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Physicist

Physicists investigate the nature of things. They try to learn why and how our physical world behaves the way it does. They apply physics to solve problems relevant to different fields such as electronics, medicine, and others.

  • Avg. Salary $126,434.00
  • Avg. Wage $58.57
  • Minimum Education 4 years post-secondary
  • Outlook N/A
Also Known As

Astrophysicist, Diagnostic Imaging Physicist, Medical Physicist, Physical Scientist, Plasma Physicist, Nuclear Medicine Physicist, Radiation Physicist, Research Scientist, Theoretical Physicist, Therapy Physicist, Thermal Physicist

NOC Codes

In Canada, the federal government groups and organizes occupations based on a National Occupational Classification (NOC) system. This alis occupation may not reflect the entire NOC group it is part of. Data for the NOC group can apply across multiple occupations.

The NOC system is updated every 5 years to reflect changes in the labour market. Government forms and labour market data may group and refer to an occupation differently, depending on the system used. Here is how this occupation has been classified over time:

  • 2006 NOC: Physicists (2111.1) 
  • 2006 NOC-S: Physicists and Astronomers (C011) 
  • 2011 NOC: Physicists and astronomers (2111) 
Skills Shortage

Employers that Recruited in the Last 2 Years

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Average Wage
Starting
Overall
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  • Certification Not Regulated
  • Strength Required Lift up to 5 kg
Interest Codes
The Physicist is part of the following larger National Occupational Classification (NOC).
Physicists
INNOVATIVE

Interest in synthesizing information to carry out analyses of research data in order to formulate and substantiate new theories, concepts and laws related to the properties and interactions of matter and energy; and in developing new processes and devices in fields such as electronics, communications, power generations and distribution, aerodynamics, optics and lasers, remote sensing, and medicine and health

OBJECTIVE

Interest in precision working with scientific instruments to conduct experiments; and in designing and developing instruments and procedures

DIRECTIVE

Interest in supervising technologists and technicians; and in participating as members of research and development teams

Reading Interest Codes
A Quick Guide

The interest code helps you figure out if you’d like to work in a particular occupation. 
It’s based on the Canadian Work Preference Inventory (CWPI), which measures 5 occupational interests: Directive, Innovative, Methodical, Objective and Social.

Each set of 3 interest codes is listed in order of importance.

A code in capital letters means it’s a strong fit for the occupation.

A code in all lowercase letters means the fit is weaker.

Learn More

Duties
Updated Mar 31, 2019

In general, physicists try to understand basic processes in nature. They also:

  • Develop practical applications, such as in electronics, communications, power generation and distribution, aerodynamics, optics and lasers, remote sensing, medicine, and health
  • Confront and solve technological problems, such as in diagnostic medical imaging, developing a model for the earth’s interior, and radiation-dose planning and shielding (in medical physics)

Many physicists specialize in areas such as:

  • Acoustics (the study of sound and its transmission)
  • Archaeometry (techniques to date and analyze archaeological materials)
  • Astronomy and astrophysics (the study of planets, stars, and galaxies)
  • Atmospheric physics (processes in planets’ atmospheres)
  • Atomic and molecular physics (the structure and behaviour of atoms and molecules)
  • Biophysics and physical biology (the way living organisms work at the cellular and molecular levels, such as how the brain stores information and how plants process light)
  • Condensed matter physics (the study of solids and liquids, such as materials for electronic computer chips, laser diodes, super conductivity, magnetic materials, alloys, and plastics)
  • Cosmology (the study of the universe from creation to the present)
  • Econophysics (the application of physical methods to economics)
  • Electromagnetics (the study of electricity and magnetism, such as electromagnetic waves and devices)
  • Environmental physics (the development and use of physical methods in environmental research)
  • General relativity (the study of black holes and gravitational radiation)
  • Geophysics (the study of the earth, including seismology, meteorology, climatology, aeronomy, and oceanography)
  • Health physics (the study of radiation hazards and how to protect against them)
  • Material science (the development of new materials with desired properties, such as plastic water bottles and steel-reinforced concrete)
  • Mechanics (the influence of forces on matter and the motions of particles in fields of force)
  • Medical physics (the use of physical principles to diagnose and treat human disease, including developing and using radiation tools and other ways of imaging bodily organs in a clinical setting)
  • Metrology (the development of measurement tools)
  • Nanoscience and nanotechnology (the control of matter at atomic and molecular levels to create new products, such as stain-resistant fabrics or next-generation integrated circuits)
  • Neurophysics (the study of the nervous system, such as how memory works)
  • Optics (the study of light, including its sources, behaviour, and effects)
  • Photonics (the study of optical networking)
  • Quantum physics (the behaviour of small systems, including particles, atoms, and photons, and their uses, such as computation and cryptography)
  • Space and plasma physics (the study of how ionized gas exists in space and its impact on various objects, including the earth)
  • Stable and radioactive isotope physics (the use of isotopic measurements in scientific analyses)
  • Subatomic physics or particle physics (the study of fundamental particles and forces in nature)
  • Theoretical and mathematical physics (the formulation of fundamental laws that govern the physical universe)
  • Thermodynamics (the study of heat and its effects on matter)

Physicists may study any of these areas by:

  • Carrying out experiments
  • Designing computer simulations (computational physics)
  • Searching for and developing theories that organize the results of experiments and computations

Physicists work with scientists in other fields, such as engineering, biology, chemistry, geology, mathematics, and computer science. They often combine physics with these sciences.

