## Are physicists underpaid or is it a misconception?

 Quote by phys0101 I was referring to physics generally as I have been led to believe it can be difficult to be employed in a specific field of physics, not really sure if that's the case. If you could provide some insight into the employability of physics graduates from your knowledge/experience (presumably in the US) it would be appreciated. (not sure which fields are easiest to be employed in, maybe someone could shed some light.)
I can only speak for my field, medical physics, as I have been out of research and radiological health physics for many years.

If you take the time to go to college (4yrs), a CAMPEP graduate program (2yrs), and a CAMPEP residency (2yrs), pass the ABR board exams, and can work as a team member in a clinical environment, employment is good and pay is at the upper end of most physics careers.

Above is assuming US base.

I'll leave it to others to chime in on their areas of expertise.

 Quote by phys0101 I was referring to physics generally as I have been led to believe it can be difficult to be employed in a specific field of physics, not really sure if that's the case.
Physicists are only employed in a specific field of physics.

Employment in physics is very specialized. University positions are often specific down to the line of research. Private employers can be even more specific in their job listings (though in my limited personal experience there was some latitude once you actually spoke directly with them). The difference between an astrophysics PhD and a condensed matter/materials science PhD doing computational work in thin films might as well be the sun and the moon to almost all employers. Just ask someone who recently got their PhD in HEP theory if vacancy is high and they’ll either laugh or cry, depending on whether they think you’re joking or not.

I’m with ThinkToday – you’re either discussing an area of physics, or you aren’t really discussing anything at all.
 I'm not familiar with Australia's market, but in the US I would say the prospects listed in that tab are overly rosy for most physicists. Most of the physics students with only an undergraduate degree I know were not able to find employment as 'physicists' and instead work in finance,consulting,insurance,programming,etc. Most of the phds I know are doing similar work. So the issue shouldn't be 'can I make money', because you probably can find a decent income as a physics major or a physics phd. The issue is- can this degree get me the sort of job I want? Personally, I would very much prefer engineering type work to what I'm doing now. If your utility looks like science job > engineering job> other work, then getting a physics degree is probably a bad move. You have a small chance of the science job, but you remove the path to engineering jobs all together.

 Quote by ParticleGrl I'm not familiar with Australia's market, but in the US I would say the prospects listed in that tab are overly rosy for most physicists. Most of the physics students with only an undergraduate degree I know were not able to find employment as 'physicists' and instead work in finance,consulting,insurance,programming,etc. Most of the phds I know are doing similar work. So the issue shouldn't be 'can I make money', because you probably can find a decent income as a physics major or a physics phd. The issue is- can this degree get me the sort of job I want? Personally, I would very much prefer engineering type work to what I'm doing now. If your utility looks like science job > engineering job> other work, then getting a physics degree is probably a bad move. You have a small chance of the science job, but you remove the path to engineering jobs all together.
think that's more for some fields than others.

lots of jobs in semiconductors and optics. Well, no. Jobs are scarce nowadays in all fields. But more jobs than other places and pays better than flipping burgers and uses science.

but then again, most people on here apparently want to do string theory or black hole astro... so... that's basically pre-finance.

 Quote by Locrian The difference between an astrophysics PhD and a condensed matter/materials science PhD doing computational work in thin films might as well be the sun and the moon to almost all employers.
Also the OP needs to make sure that he or she is asking the right question. There are lots of employers that hire physics Ph.D.'s that really don't care what you did your Ph.D. in.

 Quote by ParticleGrl I'm not familiar with Australia's market, but in the US I would say the prospects listed in that tab are overly rosy for most physicists. Most of the physics students with only an undergraduate degree I know were not able to find employment as 'physicists' and instead work in finance,consulting,insurance,programming,etc. Most of the phds I know are doing similar work. So the issue shouldn't be 'can I make money', because you probably can find a decent income as a physics major or a physics phd. The issue is- can this degree get me the sort of job I want? Personally, I would very much prefer engineering type work to what I'm doing now. If your utility looks like science job > engineering job> other work, then getting a physics degree is probably a bad move. You have a small chance of the science job, but you remove the path to engineering jobs all together.
ParticleGrl, would you say that your statement in your first paragraph about not finding employment as a "physicist" may be more applicable to those (like yourself) whose background is in a theoretical area, as opposed to someone specializing in an experimental area (e.g. experimental condensed matter physics, optics)? After all, I can imagine that someone with an experimental background will have skills that a potential employer in a high-tech firm may well recognize as being valuable (although I could be mistaken about this).

