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Physicist Career Info, Job Duties and Employment Opportunities

Sep 11, 2019

Physicists require a significant amount of formal education. Learn more about the education, job duties and employment outlook to see if this is the right career for you.

Physics is a challenging and competitive discipline. Advancement requires considerable time and commitment in the classroom, lab and field. Physics is fundamental and can be applied to other subjects so there are a number of categories to go into that combine with other areas of interest such as health care, mathematics and engineering.

Essential Information

Physicists research physical phenomena, devise hypotheses, conduct experiments and draw conclusions from experimental data to explain the world around us. Physicists can work in either applied or theoretical physics, based on their skill set and available career opportunities. Most careers in physics require graduate-level education, especially in theoretical physics.

Required Education Doctoral degree
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 9%
Average Salary (2018)* $120,950

*Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Physicist Career Info

Applied physics - which includes nuclear physics, acoustics, fiber optics and medical physics - provides a direct benefit to the public, so many careers in physics involve researching these areas. Theoretical physics, which is much more abstract and uses mathematical equations to explain the physical world around us, has less direct influence on current affairs. Although advancements in theoretical physics are incredibly important scientifically, fewer jobs are available. Degrees in physics range from the associate's degree all the way up to the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). Graduate-level education is required for many careers in the field, especially for those in theoretical physics. Careers in physics paid an average annual wage of $120,950 in 2018, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov).

Job Duties

An applied physicist may have a variety of duties, depending on his or her area of research. Among the major fields of applied research are environmental geophysics, gravitation, nuclear physics and physics education. Theoretical physicists are almost exclusively employed in academia, so duties include teaching in addition to conducting research.

On a large scale, physicists are responsible for designing experiments, implementing them using the scientific method and drawing conclusions which will be beneficial to the advancement of science and industry. A physicist can also educate others in advanced, intermediate and basic physics. With a bachelor's degree, an individual can teach at the elementary or secondary school levels. To become employed teaching at the collegiate level, a master's degree or a Ph.D. is required.

Employment Opportunities

Once out of college, students should look for available research internships either through a degree program or through an outside institution or company. Many of the top-paying employment opportunities for physicists are within the medical industry. Private doctor's laboratories and pharmaceutical research labs have a high demand for physicists with post-grad degrees. Employment opportunities may be also found at universities (both teaching and performing research), through government agencies and at private companies.

Another career that may be pursued is education, opportunities exist at the K-12 and college levels. Physicists working in colleges not only have access to their school's labs and faculty, but also to the contributions and insights of graduate students.

Physics as a field is very demanding intellectually and usually requires considerable education for career advancement. It pays a high salary and has an average growth rate. Remember the two main branches depending on your skills and work style: applied physics uses hands-on applications that are easy to see while theoretical physics is abstract, requires considerable math and provides results in the long term.

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