Bertsch received a B.A. in physics from Swarthmore College in 1962 and earned his Ph.D. from Princeton University in 1965. He was an instructor and then an assistant professor of physics at Princeton until 1971, when he joined the faculty of Michigan State University. Apart from a one-year stint at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, he remained at MSU until 1992, when he became a professor of physics at the University of Washington, as well as a senior fellow at the Institute for Nuclear Theory.
In addition to his editorial experience at RMP, Bertsch was one of six editors of Physical Review B, and served on the editorial boards of Physical Review C and the Annual Review of Nuclear Science. His professional service to the scientific community includes involvement with the Department of Energy's Nuclear Physics Review Panel and development of its Nuclear Physics Long-Range Plan, as well as service on the Executive Board of the APS Division of Nuclear Physics, which Bertsch chaired from 1983 to 1984.