Theoretical Physics Courses

By Mariza Halliday - Last update

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What is Theoretical Physics?

The aim of physics is to discover and understand the laws of causes and effects. Theoretical Physics is the science of making sense of the laws governing nature and understanding the world around us and all aspects of objects and their interactions.

Theoretical physicists do not conduct experiments or observe nature directly, instead, they spend their time in the lab or classroom using mathematics to develop and refine physics theories. Theoretical physicists invent and study theories. These theories are written in a mathematical language and use mathematical tools. The discipline of mathematical physics focuses on the more formal aspects of physics.

What 3rd level courses are available?

Universities and colleges in Ireland are offering Theoretical Physics courses in the following subject areas:

  • MSc in Astrophysics & Relativity – Gain advanced knowledge of astrophysics, general relativity, computational science, and data analysis and the up-to-date skills required to understand the universe we live in.
  • LC Physics: Preparation Course for Leaving Certificate Physics Exam – The objective of this Leaving Cert Physics course of study is to ensure you will be well prepared to succeed in your Leaving Certificate Physics examination.
  • Physics by Experiment – An introduction to experimental physics, with hands-on experience of practical techniques and experiments, in well-equipped laboratories under professional supervision.
  • Astrophysics – Explore the astrophysics of stars and planets beyond our solar system, examining their properties, structure, evolution, and the physical processes that occur within them.

Studying Theoretical Physics in college

Many Theoretical Physics courses take place over 1 year to 4 years depending on the course and modules selected. There are also part-time courses and night courses available so you can be sure to fit in your studies no matter what your schedule is like.

Courses will cover theory work through lectures, assignments, tutorials, and taught modules. Assessments will take place continuously with written examinations and practical assignments combined to achieve a qualification. You could also consider work experience or research internships. These opportunities may be based in research institutes, universities, or a combination of the two, and are an ideal opportunity to demonstrate your potential to a future supervisor.

Work Experience will not only allow you to obtain a deeper knowledge and understanding of the industry, but it will also give you a chance to do some essential networking with other industry professionals and gain valuable contacts for the future.

Similarly, industry-based summer internships in a research and development environment can also provide excellent experience and insights. Some academic researchers enter the role with significant industry experience, rather than a Ph.D., so you should explore all relevant options and apply accordingly.

Career options

After completing a course in Theoretical Physics you will be able to get started in a career that uses specific knowledge of scientific concepts and theories.

In academic research, a significant amount of time will be spent on planning research, attending meetings with colleagues, and contributing to the strategic direction of your department or group.

Within the Theoretical Physics field, the aim is to publish papers on your work in peer-reviewed, well-respected journals and will write reports, books, or chapters of books on your specialist area of knowledge. You could also be involved in the teaching and supervision of university students and speaking at conferences. Staff employed by research institutes may deliver teaching in the associated universities and supervise Ph.D., Masters, and undergraduate projects as part of their role.

Working hours will depend on whether you are employed by a company with set business hours or if you are contracted to various facilities or companies. The hours are usually full-time, Monday to Friday. You should expect to work some long hours, including evenings and weekends, to fit in time for things like projects and research publication deadlines, lectures and lecture preparation, tutorials, your research, open days, students’ supervision, and administrative tasks.

Highly experienced and knowledgeable academic researchers may work freelance, completing numerous short-term contracts. Some employers allow staff to request a period of sabbatical leave, normally lasting three to 12 months. This is typically unpaid, but working freelance or writing a book can develop long-term career prospects.

Depending on your subject area, you may work in lecture theatres, classrooms, studios, laboratories, libraries, hospital wards, or occasionally outdoors if your research includes any fieldwork.

Related jobs include:

  • Academic researcher
  • Astronomer
  • Clinical scientist
  • Geophysicist
  • Higher education lecturer
  • Metallurgist
  • Meteorologist
  • Nanotechnologist
  • Research scientist
  • Secondary school teacher
  • Sound engineer
  • Technical author
  • Clinical technologist
  • Data analyst
  • Nuclear engineer
  • Operational researcher

Further study

After completing a course in Theoretical Physics you may choose to pursue further study in a specialist field to increase your knowledge base and skillset. Postgraduate study can also be used as a means to change career focus or to gain professional qualifications required to practice in certain career areas such as technology and innovation.


What is the difference between physics and theoretical physics?

Theoretical physicists come up with theories to explain unexplained experimental results and to predict new results; while Experimental physicists conduct experiments or observations if experiments are not possible.

What skills could be helpful for a career in Physics?

You will need a high level of intellectual ability to plan and carry out research, technical aptitude to learn how to use new equipment and emerging technology, and flexibility and resilience to keep going when research doesn’t generate results in the expected timescale.

Excellent verbal communication skills to present ideas and conclusions in lectures and presentations and concise and meaningful high-level written communication skills for publishing work, conference proceedings, and funding bids will also be a big part of any role you take on within the field.

Other general skills that would be useful in many industries include organization skills to plan your workload and support team members, interpersonal skills to develop strong working relationships and trust with a broad range of people, and excellent teamwork skills.

Where can I study Theoretical Physics?

Explore your options here

Did You Know?

· If you traveled at the speed of light, time would stop. According to Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, the faster you go, the slower time passes for you relative to your surroundings.

· The amount of total mass in the universe is vastly greater than the mass we can account for. Physicists developed an explanation for this, and the leading theory right now is that dark matter—a mysterious substance that emits no light—accounts for the missing mass. Dark matter and dark energy account for approximately 95% of the mass in the universe.

· All the matter that makes up the human race could fit into a block the size of a sugar cube. Everyone who has ever lived could be squashed into a little hunk of the matter about half-an-inch on each side, if only you reduced us down to our basic components. Atoms are, after all, 99.9999999999999% space.

· Planets don’t travel in a circular motion. They orbit suns because space-time itself is bent. This is because, in a sense, gravity actually bends the fabric of the universe. Concepts like this are really where you begin to appreciate the monumental genius of men like Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein. 

Mariza Halliday

Economics and Geography
Science Courses


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