Study Physics & Astronomy, why & how to study
Physics & Astronomy addresses the fundamental questions about the universe: How did it begin? What is it made of? How does it work?
Physics & Astronomy degrees develop your understanding of the relationship between the physical laws of the universe and how they apply across different scales of space and time.
For example, cosmology is the study of the origin, evolution and eventual fate of the universe. Astrophysics is concerned with the stars that fill it, and space science is the study of our local planetary neighbourhood.
At the other end of the scale, particle physics, nanotechnology and condensed matter physics focus on the atomic and subatomic domains to probe the physics of matter at its constituent level.
Undergraduate degrees in Physics & Astronomy include:
- Applied Mathematics and Physics MSci
- Astronomy and Physics BSc
- Computer Science and Physics BSc
- Earth and Planetary Science BSc
- Medical Physics MSci
- Theoretical Physics BSc
Options may include an integrated foundation year or master’s, industrial experience, or a year abroad.
Some courses may be flexible, allowing you to switch specialism (e.g. from Physics with Astrophysics to Physics with Particle Physics) or move from a three to a four-year degree.
Entry requirements will depend on the university, ranging from 96–168 UCAS tariff points. Qualifications may include:
- A Levels: A*A*A*–CCC
- BTECs: D*D*D–DMM
- Scottish Highers: AAAAA–BBBB (Advanced Highers: AAA– BBB)
- International Baccalaureate: 39–26
- Universities will usually ask that you have studied: physics and maths at A Level (or equivalent)
Other good subjects to have studied include:
- Further maths or other sciences including chemistry, geography or geology
- General studies and critical thinking A Levels may not be acceptable
Experience that would look good on your application:
- Work experience or shadowing related occupations such as a medical physicist in a hospital or in a research lab at a university
- Volunteering as a maths or physics tutor, or in a patient-focused role if you’re considering medical physics
- Research into the career, from science news (BBC or Guardian) or websites of the Institute of Physics (IoP) or Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine (IPEM)
- STEM summer schools or university work experience programmes
Other requirements for this subject include:
- Pass in the practical element of science taken at A Level
- Interview and admissions test may be required by some universities
Modules for courses in this subject could include:
- Atoms, stars and the universe
- Computer algebra
- Introduction to medical imaging
- Partial differential equations
- Physics of nano materials
- Programming for geoscientists
- Pure and applied geophysics
- Quantum and statistical physics
- Solar system science
- Solid state physics
- Thermal physics and the properties of matter
Courses may be assessed in a variety of ways, depending on the module:
- Literature review
- Practical lab sessions
- Written or oral presentations
Learn why the sky is blue. Find out why the world goes round. Discover how global warming works. If trying to find the answers to some of these questions sounds interesting, then this is the subject for you.
- Scientific processes such as research, reasoning, lab skills and experiment design
- Knowledge of natural laws in fields such as biomedical physics, optics or quantum mechanics
- Computing and data handling, which may include programming
- Computer literacy
- Logical and critical thinking and analysis
- Problem solving
- Project management
- Team working
- Degrees may be accredited by the Institute of Physics (IoP), and may fulfil or partly fulfil the academic requirements for Chartered Physicist status (CPhys)
Starting salaries for Physics & Astronomy graduates range between £18,000–£28,000.
Go into academic research and you’ll need a PhD, during which time you’ll be paid a stipend of around £15,600 (some organisations pay more). Average incomes for a postdoctoral researcher are £30,000–£40,000. Senior research fellows or lecturers could earn £53,000–£60,000.
If you gain a place on the NHS Scientist Training Programme you could work as a clinical scientist in the NHS. Training is salaried at NHS Band 6 (around £31,000). Once qualified, clinical scientists working in an area such as nuclear medicine could earn from £40,000–£76,000 (NHS Band 7 to 8c).
Some branches of physics have direct applications, such as nuclear physics and medical physics. Or your degree could lead to a career in scientific research and technological development – while the skills you gain can be useful in the financial services or law. Future careers could include:
- Academic researcher
- Automated test engineer
- Clinical scientist
- Market risk project manager
- Medical physicist
- Photonics programme manager
- Scrum master
- Software development engineer
Postgraduate opportunities are normally limited to those with a first degree in physics or a related subject like maths or engineering. Graduates with a Physics & Astronomy degree will require teacher training to become a teacher. Examples of postgraduate courses include:
- Astrophysics MSc/DPhil
- Nanoscience and Nanotechnology MSc
- Nuclear Science and Technology MSc
- Photonics MRes
- Particles, Strings and Cosmology MSc
Other subject areas that might appeal to you include:
- Computer Science
- Forensic Science
- General Engineering
- Materials Technology
Get in touch with our experts by emailing email@example.com with your question about studying Physics & Astronomy. We’ll be happy to hear from you!