Careers for Physical Science Majors

What Can You Do With Your Major?


These physical science majors at MSU offer a wide range of career options:



Chemistry is the study of the composition, structure, properties, and reactions of matter, especially of atomic and molecular systems.

A person with a bachelor’s level education in chemistry is able to assume a variety of positions in industry and government. Chemists are also employed in a range of related professions, such as biotechnology, materials science, forensic science, and hazardous waste management.

What kinds of jobs do chemists get? What do they do?

The field of chemistry is huge, so there are many different types of chemists. For detailed descriptions of each specialty field, including job outlooks and salary info, visit the American Chemical Society website.

While laboratory research is the traditional career of chemists in industry, not all chemists working in industry are active researchers. Some chemists do quality analysis and testing; some do research outside of the laboratory. A chemistry degree can also lead to work in areas such as sales, marketing, consulting, purchasing, health and safety, and environmental science. Chemists are also in demand as secondary school teachers.

About 40% of recent MSU chemistry graduates went on to graduate school or professional school, 20% went into teaching, and 40% found employment in industry or governmental agencies. (2002 CERI data)

What do I need to learn to prepare for a career as a chemist?

Students planning careers as chemists or materials scientists need strong mathematical skills, and should like working with computers. Curiosity and the ability to concentrate on detail and to work independently are essential.

Because chemists are increasingly expected to work on interdisciplinary teams, understanding of other disciplines, especially business, marketing, and economics, is desirable, along with leadership ability and good oral and written communication skills. Experience through internships, undergraduate research, or co-op programs is highly valued by employers.

There are many career opportunities for chemists with a BS. However, many professionals hold either a Masters degree or a Ph.D. For this reason, individuals interested in careers in chemistry should give careful consideration to graduate study. Research the different jobs available at the BS, MS, and PhD levels as a part of choosing your major.

Majors you can choose in this field at MSU are:

  • Chemistry
  • Computational Chemistry
  • Chemical Physics
  • Biochemistry


Geoscience or Geology

Geoscientists use their knowledge of the physical makeup and history of the Earth to locate water, mineral, and energy resources; protect the environment; predict future geologic hazards; and offer advice on construction and land use projects.

The geosciences are extremely broad and diverse. Geology, paleontology, geochemistry, mineralogy, geophysics, hydrology, oceanography, marine science, atmospheric science, planetary science, meteorology, environmental science, and soil science are considered major geoscience disciplines.

For a summary of the different specialty fields in Geoscience, visit: Careers in the Geosciences (American Geoscience Institute)

What kinds of jobs do geoscientists get? What do they do?

Some geoscientists spend the majority of their time in an office, but many others divide their time between fieldwork and office or laboratory work. Environmental scientists and geoscientists often begin their careers in field exploration or as research assistants or technicians in laboratories or offices. They are given more difficult assignments as they gain experience. Eventually, they may be promoted to project leader, program manager, or another management and research position.

Detailed information about what geoscientists do, typical working conditions, and salary information can be found at: Environmental Scientists and Geoscientists (Department of Labor)

What do I need to learn to have a career as a geoscientist?

Mathematical ability, problem-solving and analytical skills, and curiosity are important traits for anyone planning a career in geology. Computer skills are essential for prospective environmental scientists and geoscientists. Students should seek out experience with computer modeling, data analysis and integration, digital mapping, remote sensing, and geographic information systems (GIS). Some employers seek applicants with field experience, so a summer internship or undergraduate research experience is very beneficial to geoscience students.

Prospective geoscientists who hope to work in industry should broaden their educational background to include courses such as economics, computer technology, and business management. Good oral and written communication skills are critical; many geologists work as part of a team, write research papers or proposals, and have contact with clients or customers with non-science backgrounds.

There are Bachelor’s level jobs in Geoscience available. However, more job opportunities and better advancement potential are available to those with at least a Master’s degree in Geology or Geophysics. Environmental scientists also require at least a Bachelor’s degree in Hydrogeology, Geochemistry or Geology, but employers often prefer candidates with Master’s degrees.

At MSU, nearly all recent geology graduates went on to a graduate program. 60% of students in the earth science program became teachers. About half of the students in the environmental geosciences program went directly to work in industry or government, and 20% entered a graduate program.

Majors you can choose in this field at MSU:

  • Environmental Geosciences
  • Geophysics
  • Geology
  • Earth Science
  • Physical Science
  • You may also want to investigate MSU RISE (Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment) program.

Resources for further exploration:

National Association of Black Geologists and Geophysicists (scholarships!)
Geoscience internships and mentoring program – Geological Society of America
Society of Exploration Geophysicists Student Page

Possible Job Titles for Geoscientists:

Development Geologist
Engineering Geologist
Environmental Geologist
Exploration Geophysicist
Field Geologist
Geological Consultant
Laboratory Technician
Petroleum Geologist
Radiation Safety Officer
Sales Representative





Physicists explore and identify basic principles governing the structure and behavior of matter and the interaction of matter and energy—in other words: Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Physics students develop the ability to analyze physical situations in quantitative terms; master sophisticated mathematical analytical methods; and develop skills necessary to handle a wide variety of instruments and the use of computers. Astronomy is a branch of physics dealing with the physical properties of the extraterrestrial universe.

What kind of jobs can I get with a degree in physics or astronomy?

Those with Bachelor’s degrees in Physics are usually not hired as Research Physicists. They are, however, well qualified to work as research technicians in private industry or non-research positions in the Federal Government. Physics majors also find employment in technical sales, as lab assistants in optics or industrial labs, or in health physics. For example, graduates might work in radiation monitoring, as electrical power plant operators, or as managers in nuclear medicine facilities.

Astronomy Bachelor’s degree holders are qualified to work in planetariums running science shows, assist astronomers with research, and operate space- and ground-based telescopes and other astronomical instrumentation.

Many physics and astronomy graduates become high school science teachers, since the demand for secondary physical science teachers is great.

Where do physics majors work?

In general, more students go on to graduate school than begin working immediately after graduation. 

What do I need to learn to have a career in physics or astronomy?

Strong mathematical ability, problem-solving and analytical skills, an inquisitive mind, and imagination are important traits for anyone planning a career in physics or astronomy. Good oral and written communication skills also are important. Many physicists work as part of a team, write research papers or proposals, or have contact with clients or customers with non-physics backgrounds.

Although there are many career opportunities for physicists with a BS, most professionals hold either a Masters degree or a Ph.D. According to a report from the American Institute of Physics, 63% of Physics Bachelors students go on to graduate study in physics or related fields nationwide.

At MSU, 75% of recent physics graduates went on to graduate study. For this reason, give careful consideration to graduate study. Research the different jobs available at the BS, MS, and PhD levels as a part of choosing your major.

Majors you can choose at MSU in this field are:

  • Physics
  • Astrophysics
  • Physical science

External links for more research:

Typical duties for a physicist could be:

  • Radiation Health Officer or Nuclear Technician: Developing standards of permissible concentrations of radioisotopes in liquids and gases.
  • Optical Engineer: Development of manufacturing, assembly, and fabrication processes of lasers, masers, infrared, and other light-emitting and light-sensitive devices.
  • Applications Engineer: Conducting application analysis to determine commercial, industrial, scientific, medical, military, or other uses for electro-optical devices.
  • Component evaluations or electronics specialist: Designing electronic circuitry and optical components with scientific characteristics to fit within specified mechanical limits.

Job titles of past graduates include:

Cyclotron Specialist
Laboratory Technician
Measurement Engineer
Research Associate
Software Engineer
Systems Engineer