Difference Between Physicist & Mathematician

Nov 29, 2017

Physicists and mathematicians both formulate theories based on mathematical research; however, they focus on different areas of study. This article covers the salary, educational requirements, and job duties for each position.

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Comparing Physicists to Mathematicians

A career as a physicist or mathematician could be suitable for those who have good analytical and problem-solving skills and are interested in mathematics. Although each position requires mathematical research, they utilize that information in different ways. The key similarities and differences between the two careers are highlighted below.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2014-2024)*
Physicist Doctoral Degree $115,870 8%
Mathematician Master's Degree $105,810 21%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Physicists vs. Mathematicians

Physicists and mathematicians utilize mathematical principles to validate theories. Both fields apply their work to solve practical problems. A physicist specializes in examining how different types of components, such as energy and matter, interact. In contrast, a mathematician conducts research or experiments to further understanding of subjects like geometry or algebra.


As a physicist, your work and conclusions will be directly drawn from existing information on time, energy, space, and matter. You may work for educational institutions, scientific research and development firms, or the federal government. You would perform experiments to test current scientific theories and identify new ones and create software to better aid in data analysis. Physicists can choose to focus their work on theory, such as the makeup of molecules, or the design and implementation of research experiments. A bachelor's degree may be sufficient for positions within the federal government; however, a Ph.D. in physics or a related field is needed for positions within research or educational institutions. Some applied research and development positions within manufacturing and healthcare companies may only require you to have a master's degree.

Job responsibilities of a physicist include:

  • Performing mathematical calculations with astronomical data to validate theories, such as unknown planets in other solar systems
  • Designing new equipment like telescopes or lasers to further scientific research
  • Sharing results of their research in scholarly journals or at conferences
  • Securing grants to fund research


Mathematicians specialize in furthering our understanding of mathematics and using their research to resolve issues in various fields. As a mathematician, you will create new mathematical concepts for data analysis, draw conclusions from that data, and provide organizations with information to enhance their decision making. Mathematicians can work for the federal government, scientific research and design firms, or educational institutions. A bachelor's degree is needed for jobs with the federal government, and you will need a master's degree for most other positions.

Job responsibilities of a mathematician include:

  • Reading scholarly journals and attending conferences to stay informed on new developments in the field
  • Utilizing their mathematical skills to solve problems in business, industry and other fields
  • Collaborating with other scientists or engineers on the development of new products
  • Utilizing both theoretical and applied mathematics to conduct research and analyze data

Related Careers

If you are intrigued about the work of a physicist, you could also consider a job as a biochemist, as both careers involve the study of various elements and how they interact. Those interested in a position as a mathematician may also be interested in a job as an actuary, since both jobs encompass researching and analyzing mathematical data.

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