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Career Information for a Degree in General Physics

General physics is typically offered as an undergraduate, graduate or doctoral degree program. Continue reading for an overview of the programs, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

If you are pursuing or considering a degree in general physics, rest assured there a few different job possibilities available to you. This degree can lead to a career as a physicist, astronomer or, if you enjoy teaching, a physics instructor. In each case, be prepared to continue your education to the graduate and possibly post-graduate level.

Essential Information

Physicists study the fundamental laws of physical reality, usually engaging in laboratory research and experimentation or teaching the subject to high school or college students. Some physicists can specialize in certain fields like astronomy. A career in general physics entails extensive postsecondary education.

Career Titles Physicist Astronomer Physics Professor
Required Education Doctoral or professional degree Doctoral or professional degree Doctoral degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 8% 3% 15%
Average Salary (2015)* $118,500 $110,220 $93,950

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

After earning undergraduate degrees, students may pursue careers or continue their educations in graduate school. Bachelor's or master's degrees in physics can prepare students for a variety of applicable careers; however, job options in physics are extremely limited for those who hold only bachelor's degrees. In fact, most jobs in physics and physics research require doctoral degrees, including those of physicists, astronomers and postsecondary physics teachers.

Physicist

Physicists work as researchers in universities and government labs to develop human knowledge of material and energy interactions, particle behavior, gravitation, magnetic fields and electricity, among other phenomena and physical laws. They perform advanced mathematical calculations, collect and analyze data, form theories and conduct experiments. Physicists may apply their findings to develop products, such as medical or optical equipment. Some physicists have to acquire their own funding through grants and fellowships.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that physicists will see 8% job growth in from 2014-2024. As of May 2015, these workers earned an average salary of $118,500 annually.

Astronomer

Astronomers observe, research, and interpret astronomical phenomena to increase basic knowledge or apply such information to practical problems. According to the BLS, astronomers will see the number of jobs in their field increase 3% from 2014-2024. In 2015, astronomers earned an average annual salary of $110,220, according to the BLS.

Physics Professor

When not conducting research in academic or laboratory settings, physicists often take jobs teaching in their field of expertise. Physics teachers may be employed at the secondary or postsecondary levels. They educate their students in the basics of physics and physical science, which entails using textbooks and classroom experiments to demonstrate the effects of physical laws on motion and objects, the interactions of gases and gravity. Physics teachers also design and administer tests, evaluate student progress and communicate with parents regarding educational concerns.

While physics teachers who work at colleges and universities usually hold Ph.D.s, those employed in secondary schools generally must hold bachelor's degrees and state licensure.

The BLS estimates 15% job growth for all postsecondary physics teachers in the years 2014-2024. The BLS also reported in May 2015 that physics postsecondary teachers earned $93,950 as an average annual wage.

A bachelor's degree in general physics serves as a jumping block for the many graduate degree options that exist within physics. At the graduate level, students of general physics may choose to study to become physicists, astronomers and physics instructors. Physicists study the many laws of physics, astronomers study the behavior of astronomical bodies and physics instructors teach high school and college students about the field.

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