Careers Service Occupations

Physical Science

Physical Science

About

There's an extensive range of careers in physical sciences, encompassing everything from astronomy and chemistry to maths and meteorology.

Careers advice

Industry news

Useful sources for news about the industry include:

Professional bodies

These represent people working in the sector, providing training and networking opportunities. They often provide careers support for students and graduates.

They also provide development for people already working in the sector. Follow them and sector skills bodies on LinkedIn, or visit their websites for news, contacts, work experience and vacancies.

Professional associations

Astronomy
Cast metal engineering
Chemistry
Colour development/technology
Geography
Geology
Maths
Marine and oceanography
Meteorology
Physics

Research councils and research centres

Sector skills councils/industry associations

Cogent is the sector skills council for science-based industries. SEMTA is the Science, Engineering, Manufacturing and Technologies Alliance.

Making contacts

Making contacts is essential for success in this sector. Many jobs in this field are gained through networking and speculative applications. 

Why not start with: 

Social media, particularly LinkedIn and Twitter, is useful for making contacts, finding employers and opportunities. Find out more about how to use social media for your career and subscribe to our sciences Twitter list.

Events

Recruitment fairs, open days, talks and events give insight and opportunities to make contacts. Regular events for this sector include Employer Presentations and Recruitment Fairs.

For more events for this sector, see Careers Service events or External Events.

Related sectors 

You may also be interested in Civil Engineering, Geomatics and ConstructionEnvironmentITHealthcare and Science careers outside the lab.

Or see our other occupational pages for more options.

Roles & Skills

There are lots of opportunities open to you with a degree in physical sciences.

You can find roles in areas from academic research and healthcare science, to research and development and product development.

A postgraduate qualification is not essential for some roles, though a Master’s can be useful. However, for other roles, such as in academic research, you may need either a research Master’s or PhD.

The following job profiles include descriptions of typical duties and entry requirements.

Analytical chemist

Astronomer

Clothing/textile technologist

Colour technologist

Geoscientist

Healthcare scientist, medical physics

Materials specialist

Metallurgist

Meteorologist

Nanotechnologist

Oceanographer

Product/process development scientist

Physicist

Radiation protection practitioner

Research scientist (maths)

Research scientist (physical sciences)

Scientific laboratory technician

Teaching laboratory technician

Skills employers look for

Employers in this sector look for skills including:

  • a high level of technical knowledge and computing ability
  • an analytical and investigative mind and the ability to organise and carry out research
  • attention to detail and a logical and methodical approach to problem solving
  • the ability to prioritise tasks, meet deadlines and work with minimum supervision
  • flexibility and the ability to work collaboratively in multidisciplinary teams
  • strong written and oral communication skills and the ability to communicate scientific information to non-experts

You may also need good practical laboratory skills and an awareness of health and safety requirements.

Gaining Experience

Getting into a career in physical science can be very competitive. Work experience can be invaluable in developing relevant skills and demonstrating your interest and commitment to recruiters.

Finding work experience

Several graduate employers, such as the Civil Service, Met Office and P&G, offer internships and industrial placements. Applications generally open around September, with closing dates as early as October and November. For advertised opportunities, see Internships, placements & shadowing

Smaller companies often don’t advertise opportunities. You may need to contact them directly with a speculative approach. Do this early, as it can be very competitive.

Several academic institutions and research institutes offer summer research projects to students. See scholarships and awards for funded research opportunities. 

Professional bodies and research institutes also advertise opportunities, including research, funding and studentships. The following organisations, for example, offer student internships and/or placements: 

See About for further organisations. 

Internships and placements

Specialist recruitment agencies

Recruitment agencies sometimes advertise placements and internships. They also have a wealth of industry knowledge.

CY PartnersCK Science and SRG are all based in the North East.

Finding companies

Find organisations that interest you and get in touch - always with a named contact. Be specific about why you are writing to them and what you’re looking for.

Show your enthusiasm for the sector and highlight any relevant skills. Don’t give up if you don’t get a reply – follow up with a phone call or email to show that you’re keen.

