Careers in Physics
A qualification in Physics or Applied Physics offers a wide range of career options. Physicists can be employed to carry out research and development in a large number of specialties (see below). However, in addition to their specialist knowledge, physicists are valued for their mathematical and computer literacy, and for their problem solving abilities. Applied physicists also obtain work in these areas but in particular are valued for their experimental skills, and knowledge of a broad range of techniques of use in both research and industry. Consequently physicists find employment in a wide variety of areas, many of which may not be obvious candidates to employ physicists.
Research in Physics
Physicists conduct research in a wide range of specialities, including:
Employment Prospects in Physics
Physics graduates find employment in many diverse areas. Here is a sample of some of the organisations which have employed our graduates:
Getting a Job now or doing further study?
The single undergraduate degree takes three years and it is then a good time for students to take stock of where they might want to go. Some are interested in gaining employment as soon as they can, whereas others, perhaps 70% of the students, are keen to further their studies. The usual first step is undertake the Honours program, which takes one further year. There is a marked increase in the independence of study expected for such students, both in terms of theoretical and experimental work. After that, students often take on further postgraduate research; either a Master of Science or a PhD, lasting about 1 or 3 years respectively. All of these postgraduate degrees are taken by research. After the Honours year, students typically look at other Universities, as well as within RMIT, to find the area of research they would like to follow and it is a time where students often swap between Universities. Those that complete a PhD are more likely to find employment as researchers.
Among our recent graduates are Jessica Gouthro (Single degree student working in acoustics) and Yoganya Arunothayaraj (double degree student working in a high tech science engineering firm).
Other past graduates are Nilanga de Silva and Clare Yeo (both working at the Bureau of Metrereology). Sam Towns is a graduate of the Instrumentation program (similar to the Applied Physics degree) now working with the Peter McCallum Cancer Institute.
Jessica was always keen on mathematics and physics at school. So it was a natural choice for her to look for a physics degree at University and she was particularly interested in the Applied Physics degree at RMIT because of its hands-on approach. As it happened, Jessica’s older brother, Will, had also previously chosen physics at RMIT and so Jessica followed in her brother’s footsteps.
The second and third years of the course were very busy for Jessica Many aspects of the course appealed to Jessica – she just liked learning all areas of physics. However she was particularly interested in photonics, the study of optics, lasers and holography and in the Professional experience subject she was able to work at Kodak. This concerned a project using ultrasonics to eliminate small bubbles from the photographic film Kodak was then producing.
After 3 years, Jessica completed her undergraduate degree and decided that after a short break she would look for work in acoustics, the same field her brother had found employment in. Jessica joined Vipac Engineers and Scientists, specialising in acoustics. She was rapidly given responsibilities in project management for work ranging from industrial noise measurement in gold mines to the application of noise reduction panels along the Monash freeway.
Jessica has recently moved on to Bassett Consulting Engineers, in a team working on a range of acoustic engineer jobs, and thoroughly enjoying it. Jessica and her brother are now acoustic consultants, but working in friendly rivalry for different firms.
“Being an astronaut was my goal from grade 5.” says Yoganya, graduate of the double degree in Applied Physics and Communication Engineering. After discussing her options with friends and family, and coming along to a number of Open Days, Yoganya chose to do a double degree in Computer Science and Communication Engineering at RMIT University. However after a short while, Yoganya decide to follow her love of physics and changed her double degree. She says it was the best decision she ever made. Yoganya worked hard, passing her subjects with excellent results in the minimum time.
During her time at University, Yoganya obtained professional experience at the Telstra Research Laboratories, which extended to working there over the summer months and part-time in her final year. Such experience put Yoganya in a very good position when later looking for permanent work and in the space of a few weeks in her final year, 2005, she had three major job offers. Yoganya decided to join a large Australian private company named Tenix, which has numerous divisions covering work from defence to energy utilities.
Yoganya joined the Corporate Graduate program within the company, which is an excellent training program designed to groom future leaders of the company. Graduates are given free rein over three years to choose a series of positions in the company, thus allowing them to rapidly gain a range of experiences. In 2006 Yoganya chose to join Tenix Defence Aerospace and worked within a group dealing with Electronic Warfare Self Protection systems. This allowed Yoganya to use her engineering skills in the aerospace industry, an area she has long been interested in, as well as giving her an insight into the career progression possibilities for engineers. The graduate program also had the benefit of letting her meet Dr. Paul Scully-Power, Australia’s first astronaut and Chief Technology Officer for the Tenix Group. As part of the graduate program experience, Yoganya will transfer in 2007 to the Tenix Intelligence Office in Canberra, to start working on areas in Business Intelligence and Strategy for Tenix Defence.
Yoganya enjoyed her time at University. In particular she appreciated the close contacts she made with the physics staff and students, such contact being made easier by the relative small class sizes. And it may be that in a few years time, she may come back to University to extend her studies with an MBA.
Ryan started a program in Robotics and Mechatronics at Swinburne University in 1998, but after a year of “asking too many questions for an engineer”, decided to instead enrol in the Applied Physics degree at RMIT – physics had always been his first love at school. Ryan took a year or so to properly find his feet at RMIT, but from second year onwards he really performed well. Meeting other people with similar interests in physics was very stimulating - formulating strong friendships helps tremendously in studying.
