We grow up listening to the names of physicists like Archimedes, Galileo, Faraday, Newton, Einstein and Feynman. But physics is not just about extraordinary discoveries and inventions. While physics challenges our minds with abstract and esoteric concepts like relativity and string theory that are far removed from day-to-day life, it also finds application in lifechanging technologies — from healing joints, to curing cancer and developing sustainable energy solutions. Read on to learn about the myriad career paths that physics can offer.
Required skills and attributes
Physicists are essentially problem solvers. Their analytical skills make them a highly versatile tribe, capable of adapting and working in diverse domains and environments. Academicians working in this field emphasise the ‘right mind-set’ among students wanting to pursue physics. According to Professor Balachandran Sathiapalan of the Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Chennai, a student of physics should be inquisitive and not accept that there can be only one way to solve a problem. He also stresses the importance of being motivated and curious, as a lot of physics can be self-taught (a great way to learn the subject given the wide range of learning resources available).
Where to study?
Physics, both at the undergraduate and post graduate level, is fairly broad based and gives students exposure to a wide range of areas. A few colleges do offer specialisations like astrophysics and biophysics at a postgraduate level. The government, recognising the importance of pure sciences, has started numerous institutes including the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), new Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and the National Institute of Science Education and Research (NISER). These institutes are good places to pursue undergraduate and post graduate studies.
“For careers in physics, one needs to have the ability to visualise situations, reasonable graphical and numerical skills and the persistence to understand the logic behind explanations of phenomena. While it is a subject that needs diligent attention during class lectures, it is also a subject that needs lesser memorisation, compared to other sciences.”
Retired naval architectural engineer and high school teacher of physics at Abacus Montessori School, Chennai.
Mathematics and physics are very closely related. Students who want to pursue a career in physics should have a strong base in mathematics as well.
The IITs screen aspirants through the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE), while IISER, IISc also make use of the IIT–JEE (mains and advanced) merit lists. IISER aspirants also have other routes like the Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana (KVPY) tests administered by the Indian Institute of Science. Other top institutes in the country like BITS and the National Institute of Science Education and Research (NISER) have their own entrance tests.