in the Life
More than most other majors, a physics degree is a passport into a broad
range of science, engineering, and education careers. Where you are likely
to work will differ by the level of your highest degree.
Where you are likely to work will differ by the level of your highest
degree. Thus, the private sector (including large corporations, small
companies and the self-employed) employs 60% of physics bachelors and
masters compared to 30% of physics PhDs. Within the education system, most
physics bachelors and masters teach in high schools, while virtually all
academically-employed physics PhDs hold faculty positions in universities
or 4-year colleges. The government sector includes federal agencies,
government laboratories, state and local government, and the military.
Occupations for Physics Bachelors
The most common occupations differ by where they work, but few physics
bachelors have the title, physicist. In large part, this is because most
physics bachelors work in the private sector and, unlike chemistry,
engineering and geology, there is no "physics" industry. Among the
more common occupations is engineer, including electrical, systems, civil,
and mechanical. Many physics bachelors work as computer scientists which
reflects the current explosion in the demand for software development,
programming, computer-related support, modeling, and computer simulations.
Educator, principally at the secondary school level, is also a common
career track, although comparatively few teach physics exclusively.
Over time, physics bachelors are often promoted into positions that
involve managing projects, people and budgets.
Careers of Physics Bachelors
The AIP has produced
a report that examines the employment patterns of people with no degrees
other than physics bachelor's degrees, five to eight years after
graduation. The report includes common job activities and skills used on
the job. It also describes these physics bachelors' evaluations of how
well physics education prepared them for careers. The report may
be viewed online; highlights include:
Five to eight years after
graduating, only about one-third of people who earned bachelor's
degrees in physics do not have any additional degrees.
Three-fourths of these physics
bachelors work in science-related jobs, including software,
engineering, high school teachers, and managers in technical
fields. The largest group -- about one-fourth -- are employed in
30% of these physics bachelors are
still working in their first career-path job five to eight years
Those who are employed in software
jobs are much less likely to use the parts of their education
that are exclusive to physics than those employed in
engineering, math, and science jobs.
About 70% of those employed in
engineering, math, and science rate their physics preparation
highly. However, they did not rate their preparation in terms of
scientific research experience, lab skills, and scientific
software as highly.
Common Occupations for Physics
masters work primarily in science, engineering and education, although
their occupations differ sharply by employment setting. Physics masters
are, in general, more likely than bachelors to be hired into positions
with supervisory responsibility and frequently use advanced knowledge and
technical skills to solve complex problems. A physics bachelor's is
a solid foundation for a variety of advanced degrees. Over one-third of
physics bachelors earn a masters degree, often after working for several
years. About half earn physics master's degrees, many get degrees in
engineering, computers, business administration and education, but others
pursue such diverse areas as philosophy, religion and social work.
Common Occupations for Physics
There are about 35,000 physics PhDs in the workforce. While academe is a
common career path for physics PhDs, it is NOT where the majority work.
About 40% of physics PhDs are employed in universities and 4-year
colleges, primarily as professors and secondarily as research faculty.
While most work in physics departments, many PhD physicists work in
departments of engineering, mathematics, materials science, polymer
science, and radiation oncology to name a few. About 30% of PhD
physicists work in the private sector. Some work in corporate labs
conducting long range research. Most, however, are involved in product
development, short range research, or managing projects and technical
staff. About one-quarter of PhD physicists work in Federally Funded
Research & Development Centers (such as Los Alamos), government labs (such
as the National Institute of Standards and Technology) or federal agencies
with a scientific mission. Most of these physicists are engaged in long
range research, but a variety of other activities are also common.
physicists work in a team environment, regardless of their highest degree
or where they are employed. Even basic research at the PhD level is
typically a team effort. As your years of experience and degree level
increases, so does the likelihood that you will be supervising a team. In
the private sector, most physicists work in cross-disciplinary teams.
These commonly include engineers, material scientists, chemists, computer
specialists, mathematicians, and administrators to name a few. These
individuals are brought together because of their unique perspectives and
skills to help solve a specific problem. Within the autonomous
private sector (self-employed, consulting companies and other small
companies), many people with physics degrees report that they work
independently. However, this largely reflects the fact that the companies
in which they work are simply too small for a team environment. In this
sector a significant amount of a physicist's time is often devoted to
interacting with customers and clients.
How many women are there in physics? Since the early 1970's, there has
been a significant increase in the participation of women in physics.
there are positive trends, it should be noted that women earn
proportionately fewer degrees in physics than in most other disciplines.
The recent climate for women in physics has improved
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the American
Institute of Physics and the US Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.