Have you ever considered becoming a physicist? If you think you would enjoy formulating scientific models and theories on energy and matter, conduct scientific experiments, obtaining research grants, and many other tasks, this may be the career for you! A career as a physicist may be a good fit for individuals who are analytical, curious, have strong interpersonal skills, and have solid mathematical skills. The pay for this career is quite high. Although the estimated growth for the profession is average, the job prospects may be somewhat competitive and limited. However, certain jobs within the field may be less competitive than others and easier to procure. A doctoral degree in astronomy, physics, or a related field is typically necessary for a career as a physicist. Other positions related to the study of astronomy and physics (such as applied research) may be available to individuals who have a master’s degree in a related field. This post will cover the physicists job description and other aspects of this career.
Physicist Job Description
The physicist job description can be summarized by stating that physicists research, question, hypothesize, and draw conclusions about energy and matter. From their research they create theories and explanations. They also carry out research studies and publish their findings. In order to fund their research, they must write proposals to apply for grants. Physicists also conduct complex mathematical equations pertaining to the study of physics. Physicists also disseminate the findings of their research at forums, conferences, and other professional events. They may also create new equipment that aids in the study of physics.
Usually, a typical physicist job description contains the following items:
- Formulate scientific models and theories on energy and matter pertaining to the natural world and why things function the way they do
- Conduct scientific experiments that test theories and hypotheses
- Apply for and obtain research grants
- Disseminate the research findings to other physicists and members of the science community at conferences and conventions
- Write scholarly articles and paper to be submitted and published in professional journals
- Complete difficult mathematical equations pertaining to astronomy and physics
Physicists typically work together with other physicists and scientists. Many physicists work directly in research and development, but other physicists work to create new equipment and scientific instruments. Some physicists choose to work in academic settings such as colleges or universities and teach physics classes.
Physicist Education and Physicist Training
The typical physicist education consists of a Ph.D. in physics or astronomy from an accredited college or university. Ph.D. students who intend to become physicists may select a subcategory of physics to study in graduate school. For example, a student may focus on astrophysics, plasma physics, nuclear physics, or atomic physics. Prior to beginning a doctoral program, an individual interested in a career as a physicist must first earn a bachelor’s degree in physics or a related field of study. Required courses for individuals pursuing a career in physics include statistics, calculus, algebra, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, natural sciences, and computer science. If an individual pursues a master’s degree in physics, they may be able to secure research related positions in certain industries. In fact, there are master’s degree programs specifically created to help prepare students for master’s level positions pertaining to physics-research. Individuals who have bachelor’s degrees in physics or a related field may be able to fill positions as technicians or field research assistants.
While pursuing a Ph.D., students may gain experience working as research assistants. As a part of continuing physicist training, postdoctoral students typically start out in temporary research positions that last for a few years before they move on to permanent research positions. When postdoctoral students begin working as researchers, they typically work closely with more experienced physicists until they become more knowledgeable.
There are certain personality traits and skill sets that are important for physicists to have. Physicists must have strong communication and interpersonal skills as they often work together with other physicists. They must also be very good at analysis, as well as logical and critical thinking. Mathematics skills are extremely essential skills for physicists to have as they must complete complex mathematics equations. Curiosity and an interest in finding the answers to complex questions and theories are also necessary traits for physicists to possess. Motivation and personal discipline are important traits for physicists to have. Finally, having solid problem solving skills is essential for individuals who want to work as physicists.
The median annual salary for all physicists as of 2012 was $106,360 or $51.14 per hour. The median value is not the same as the value of the average salary (although they may be close). The median value reflects the value situated in the middle of all the registered salaries for physicists. This means that half of all physicists have earned somewhat more than $106,360 per year, and the other half of physicists earned somewhat less. The lowest earning 10 percent of physicists earned an annual salary of less than $57,640. The top 10 percent of physicists earned an annual salary of more than $176,630.
As of May 2012, the median annual income for physicists in the top five industries physicists worked in were: hospitals (local, private, and state) $152,280, consulting services (science, management, tech consulting) $130,980, the federal government $111,020, scientific research and development $104,650, and higher education (universities, colleges, and professional schools that are local, state, and private) $81,180. Physicists who have postdoctoral positions typically earn an annual salary within the lower 10 percent of the previously discussed salaries.
The physicist developer outlook is projected to grown by 10% for physicists from 2012 until 2022 according to the BLS. This is approximately as fast as the average growth projected for all other occupations. As of the year 2012, there were approximately 20,600 employed physicists in the United States. By 2022, there are expected to be 22,700 positions for physicists. Growth in spending within the federal government pertaining to physics or astronomy is not anticipated to expand very much, but it is expected to continue to ensure the need for physicists. The financing for many physics-related research projects comes from the federal government. Individuals who have an educational background and experience with physics will likely be in demand within the medical, engineering, research and development, and communications and info technology fields.
It is anticipated that there will be a significant amount of competition for physics-related positions at colleges, universities, and technical schools. It is not uncommon for individuals with a Ph.D. to have to secure several post-doctoral positions before they are able to find a permanent teaching position. Also, research funding is limited and the number of individuals seeking financing for research projects is exceeding the amount of money available to be allocated. It may be more difficult due to secure research grants in the field of physics due to increased competition. Job prospects for physicists will likely vary from one year to the next depending upon the funding available to pay for these positions. If federal funds increase, there will likely be more positions available for physicists. Overall, it is anticipated that there will be decent job prospects for physicists.
*All numerical data in this report are provided by the BLS, www.bls.gov