, usually require the selection of a particular subfield of physics as a specialty. When the subfields were just being discovered, physicists would work in many different areas and you could argue that they had careers in general physics. Albert Einstein (1879–1955), for example, made a career of general physics study by working on problems in special and general relativity, solid-state physics, cosmology, statistical mechanics, Brownian motion, atomic spectra, and unified field theories. You could also classify Lev Landau (1908–1968) as having held a job in general physics because he worked on problems in quantum mechanics, quantum electrodynamics, solid-state physics, diamagnetism, superfluidity, plasma physics, and superconductivity.

Today, physicists seeking careers in general physics need to have a strong understanding of the various branches of physics: classical mechanics, thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, electromagnetism, relativity, and quantum mechanics. Undergraduate course work might lead to an entry-level general physics job that touches upon all of these branches, with the exception of relativity. In a graduate school that grants doctorates in physics, special relativity is part of a course in quantum electrodynamics, which is a subfield of quantum mechanics. A graduate school might offer a course in general relativity taught by someone with an understanding of this area. Of course, there are many career opportunities in general physics at colleges and universities.

There are no journals with the titles Careers in General Physics or General Physics Jobs because these are not specific areas of research. However, Physical Review A, published by the American Institute of Physics, and the Journal of Physics B: Atomic, Molecular and Optical, published by the Institute of Physics, cover one of the main research areas in physics, spelled out in the second journal’s title and abbreviated AMO. The other areas of research in physics are condensed-matter physics, particle physics, astrophysics, geophysics, and biophysics.

A career in AMO means studying matter-matter and light-matter interaction on the scale of one or a few atoms. A job in condensed-matter means being a solid-state physicist. Particle physics is also called “high energy” physics because particle accelerators are used to create interactions at high energies. Astrophysics includes astronomy and cosmology. A job in geophysics means being an earth scientist. Many physicists develop careers in medical physics by working in radiation and radiology departments of hospitals. This might be considered an example of a job in biophysics.

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