Physics is one of the most crucial sciences for making sense of the world around us.
From the tiniest particle moving around in the nucleus of an atom to infinitely vast galaxies, its scope covers the entire universe. Observing and describing the components of matter, their properties, and the forces which govern them and their effects in a quantitative and conceptual manner is what drives physicists.
But physics is also about discovering new natural phenomena and predicting the behavior of previously unknown components. With the help of mathematics, physicists look to develop models which enable what is hidden in the boundaries of time, space, and matter to be explained.
Along with mathematics, physics is one of the bases of any engineering training. It consequently plays a key role in improving quality of life. Many fields such as materials science, microtechnology, and biotechnology increasingly depend on the understanding of physical phenomena. The development of new energy sources is also closely tied into fundamental research in physics, using and developing modern experimental means and the most advanced theoretical knowledge.
Physicists are both researchers and managers of projects and of teams working on solving concrete technical problems. Their general training opens up career prospects every bit as broad as the field of investigation of the chosen specialization. Fundamental research, applied research in the field of specialized technology, the management of companies or public institutions, and teaching are among the many possible career options in which physicists are able to progress according to their goals and field of expertise. While being rooted in the practical, training in physics requires good mathematical skills, a marked taste for scientific rigor, and a penchant for conceptualization and abstraction.
Bachelor: simplified study plan
During the first year, the students acquire a basic knowledge of analysis, linear algebra, and general physics (foundation year).
During the second and third year, the students embark on more specific training with classes in analytical mechanics, quantum physics, statistical physics, solid-state physics, etc. This program is complemented by specific options and practical work.
The Master’s studies offer a wide range of options covering most fields of modern physics:
- theoretical, quantum, and statistical physics
- solid-state physics
- relativity and cosmology
- plasma physics
- nuclear and particle physics
- nonlinear systems
Training also includes practical work carried out in the laboratory (high-energy physics, accelerator physics, surface physics, etc.).
The students also have the option, for 30 additional ECTS credits, of choosing a specialization (minor) in fields such as space or medical technology or doing a 4-6 month internship in industry to obtain the title of “Physicist Engineer”.
Other programs are also open after graduating with the Bachelor’s degree, in particular some interdisciplinary Master’s programs.
Further information on Master’s study programs.
Please note that the information regarding the programs’ structure as well as the simplified study plan may be subject to change and that these are no legally binding. Only the official regulations and study plans are binding.
Their solid grounding in both theory and practice, along with their ability to adapt to any field that requires an analytical mind, also enables them to engage their skills in banking and insurance.
Finally, while some choose to teach as a means of sharing their passion for the discipline, others prefer research and development by continuing their academic career through the numerous PhD programs available in Switzerland and elsewhere.
Physicists can find a job in so many different fields: basic research, finance, engineering, and politics.
I work for a national telecommunication company, upc cablecom. My job is to do statistical analysis and to model the contact center (the center our customers contact for information or technical problems). Our forecasts estimate for example how many calls the contact center will handle in the next days. They require very complex statistical models and are essential to optimize the contact center agents’ schedules.
Before entering the business world, I worked in basic research. After my Master’s degree, I decided to do a PhD in the Plasma and Fusion Laboratory (CRPP) at EPFL, one of the best labs in Europe in this field. I was completely fascinated by plasma physics (hot gas physics) and I wanted to do more research on that topic.
Living a PhD student’s life is quite nice, but you need some tenacity, too! Writing a PhD thesis can be a complicated process, and you have to deal with the unavoidable difficulties of research. But you also have freedom in your working hours, you are part of a research group – around 20 to 30 PhD students from all over the world do their PhD at the CRPP, which means that there is a great international atmosphere – and once a year, you have the opportunity to travel to attend a conference and present your work.
Coming from EPFL, I adapted very easily in my new job at upc cablecom: an EPF physicist is very well prepared for any professional challenge. Of course, finding a first job can take a couple of months, but it is important to persevere and to be flexible! And once you are in the job market, the quality of EPFL studies (with or without a PhD) and the analytical mind you have developed will give you a good advantage.
Working in a telecommunication company is extremely interesting, as it combines the business tasks of a company and the telecommunications technology. It is a fast changing field that offers many challenges. And the possibility to discover the business world and to use my technical background at the same time is great!