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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

Physicists and astronomers hold about 17,100 jobs in the United States. Physicists accounted for about 15,600 of these, while astronomers accounted for only about 1,500 jobs. In addition, there were about 15,500 physicists employed in faculty positions. Those classified as postsecondary teachers are not included in these employment numbers.

About 39 percent of physicists and astronomers worked for the scientific research and development services industry, which includes employees of the 36 Federally Funded Research and Development Centers. These centers, sometimes referred to as national laboratories, perform a significant amount of basic research in the physical sciences. They are funded by government agencies such as the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense, but are administered by universities or private corporations. The Federal Government directly employed another 22 percent, mostly in the U.S. Department of Defense, but also in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and in the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Energy. Other physicists and astronomers worked in nonfaculty research positions at educational institutions and hospitals.

Although physicists and astronomers are employed in all parts of the country, most work in areas in which universities, large research laboratories, or observatories are located.

What Employers Look For
What do employers look for in a candidate? Obviously, most employers first look for knowledge and experience that matches their specific and immediate needs. Beyond that, however, many look for some combination of four general skills and traits. One of those is problem solving ability including intelligence, quantitative skills and a practical orientation, e.g., the ability to break a complex problem down to its elementary parts and identify a set of likely solutions. Another area is drive and aspirations including persistence, a strong work ethic, and a high standard of excellence.

A third area is personal impact which includes such traits as communications skills (writing, speaking and listening), ability to work within a team environment and a personal presence. A fourth area is leadership including initiative and entrepreneurship, which is especially important in the private sector. Employers are looking for people who can assess the strengths of their company, assess the strengths of their team and propose an idea for a new product or service that is consistent with the company's goals both.

What are the most rewarding aspects of the work physicists do?
Regardless of where they work and their specific occupations, most physics bachelors report that the most rewarding aspects of their current positions is the challenge of solving interesting and complex problems and the satisfaction of developing creative solutions to problems. The specific problems are in a variety of disciplines. The second most cited reward was working with people. These include the satisfaction of working with intelligent and creative co-workers, supervising employees and helping them develop to their full potential, and the rewards of working with customers, clients and students.  Many physics bachelors, especially those in the private sector, report a great deal of satisfaction from seeing a project yield a successful and useful product. The last major category of reward reflects the intellectual satisfaction of developing new methods, processes and designs. PhD physicists also note the intellectual satisfaction of successful research and adding to the knowledge base.

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

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