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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.

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

  • 2111.1: Physicists

2006 NOC-S

  • C011: Physicists and Astronomers

2011 NOC

  • 2111: Physicists and astronomers

2016 NOC

  • 2111: Physicists and astronomers

2021 NOC

  • 21100: Physicists and astronomers

2023 OaSIS

  • 21100.02: Astronomers
Duties
Updated Mar 24, 2023

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

  • Develop practical applications for the principles of physics, 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, radiation-dose planning, and shielding for cancer treatment and medical imaging (in medical physics)
  • Develop models for the way the earth (both interior and exterior) works, and contribute to solving economic and environmental questions by applying fundamental knowledge of physical sciences to real-world problems

Many physicists specialize in areas such as:

  • Acoustics (the study of sound and its transmission)
  • Archaeometry (the development of techniques to date and analyze archaeological materials)
  • Astronomy and astrophysics (the study of planets, stars, and galaxies)
  • Atmospheric physics (the study of processes in planets’ atmospheres)
  • Atomic and molecular physics (research into the structure and behaviour of atoms and molecules)
  • Biophysics and physical biology (the study of how 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)
  • Electrochemistry (the study of interactions between matter and an electric field)
  • 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 (research into black holes and gravitational radiation)
  • Geophysics (the study of the earth, including seismology, meteorology, climatology, aeronomy, and oceanography)
  • Health physics (the study of radiation in academic, government, industrial, medical, nuclear power, research, and other civilian and military applications)
  • Material science (the development of new materials with desired properties, such as environmentally safe plastics and steel-reinforced concrete)
  • Mechanics (research into the ways physical forces influence matter and the motions of particles in fields of force)
  • Medical physics (the use of physical principles to diagnose and treat human disease, including diagnostic imaging and the use of radiation for cancer treatment)
  • Metrology (the development of measurement tools)
  • Nanoscience and nanotechnology (research into 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 (research into 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 (research into 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 discovery and formulation of fundamental laws of nature 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 24, 2023
  • Strength Required Lift up to 5 kg

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.

Interests & Abilities

In Alberta, this occupation is part of 1 or more 2006 National Occupational Classification (NOC) groups. If there are multiple related NOC groups, select a NOC heading to learn about each one.

Physicists

2006 NOC: 2111.1

Interest Codes

Interest Codes for This NOC Group
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

Your Interest Codes

To identify or change your interest codes, complete the Interests Exercise in CAREERinsite.

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 for this NOC group 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 About Interests

Abilities

Typical ability expectations for this NOC group
Your abilities

To fill in or change the values for your abilities, complete the Abilities Exercise in CAREERinsite.

Mental Abilities

General Learning Ability

Verbal Ability

Numerical Ability

Visual Abilities

Spatial Perception

Form Perception

Clerical Perception

Physical Abilities

Motor Coordination

Finger Dexterity

Manual Dexterity

Understanding Abilities

A Quick Guide

You are born with abilities that help you process certain types of information and turn it into action. These abilities influence which skills you can learn more easily.

The abilities or aptitudes shown for this NOC group come from the General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB). The GATB measures 9 aptitudes. It groups them into 3 categories: mental, visual, and physical.

The abilities scores range from 1 to 5, with 5 being stronger.

Learn About Abilities

Traits & Skills
Updated Mar 24, 2023

Physicists need:

  • Curiosity
  • Perseverance
  • Advanced math skills
  • Analytical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Creative and independent thought
  • Self-motivation and organizational skills
  • The ability to work with others

They should enjoy:

  • Synthesizing information
  • Building things and finding out how or why things work
  • Finding innovative solutions to problems
  • Using sophisticated instruments and equipment to perform precision tasks
  • Working with others.

In Alberta, this occupation is part of 1 or more 2016 National Occupational Classification (NOC) groups. If there are multiple related NOC groups, select a NOC heading to learn about each one.

Top 10 Skills Employers Are Looking For

Physicists and astronomers

2016 NOC: 2111

This chart shows which job skills are currently in highest demand for this occupational group. It was created using this occupation's 11 most recent Alberta job postings, collected between Nov 02, 2021 and Jul 16, 2024.

Review these skills to learn:

  • Whether or not this occupation matches your skill set
  • What training you may need to get these skills
  • What skills to highlight in your resumé, cover letter, and interview.
Construction Specialization: Excellent oral communication
Construction Specialization: Excellent written communication
Construction Specialization: Accurate
Construction Specialization: Team player
Tasks: Participate as a member of a research or development team in the design and development of experimental, industrial or medical equipment, instrumentation and procedures
Art or Fashion Design Experience: Medical and health physics
Health benefits: Vision care benefits
Health benefits: Dental plan
Work Setting: Hospital/medical facility or clinic
Health benefits: Health care plan
Educational Requirements
Updated Mar 24, 2023
  • Minimum Education 4 years post-secondary

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.

