When you get your undergraduate degree. But with only an undergraduate degree you many not secure a very good job.
Steps to becoming a Physicist:
1) in high school, read popular books on physics and try to make contact with real physicists, if possible. (Role models are extremely important. If you cannot talk to a real physicist, read biographies of the giants of physics, to understand their motivation, their career path, the milestones in their career.) A role model can help you lay out a career path that is realistic and practical. The wheel has already been invented, so take advantage of a role model. Doing a science fair project is another way to plunge into the wonderful world of physics. Unfortunately, well-meaning teachers and counselors, not understanding physics, will probably give you a lot of useless advice, or may try to discourage you. Sometimes you have to ignore their advice.
Don’t get discouraged about the math, because you will have to wait until you learn calculus to understand most physics. (After all, Newton invented calculus in order to solve a physics problem: the orbit of the moon and planets in the solar system.)
Get good grades in all subjects and good SAT scores (i.e. don’t get too narrowly focused on physics) so you can be admitted to a top school, such as Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, MIT, Cal Tech. (Going to a top liberal arts college is sometimes an advantage over going to an engineering school, since it’s easier to switch majors if you have a career change.)
2) next, study four years of college. Students usually have to declare their majors in their sophomore (2nd) year in college; physics majors should begin to think about doing (a) experimental physics or (b) theoretical physics and choosing a specific field.
The standard four year curriculum:
a) first year physics, including mechanics and electricity and magnetism (caution: many universities make this course unnecessarily difficult, to weed out weaker engineers and physicists, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t ace this course! Many future physicists do poorly in this first year course because it is made deliberately difficult.).
Also, take first (or second) year calculus.
b) second year physics – intermediate mechanics and EM theory.
Also, second year calculus, including differential equations and surface and volume integrals.
c) third year physics – a selection from: optics, thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, beginning atomic and nuclear theory
d) four year physics – elementary quantum mechanics
Within physics, there are many sub-disciplines you can choose from. For example, there is solid state, condensed matter, low temperature, and laser physics, which have immediate applications in electronics and optics. My own field embraces elementary particle physics as well as general relativity. Other branches include nuclear physics, astrophysics, geophysics, biophysics, etc.
Often you can apply for industrial jobs right after college. But for the higher paying jobs, it’s good to get a higher degree.
3) so then there is graduate school. If your goal is to teach physics at the high school or junior college level, then obtaining a Masters degree usually involves two years of advanced course work but no original research. There is a shortage of physics teachers at the junior college and high school level.
If you want to become a research physicist or professor, you must get a Ph.D., which usually involves 4 to 5 years (sometimes more), and involves publishing original research. (This is not as daunting as it may seem, since usually this means finding a thesis advisor, who will simply assign you a research problem or include you in their experimental work.) Funding a Ph.D. is also not as hard as it seems, since a professor will usually have a grant or funding from the department to support you at a rate of about $12,000 per year or more. Compared to English or history graduate students, physics graduate students have a very cushy life.
Answered By: stpeteblueslover - 10/13/2012