You can also find lab-based work experience through contacting university departments. Check school noticeboards and contact science departments. They may be looking for support staff or assistants during vacations or term time.

Other ways to gain experience

All work experience is valuable so if you can't find lab-based experience, why not try some of these alternatives for gaining skills and experience:

For more advice on gaining experience in a non-lab based environment, see Science careers outside the lab.

Scholarships & Awards

There are some scholarships and bursaries available to help science students gain research and lab-based experience in the summer. These are very competitive and have strict and often very early deadlines.

For summer research projects, you’ll need to first find a potential supervisor. This is usually someone in a university or research institute.

You could start by talking to your tutor or to a member of academic staff whose research you find interesting. In most cases, the application is made by your potential supervisor and not by you.

Deadlines listed here were accurate at time of writing but are subject to change. Check websites for specific details and for eligibility criteria.

See Vacation Studentship Schemes 2017‌ for a comprehensive list of schemes.

December deadlines

Kupcinet-Getz Program is an eight-week international science summer school in Israel for outstanding students in mathematics, physics and chemistry. Students will become part of a research group, attached to a laboratory or theoretical research project under the supervision of an experienced scientist. Accommodation and a small weekly stipend is provided.

February deadlines

Amgen Scholars provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to engage in hands-on summer research experience at some of the world's leading institutions.

Defence Science and Technology Laboratory offers various summer placements.

Geological Society Undergraduate Fieldwork Bursaries are sponsored by Novas Consultancy Ltd, an upstream consultancy (now part of the Hannon Westwood Group). Bursaries are available for undergraduate field mapping projects, with priority given to projects linked to studies of stratigraphy, structure or sedimentary geology/processes.

London Mathematical Society Undergraduate Research Bursaries provide research experience to undergraduates with research potential, to encourage them to consider a career in scientific research.

Royal Astronomical Society Undergraduate Research Bursaries provides motivated undergraduates with the opportunity to work in a research environment in any areas of astronomy and geophysics for part of the summer before their third or fourth year.

Royal Society of Chemistry Undergraduate Summer Research Bursaries provide funding for short (six to eight weeks) summer research projects for undergraduate chemistry students, working within a university department on a chemistry-related research project.

March deadlines

Newcastle University Research Studentships provide undergraduates who have research potential with experience of research and encourage them to take further postgraduate study.

Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) is a six-week programme for undergraduate students based within the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Space Research Centre at the University of Leicester. Projects are typically in the fields of astrophysics, space science and condensed matter physics. Successful candidates are allocated an individual research project and supervisor.

Robert Cormack Bequest/ Piazzi Smyth Bequest Vacation Research Scholarships offer a limited number of six-week undergraduate vacation research scholarships in the field of astronomy.

Finding Jobs

Use the following resources to find advertised vacancies and also research employers for speculative applications.

Professional bodies and research councils also advertise graduate positions. See About for a list of organisations.

For further sources of vacancies in universities and research institutions, see Research in Academia

Vacancy sites (general)

Vacancy sites (astronomy and physics)

Vacancy sites (chemistry)

Chemistry World Jobs and ChemJobs display advertised chemistry jobs.

Vacancy sites (maths)

Vacancy sites (meteorology and oceanography)

Specialist recruitment agencies

Recruitment agencies often advertise graduate and entry-level positions. They also have a wealth of industry knowledge.

Agencies based in the North East, that advertise across the UK and overseas, include CY PartnersCK ScienceCK Clinical and SRG.

Finding companies 

Find companies that interest you and get in touch directly – ideally with a named contact. Be specific about why you are writing to them and what you’re looking for.

Show your enthusiasm for the sector and highlight any relevant skills. Don’t give up if you don’t get a reply – follow up with a phone call or email to show that you’re keen.

For more advice on approaching companies directly, see TARGETjobs: Making speculative applications for graduate jobs. 

Talk to people in the sector, eg through an informational interview, to get insight into roles.

For more ways to find and research companies, see Researching Employers

To find out what Newcastle graduates have gone on to do with their degree, see the LinkedIn Find Alumni tool and What do graduates do?