To expand or narrow your search for programs related to this occupation, visit Post-Secondary Programs.

Completing a program does not guarantee entrance into an occupation. Before enrolling in an education program, prospective students should look into various sources for education options and employment possibilities. For example, contact associations and employers in this field.

Certification Requirements
Updated Mar 24, 2023
  • Certification Not Regulated

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

Available certifications include:

Employment & Advancement
Updated Mar 24, 2023

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 physicists 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 profiles.

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 the place and type of work. Physicists involved in research and development may plan and conduct studies, supervise projects, direct research laboratories, or manage research departments. Some physicists eventually move into purely administrative or management positions. Physicists working in the public sector may also lead technology transfer programs and provide advice in reports, contracts, or agreements.

Industry Concentration

This section shows the industries where the majority of people in this occupation work. The data is based on the 2016 Census.

In Alberta, this occupation is part of 1 or more 2016 National Occupational Classification (NOC) groups.

In the 2111: Physicists and astronomers occupational group, 77.9% of people work in:

Employment Outlook

Employment outlook is influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • Time of year (for seasonal jobs)
  • Location in Alberta
  • Employment turnover (when people leave existing positions)
  • Occupational growth (when new positions are created)
  • Size of the occupation
  • Trends and events that affect overall employment, especially in the industry or industries from the previous list

In Alberta, the 2111: Physicists and astronomers occupational group is expected to have a below-average annual growth of 2.2% from 2021 to 2025. In addition to job openings created by employment turnover, 9 new positions are forecasted to be created within this occupational group each year.

Note
NOC groups often include several related occupations. Although there is labour market data for the larger NOC group, this occupation makes up only a part of that group. It means data for this occupation may be different than the data shown. For example, only some of the new positions to be created will be for this occupation. It also applies to other data for the NOC group such as number of people employed.

Source: 2021-2025 Alberta Regional Occupational Demand Outlook

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

Related Alberta Job Postings
Wage & Salary
Updated Mar 24, 2023

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

In Alberta, this occupation is part of 1 or more 2016 National Occupational Classification (NOC) groups. If there are multiple related NOC groups, select a NOC heading to learn about each one.

Physicists and astronomers

2016 NOC: 2111
Average Wage
$64.69
Per Hour
Average Salary
$116,852.00
Per Year
Average Hours
34.9
Per Week
Average Months on Payroll
12
Survey Methodology Survey Analysis

Source
2021 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey

NOC 2111 Wage Profile

Unless otherwise noted, the data shown here is for all industries and all regions in Alberta.

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.

To see the full survey data for this NOC group, visit the wage profile.

Other wage sources
To make an informed wage and salary decision, research other wage sources [pdf] to supplement this data.

C: Lower Reliability
Data Reliability Code Definition

Lower Reliability, represents a CV of between 15.01% and 33.00% and/or if fewer than 20 survey observations and/or if survey observations represent less than 33% of all estimated employment for the occupation.


Hourly Wage

For full-time and part-time employees
  • Low
  • High
  • Average
  • Median
Starting
Overall
Top

Hourly Wage

For full-time and part-time employees
Wages* Low (5th percentile) High (95th percentile) Average Median
Starting $36.25 $62.72 $41.86 $39.45
Overall $49.52 $69.74 $64.69 $67.87
Top $52.12 $92.48 $78.71 $77.10

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.

Pay brackets for hourly wages

  • Starting pay: average pay offered for entry-level positions
  • Overall pay: average pay across all employees in this occupation
  • Top pay: average pay offered to top-paid employees

Industry Information

ALL INDUSTRIES
Health Care & Social Assistance
Public Administration

Skills Shortage

Employers that Recruited in the Last 2 Years
N/A
Recruiting Employers that Experienced Hiring Difficulties
N/A
Employers with Unfilled Vacancies of over 4 Months
N/A
Vacancy Rate
N/A
Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
  • Sciences
Other Sources of Information
Updated Mar 24, 2023

Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) website careers section: www.cap.ca/programs/careers-and-employment/physics-careers/employment-opportunities/

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

Association of Medical Physicists in Alberta (AMPA): www.abmedphys.com

Society of Physics Students (U.S.) website “Careers Using Physics (CUP)” section: www.spsnational.org/cup

Get information and referrals about career, education, and employment options from Alberta Supports.

Updated Mar 24, 2023. 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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