Physicists study the principles and laws that govern physical phenomena such as motion, energy, structure and interactions of matter.
Career paths in physics include intriguing endeavors such as investigating the origin of the universe to developing new medical equipment, and everything in between.
A bachelor’s degree in physics is the typical qualification for research assistant or technician positions. High-paying independent and faculty research positions in physics typically require a doctorate degree. Those with a master’s degree can qualify for supervised positions in research and development. Many graduate students obtain an undergraduate degree in physics, and pursue their master’s degree in a subfield of physics, opening up additional job opportunities.
Physicists explore the basic laws of nature through scientific observation, experiments and analysis. They seek to answer the most pressing questions surrounding such forces as electromagnetism, nuclear interactions, and gravity.
There are two main categories of physicists:
Physicists who study subjects such as the origin of the universe and the nature of time.
Physicists who apply the laws of physics to the development and advancement of materials, equipment, and other devices.
An education in physics opens the door to a variety of professions and research topics including:
The application of the laws of physics to Earth’s processes such as volcanoes, tectonic plates, the atmosphere and the gravitational field.
The study of celestial objects and matter outside the earth’s atmosphere.
The intersection between physics and engineering where the laws of physics are applied to practical engineering problems and technology.
Solutions of complex problems by the creation or application of new technology.
Exploration of the components, behavior and structure of atomic nuclei.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, over half of all physicists are employed by the Federal Government or in research and development firms. Most others work as teachers or in production-related jobs in private firms.
A career as a physicist can be quite lucrative. The U.S. Department of Labor reported an average annual salary of $111,769 for physicists employed by the Federal Government in 2007. Those working in scientific research and development earned an annual mean wage of $102,610. Physicists hired in engineering and related fields received an annual mean wage of $93,980 and those employed by universities or professional schools earned an annual mean wage of $73,630. Physicists working in the medical field received the highest annual mean salary at $133,700.
Jobs in physics are expected to grow by 7 percent over the next several years. Competition for physics jobs in research laboratories are expected to be fierce, but opportunities should be plentiful in related fields.