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Is a PhD in Physics Worth It?

Jul 09, 2018

A PhD in physics requires that students not only complete their degree coursework but also spend a large amount of time doing research and working in a laboratory. It is through this experience that graduates gain various career opportunities.

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Gaining a PhD in Physics can take a lot of time and effort, but it can be achieved at no cost thanks to graduate scholarships and gives you valuable hands-on experience that you can use in all different careers. Through studying quantum mechanics and mathematical physics, recent graduates can work within the field of education or alongside architects and engineers. Below, you can find information on median salary and job growth of five careers that are ideal for those with a PhD in Physics.

PhD in Physics Jobs/Salary

In the process of gaining a PhD in Physics, students gain a better understanding of the world around them and the materials found within it by taking courses in applied physics, electromagnetic theory and mathematical physics. Through extensive research and laboratory work on the way to their degree, students are able to gain the experience and the know-how to do more of the same once they enter the workforce. Furthermore, they are able to aid engineers and product developers with design and modification thanks to their deep knowledge of kinetics and applied physics. To assist you in deciding if a PhD in Physics is right for you there is a table with five potential careers along with data related to their median salary and job growth.

Job Title Median Salary(2017)* Job Growth(2016-2026)*
Physicists and Astronomers $117,220 14%
Natural Sciences Managers $118,970 10%
Biochemists and Biophysicists $91,190 11%
Petroleum Engineers $132,280 15%
Postsecondary Physics Teachers $87,340 10%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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PhD in Physics Career Paths

Physicists and Astronomers

Physicists and astronomers work to develop new scientific theories and create models to better explain things that are occurring within the world. They work closely with engineers and product designers to create scientific equipment and the software used to operate it. Much like a PhD graduate program, individuals within this field will be required to do their own researches and tests and present papers on their findings. Through the use of complex mathematical equations, these same individuals will be able to discover the existence of new planets and solar systems and also identify new material properties.

Natural Sciences Managers

Natural sciences managers typically spend their days working with high-level executives to formulate new strategies and goals as it relates to future and current research. They assist in the hiring and evaluation of fellow staff members and review their research to ensure that it is accurate. Additionally, they make propositions for funding of projects and research as well as present their findings to the proper authorities. Through obtaining a PhD, prospective job applicants will have already spent a good portion of their education working in a lab and as such, be accustomed to the work environment of these professionals.

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists conduct tests to determine the potential effects that certain substances have on biological processes and present these same findings to their colleagues as well as fellow scientists and engineers. Individuals within this field also secure research grants and actively manage their laboratory staff, as well as, check the quality of work being conducted within the lab. They use tools like fluorescent microscopes and lasers to engage in experimentation and aid in the isolation of DNA, proteins and other molecules.

Petroleum Engineers

Petroleum engineers use their educational background to make accurate assessments about potential drilling sites based on factors such as how expensive it is to extract and the difficulty associated with transporting the material that has been removed. They develop improved methods in the area of gas and oil production and actively make modifications to machine and tool designs to increase productivity. Furthermore, individuals in this field determine the potential yield at a given drill site and create new ways in which oil, gas and other materials can be extracted.

Postsecondary Physics Teachers

Postsecondary teachers use their educational experience to help guide their students on the right path when it comes to making decisions about their educational future. At the college level, they recruit students into their graduate physics program and work with fellow faculty to create courses that will foster a deeper understanding of the subject and prepare students for the real world. Additionally, they monitor their students' progress and aid them in achieving their educational goals. Oftentimes, physics professors will spend their time outside of the classroom conducting research and writing proposals for program funding.

PhD in Physics Graduation and Admission Requirements

Those wishing to complete their PhD in Physics can expect it to take between four to five years and require two years of classroom study along with two to three more years of research and laboratory work for their dissertation. Most graduate programs require that students complete 90 credit hours worth of work, but there is usually no tuition cost associated with it due to the fact that most graduate programs hand out grants and scholarships to prospective PhD students. Getting into such a program isn't easy though and many programs require that students take qualification exams as well as provide three or more letters of recommendation. In addition, upon admittance, students must typically maintain a 3.0 GPA or better through their coursework and effectively defend their dissertation. During this time, students will often take classes in subjects like kinetics, chemical thermodynamics, applied physics and nanophysics.

Securing a PhD in Physics equips individuals with the experience and the education necessary to work within a wide range of jobs. It gives them the degree necessary to remain competitive within the workforce and allows them to conduct research and educate others at the highest level.

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