Working Conditions
Updated Mar 31, 2019

Physicists generally work in laboratories, classrooms, or offices. They also may work outdoors. Travel may be required, especially for those who work with large labs.

  • Strength Required Lift up to 5 kg
Skills & Abilities
Updated Mar 31, 2019

Physicists need:

  • Inherent curiosity
  • Perseverance
  • An aptitude for mathematics
  • Analytical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Creative and independent thought
  • An interest in building things or understanding how or why things work
  • Self-motivation and organizational skills
  • The ability to work with others

They should enjoy synthesizing information. They should like finding innovative solutions to problems. They should enjoy using sophisticated instruments and equipment to perform precision tasks. They should be comfortable supervising the work of others.

Educational Requirements
Updated Mar 31, 2019

Most physicists begin their post-secondary education with a 4-year bachelor of science (B.Sc.) degree in physics. They then earn a Master of Science (M.Sc.) or doctoral (PhD) degree in physics or a subdiscipline. In general, physicists who wish to do original research need a PhD and 1 to 5 years of post-doctoral research in a university or government laboratory. In medical physics, they need 1 to 2 years of post-degree clinical (residency) training.


Related Education

The following schools offer programs or courses that are related to this occupation but are not required to enter the field.

For a broad list of programs and courses that may be related to this occupation try searching using keywords.

Certification Requirements
Updated Mar 31, 2019

Certification is not required but may be an asset when seeking employment.

Available certifications include:

Employment & Advancement
Updated Mar 31, 2019

Physicists may work on a salaried or contract basis for:

  • Electronic, electrical, and aerospace manufacturing companies
  • Telecommunications companies
  • Power utilities
  • Private research and consulting firms
  • Universities
  • Government research establishments
  • Hospitals

Employment opportunities vary depending on whether they have a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree. Individuals with a B.Sc. or M.Sc. in physics may find work in design and development, administration, or sales positions. Teaching positions may require further education. For more information, see the Secondary School Teacher and College, Technical or Vocational Instructor occupational profile.

PhD physicists are more likely to be involved in basic or applied research, teaching at the university level, or administration. For more information, see the University Professor occupational profile.

Opportunities to advance vary depending on place and type of work. Physicists involved in research, or research and development, may supervise projects, direct research laboratories, or manage research departments. Some physicists eventually move into purely administrative or management positions.

Physicists are part of the larger 2011 National Occupational Classification 2111: Physicists and astronomers. In Alberta, 80% of people employed in this classification work in the following industries:

The employment outlook in this occupation will be influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • Trends and events affecting overall employment (especially in the industries listed above)
  • Location in Alberta
  • Employment turnover (work opportunities generated by people leaving existing positions)
  • Occupational growth (work opportunities resulting from the creation of new positions that never existed before)
  • Size of the occupation

Employment turnover is expected to increase as members of the baby boom generation retire over the next few years.

Wage & Salary
Updated Mar 31, 2019

Salaries vary widely depending on the position’s requirements and the individual’s qualifications.

In a university setting, salaries for assistant professors range from $70,000 to $120,000. Senior full professors can earn more than $140,000 a year (2019 estimate).

Physicists and astronomers

Survey Methodology

Survey Analysis

Overall Wage Details
Average Wage
Average Salary
Hours Per Week

Hourly Wage
For full-time and part-time employees
  • Low
  • High
  • Average
  • Median
Starting
Overall
Top
Wages* Low (5th percentile) High (95th percentile) Average Median
Starting $34.89 $51.07 $46.52 $51.07
Overall $36.28 $70.45 $58.57 $70.45
Top $41.83 $89.83 $70.08 $89.83

Swipe left and right to view all data. Scroll left and right to view all data.

* All wage estimates are hourly except where otherwise indicated. Wages and salaries do not include overtime hours, tips, benefits, profit shares, bonuses (unrelated to production) and other forms of compensation.

B: Good Reliability
Data Reliability Code Definition

Good Reliability, represents a CV of between 6.01% and 15.00% and/or fewer than 30 survey observations and/or if survey observations represent less than 50% of all estimated employment for the occupation.


Industry Information
Health Care & Social Assistance
ALL INDUSTRIES
Public Administration

Skills Shortage

Employers that Recruited in the Last 2 Years

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Recruiting Employers that Experienced Hiring Difficulties

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Employers with Unfilled Vacancies of over 4 Months

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Vacancy Rate

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Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
  • Sciences
Other Sources of Information
Updated Mar 31, 2019

Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) website careers section: www.cap.ca/careers

American Institute of Physics (AIP) website: www.aip.org/career-resources

Society of Physics Students (U.S.) website careers section: www.spsnational.org/cup

For more information on career planning, education and jobs call the Alberta Supports Contact Centre toll-free at 1-877-644-9992 or 780-644-9992 in Edmonton, or visit an Alberta Supports Centre near you.

Updated Mar 31, 2019. The information contained in this profile is current as of the dates shown. Salary, employment outlook, and educational program information may change without notice. It is advised that you confirm this information before making any career decisions.

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