That being said, I have another question. Suppose your utility is science job > engineering job > other work. Which degree, in your opinion, will most likely (given the current economic climate) lead to satisfying the above utility criteria?

 ParticleGrl, would you say that your statement in your first paragraph about not finding employment as a "physicist" may be more applicable to those (like yourself) whose background is in a theoretical area (such as yourself), as opposed to someone specializing in an experimental area
It might be more applicable to theorists, but even most experimentalists I know were unable to find permanent industry employment as physicists. They do a bit better, but not so much better that the phd makes sense. If you work on something directly related to silicon (and maybe optics, I see lots of job postings for optics specialists), you'll probably do ok, but there are lots and lots of experimental techniques that haven't made their way to industry yet. Where do the people who work on ultra-cold atoms find work? I recently worked with an IT consultant hired by the company I work for who had a physics phd specializing in NMR and superconductors.

He lamented that no one had wanted the experimental skills in which he had become an expert, and suggested his transition to the working world was probably harder, because he didn't have the same math background. But it is maybe a grass-is-always-greener phenomenon.

 Suppose your utility is science job > engineering job > other work. Which degree, in your opinion, will most likely (given the current economic climate) lead to satisfying the above utility criteria?
I would argue that no degree makes the highest utility (science) likely, so your best bet is to focus on engineering. I taught several dozen engineers over the years while I was in grad school, and nearly all of them eventually landed a job in their chosen field (it took awhile for some, but the market is very weak right now). To my knowledge, the ones who left their fields did so by choice and not lack-of-opportunity .

The reverse is true among science phds I know- Nearly all of them left the field because of a lack-of-opportunity.
 I think they are overpaid in general, like most first worlders. :p

 Quote by ParticleGrl I would argue that no degree makes the highest utility (science) likely, so your best bet is to focus on engineering. I taught several dozen engineers over the years while I was in grad school, and nearly all of them eventually landed a job in their chosen field (it took awhile for some, but the market is very weak right now). To my knowledge, the ones who left their fields did so by choice and not lack-of-opportunity . The reverse is true among science phds I know- Nearly all of them left the field because of a lack-of-opportunity.
I would assume that when you refer to the highest utility (science), you are not considering those working in medical research, say at a pharmaceutical firm or a research hospital (many of whom have both MD and a PhD degree in say, molecular biology, biochemistry, biophysics, etc.).

 Quote by twofish-quant It's a misconception, but one that is based on some fact. Permanent physics positions pay well, but Ph.D.'s that go the academic route end up spending a lot of time in "temporary" positions (i.e. post-docs) that pay poorly. The problem isn't the salary but the lack of positions.
I agree with this. It seems like the word "physicist" can be used in two different ways, and that confuses the issue. Some people use it to mean "a person with the professional job of doing physics research", and those do pay pretty well, at least compared to the overall average salary. But other people use "physicist" to mean simply anyone with a physics degree, and then there's such a massive range of jobs and salaries that it's impossible to give a meaningful answer. It would range all the way from wall street quants or successful entrepreneurs on the high-end, to unemployed people or minimum-wage retail jobs on the low end.

I also think it's misleading the way most official data for "physicist" salaries excludes graduate students and post-docs. They're the ones doing the vast majority of physics research! Granted, those are "temporary" positions, but most post-docs spend at least 10 years as a grad student/post-doc, which is already more time than most people spend in "permanent" careers (average length: 7 years).

