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Physics Overview - Preparation - Specialty Areas - Day In The Life - Earnings - Employment - Career Path Forecast - Professional Organizations - Profiles of Physicists - Overview PowerPoint - Podcast

Career Path Forecast
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physicists and astronomers is expected to grow 16 percent, faster than the average for all occupations during the 2008-18 decade.

Federal research expenditures are the major source of physics-related and astronomy-related research funds, especially for basic research. For most of the past decade there has been limited growth in Federal funding for physics and astronomy research as most of the growth in Federal research funding has been devoted to the life sciences. However, the America COMPETES Act, passed by Congress in 2007, sets a goal to double funding for the physical sciences through the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science by the year 2016, and recent budgets for these agencies have seen large increases. If these increases continue, it will result in more opportunities in basic research for Ph.D. physicists and astronomers.

Although research and development expenditures in private industry will continue to grow, many research laboratories in private industry are expected to continue to reduce basic research, which includes much physics research, in favor of applied or manufacturing research and product and software development. Nevertheless, people with a physics background continue to be in demand in information technology, semiconductor technology, and other applied sciences. This trend is expected to continue; however, many of the new workers will have job titles such as computer software engineer, computer programmer, or systems analyst or developer, rather than physicist.

In addition to job growth, the need to replace physicists and astronomers who retire or otherwise leave the occupation permanently will account for many job openings. In recent years the number of doctorates granted in physics has been somewhat greater than the number of job openings for traditional physics research positions in colleges and universities and in research centers. Recent increases in undergraduate physics enrollments may also lead to growth in enrollments in graduate physics programs, so that there may be an increase in the number of doctoral degrees granted that could intensify the competition for basic research positions. However, demand has grown in other related occupations for those with advanced training in physics. Prospects should be favorable for physicists in applied research, development, and related technical fields.

Opportunities should also be numerous for those with a master's degree, particularly graduates from programs preparing students for related work in applied research and development, product design, and manufacturing positions in private industry. Many of these positions, however, will have titles other than physicist, such as engineer or computer scientist.

People with only a bachelor's degree in physics or astronomy are usually not qualified for physics or astronomy research jobs, but they may qualify for a wide range of positions related to engineering, mathematics, computer science, environmental science, and some nonscience fields, such as finance. Those who meet State certification requirements can become high school physics teachers, an occupation in strong demand in many school districts.

Some States require new teachers to obtain a master's degree in education within a certain time. Despite competition for traditional physics and astronomy research jobs, graduates with a physics or astronomy degree at any level will find their knowledge of science and mathematics useful for entry into many other occupations.

Despite their small numbers, astronomers can expect good job prospects in government and academia over the projection period. Since astronomers are particularly dependent upon government funding, Federal budgetary decisions will have a sizable influence on job prospects for astronomers.

Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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