menu icon
Book your open day visit nowClick to book open day

Physics master’s degree guide

As an expert in physics, you could work in many areas, from astronomy to healthcare to energy. Use our guide to learn more about physics masters, doctorates and other postgraduate qualifications.


What is a physics master’s degree?

Physics is the study of natural science and matter. It seeks to better understand some of the big questions of the world, in topics like:

  • Astrophysics
  • Radiation
  • Soft matter
  • Quantum technology

A physics masters will let you study the subject to a more specialised level than an undergraduate course. You’ll learn all about theoretical and experimental physics and how to apply them to current challenges in research.

Depending on the course you choose, you could be involved in activities like undertaking lab or field work, discussing ethical physics or conducting important research.


Why do a master’s degree in physics?

During a physics degree, you’ll be able to tailor your studies to your specific interests. Programmes are led by specialist academics, and you often have opportunities to collaborate with other scientists from around the world.

Many courses are designed to prepare you to respond to our society's challenges on a local, national and international scale. You’ll gain a high level of expertise that will make you suitable for various skilled careers, and employers usually see physics as a very flexible and desirable degree.

As well as specific theoretical, practical and research skills, you’ll develop transferable skills like:

  • Critical thinking
  • Communication of complex ideas
  • Data analysis
  • Investigation
  • Problem solving
  • Reasoning 


What qualifications can you get?

Qualification options include masters, doctorates, certificates and diplomas in physics. Each has a slightly different focus and style of teaching.

Masters in physics

Master of Science (MSc) in physics is usually a taught course informed by research. You choose from various module topics, attend lectures and seminars, apply your knowledge in a lab and complete a dissertation or research project. You gain many workplace skills and prepare for industry or public service work.

Research in physics

During a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in physics, you’ll undertake a large, independent research project. It’s mostly independent work, but you receive support from supervisors, academics and other researchers. A shorter option is the Master of Philosophy (MPhil).

Certificates and diplomas in physics

Postgraduate certificates (PGCert) and postgraduate diplomas (PGDip) are shorter versions of the master’s qualification. They can be useful for deepening your knowledge if you’re already working in a related career.


What jobs can you do with a master’s degree in physics?

You’ll have many career options to choose from. Physics graduates go into fields like biophysics, research and development, information technology, engineering, finance, medicine, photonics and nanotechnology.

Possible job roles include:

  • Astronomer
  • Clinical scientist
  • Data analyst
  • Lecturer or teacher
  • Nanotechnologist
  • Operational researcher
  • Patent attorney
  • Radiation protection specialist
  • Research scientist
  • Software engineer
  • Sound engineer

Many students continue in academia or research, either pursuing a doctorate degree or working for a research institution.


What are the master’s degree requirements?

To qualify for a master’s course, you’ll usually need:

  • MSc – bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) with second-class honours in a relevant subject such as physics, engineering, mathematics, computer science or a physical science

Depending on the course and university, you might be admitted if you have significant professional experience relevant to the area, along with a demonstrated strong interest and knowledge of physics and enthusiasm for education.

For other postgraduate courses, you’ll usually need:

  • PGCert/PGDip – same as for a masters
  • MPhil/PHD – same as for a masters, or a relevant master’s degree (or equivalent). You may need to submit a research proposal


What physics courses are there?

Examples of postgraduate physics degrees you can study in the UK:

  • Materials and Physics Postgraduate Research MPhil
  • Medical Physics MSc
  • Nuclear & Environmental Physics MSc
  • Physics MRes
  • Physics PhD
  • Physics and Astronomy MPhil


What do you learn in a physics master’s degree?

Module themes and research topics could include:

  • Advanced quantum theory
  • Analytical laser spectroscopy
  • Antihydrogen, positronium and positrons
  • Climate and energy
  • Cold atom physics
  • Galaxy dynamics, formation and evolution
  • Mathematics for general relativity
  • Nano-scale physics and life sciences
  • Physics of advanced materials
  • Theoretical condensed matter 


How will you be taught and assessed?

Taught physics courses (MSc/PGCert/PGDip) are usually led through a mixture of lectures, seminars, group work, tutorials and practical and lab-based activities. You could be assessed through coursework, exams, essays, literature surveys, presentations and a dissertation.

On a research degree (MPhil/PhD), you’ll work with supervisors and a research team, but your project will be largely independent. You’ll be assessed on a written thesis and viva exam.


How long is a master’s degree in physics?

It depends on your chosen course. Usually, full-time physics courses last:

  • MSc – one to two years
  • MPhil – one to two years
  • PhD – three to four years
  • PGCert – around 15 weeks or one term
  • PGDip – around 30 weeks or two terms

Part-time courses can be twice as long.


Similar subjects to physics

Other subjects like physics that you could study include:

  • Acoustics
  • Astronomy
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Engineering
  • Quantum mechanics 

Your Next Steps