During his time as an undergraduate Ryan was able to obtain a summer job at ARPANSA, the Australian Radiation Protection And Nuclear Safety Agency, where he worked on their research linear accelerator. This led to him completing his third year project on the theoretical modelling of its various components and opened his eyes to the power and beauty of theoretical physics.
Ryan has always been fascinated by theoretical and mathematical physics, and he was able to follow these interests by choosing mathematics and theoretical physics electives in third and Honours years. During his Honours year, he became increasingly attracted towards theoretical condensed matter physics - how aggregates of quantum particles atoms collectively behave. It was in his Honours year that Ryan’s interest in theory was cemented, taking many additional courses in mathematics to improve his knowledge and understanding of the field.
Following the Honours program, Ryan was awarded a scholarship to undertake his PhD at RMIT, again in the field of theoretical condensed matter physics. ‘Amongst other things I am looking at how quantum particles interact at very low temperatures in a form of matter known as a Bose-Einstein Condensate. To do this we are using many high level mathematics and computation techniques, many of which have been developed in our group.’
In the first year, Ryan was given considerable leeway to investigate many pertinent areas of study to that he could more consciously elect the specific area he would concentrate on for his PhD. Early in 2006 he was chosen to give a presentation at the Young Australian Physics Researchers Forum at the Australian National University in Canberra as part of the Einstein International year of physics, and later that year travelled to Cambridge University England to work with the Theoretical Condensed Matter group for several weeks.
Coming now to the end of his three years, Ryan considers the PhD experience at RMIT to be fantastic, and now, “Everything’s coming together to make some nice physics.”
Doing a PhD in theoretical physics has opened many opportunities for Ryan, graduates not only in demand in the traditional areas of research, teaching and academia, but also in the banking in finance sector and the booming area of mineral exploration. ‘It’s hard work but all the study will definitely payoff’.
Claire Yeo - Bureau of Meteorology
Claire had been determined to join the bureau of Meteorology (BoM) ever since High School days. She chose to undertake the Applied Physics course after contacting the Bureau asking for advice on what kind of graduates were required. “One reason I chose RMIT was because it’s a close knit community where there’s personal contact with the lecturers.” Claire did her Industrial Experience subject at the BoM which not only gave her good team experience but also gave her “a big foot in the door.”
Claire was taken on permanently by the Bureau as a Professional Meteorologist and in her first year there she studied towards a Graduate Diploma in Meteorology. “I’m really drawing on the mechanics, thermodynamics and mathematics I learnt in the Applied Physics course.” After completion of her training, Claire chose to go to Brisbane to follow her speciality of severe weather forecasting.
Sam Towns - Peter McCallum Cancer Institute
Nearing the end of his studies at RMIT, Sam was not sure what he wanted to do. One possibility was to work at the radio telescope at Parkes, NSW, with the CSIRO. However during the final semester of the course, Sam spent some time at the Peter McCallum Cancer institute for his Industrial Experience subject. Two weeks after his final examination, the institute offered him a job as a scientific officer (medical physicist) in radiotherapy support. “It’s a fantastic place to work.” There are 11 medical physicists at the Institute, three of whom are RMIT graduates.
Sam’s work mainly revolves around the suite of electron linear accelerators which produce radiation to treat patients. Calculating and advising on dose regimes and ensuring that the machines are properly calibrated is just part of Sam’s work. Sam is currently enrolled part-time in the Master degree in Medical and Health Physics. His main research area is intensity modulated radiotherapy, which is a new means of more precisely providing the correct dose at the right location in the body.
Nilanga De Silva
“Physics is a real science. It’s practical, hands-on and it’s the basis for all engineering work,” claims Nilanga De Silva, physicist with Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology. “Physicists develop theories and then engineers use them.”
It was this idea of studying a base science that attracted Nilanga to study physics at RMIT in the first place. Having emigrated to Australia at the age of 21 from Sri Lanka, Nilanga enrolled in the Bachelor of Applied Science (Applied Physics) on the strength of his Sri Lankan GCE (Advanced level).
After graduating in 1997, Nilanga worked in the brewing industry, looking after the calibrations of chemical analysing instrumentation, a role which combined elements of chemistry with his knowledge of physics. Now with the Bureau of Meteorology, Nilanga is part of the team that provides Australians with accurate weather predictions.
“As a physicist at the Bureau of Meteorology, I take part in calibration and testing of weather instrumentation and statistical analysis of test data. With the various tests, we can simulate changes in pressure, temperature, rainfall and humidity – all the elements of weather. And through those simulations, we can make sure that measuring instruments are suitable for various Australian weather conditions and they produce accurate data.”
Accurate weather predictions are directly related to data collected through the Bureau of Meteorology’s network. Correctly calibrated instrumentation plays a very important role in this process.
“I’d heard of RMIT before I left Sri Lanka, so I checked it on Open Day,” says Nilanga. “I was impressed with the equipment, so I enrolled in the course.”
“It was a really great place to study, especially as the lecturers were so accessible. You didn’t need to make appointments, you could often just knock on their door and they’d be happy to talk to you,” he says. “And because the class sizes are small, everyone knows each other.”
“Basically, RMIT provides a great environment to study in.”