Anyway, at the risk of oversimplifying, I'm going to say that yes, most people with physics degrees are underpaid. Because most people with physics degrees DON'T become professional physicists, and if you can get a physics degree, you also could have gotten a degree in something like CS or electrical engineering where you would probably be earning more, and with much less risk of being unemployed or trapped in bad jobs.

 I would assume that when you refer to the highest utility (science), you are not considering those working in medical research, say at a pharmaceutical firm or a research hospital (many of whom have both MD and a PhD degree in say, molecular biology, biochemistry, biophysics, etc.).
Most biology/biochem/biophysics phds don't seem to find full time researcch work at pharma or med companies. My biophysics friends lament how easy it is to get a postdoc and how hard it is to find full-time work.

Maybe M.D./Phds do, but I don't know very MD/phds and those that I do know work at academic hospitals. They do some bench research, but most of their time (and income) comes from seeing patients. So an MD might be a good step into some sort of medical research. Its certainly a good way to step into a low-hours, good paying job (my sisters are doctors, they tend to work 3 12-hour shifts a week and make 170k+ a year).
 I'd just like to comment that MD/PhD's actually serve around a 70/30 research/clinical ratio, so they actually spend most of their time researching. Although when clinical research is performed in their "clinical" role, things get hazy, but in general, you'll see either 80/20 or 70/30 quoted for the distribution of research/clinical for MD/PhD's.

 Quote by Locrian Apoligies to StatGuy and ParticleGrl for answering a question not directed at me, but my experience was absolutely that experimental and computational physics studies allowed for a much wider variety of employment opportunities, though some of it might not be physics as most of us would define it.
There is a classification issue because I've always thought of computational physics as part of theoretical physics. I do agree that if are a "paper and pencil" theorist, you are going to have an extremely hard time looking for work.

Oddly, this applies to Wall Street positions. One thing about derivatives is that they have (for better or worse) been industrialized. People just don't price derivatives with paper and pencil any more, and the typical problem involves managing books of *thousands* of derivatives, and this requires sharp computer skills.

 This isn't something I have good statistical data for though, and I don't trust most of the data others have acquired.
One thing about my alma mater is that there is a professor that keeps very good statistical data of graduating Ph.D.'s. She has a file of what every single Ph.D. in our department is doing. However, there is a selection effect. I have this feeling that the fact that there is a professor that keeps track of Ph.D. outcomes means that people from our department probably do better than a department where no one tracks.

One problem is that you are dealing with small enough numbers that you really can't do statistics. If you have a population of twenty, then what's your sample? Two?

There are also privacy/anonymity issues. You can do a research a "typical electrical engineer" and publish details about their career path while keeping identity anonymous. You can't do that with theoretical astrophysicists. If you provide enough useful detail about someone's career track, it won't be hard to figure out who they are.

 I also worked for a few years in industry and got a similar feel there; chalk-board physicsts were not highly thought of among those in my admittedly small circle).
There are some jobs for chalkboard physicists in finance, but they are rare, and getting rarer.

 Quote by twofish-quant Ph.D.'s that go the academic route end up spending a lot of time in "temporary" positions (i.e. post-docs) that pay poorly
From what I've searched postdoctoral research fellowships, though temporary, do pay well, for example, Griffith University offers a postdoctoral research fellowship in quantum information science which pays $79,377 -$94,263 per annum plus 17% superannuation (retirement fund), which equates to roughly $92,872 -$110,288 in total. (AUD)

http://www.seek.com.au/Job/postdocto...logan/22677939

Many posts have been, demoralizing. So those of you who have qualifications in physics, do you regret going into physics? and would you advise someone with an interest in physics to study a physics in undergrad? or is it too limiting in terms of job prospects?

 Quote by phys0101 So those of you who have qualifications in physics, do you regret going into physics? and would you advise someone with an interest in physics to study a physics in undergrad? or is it too limiting in terms of job prospects?
One of the reasons that I post is that I'm quite happy having gone into physics. I've never had much of a problem getting a job, and money has never been a problem.

Part of the reason I that I find these discussions interesting is that I'm not sure myself how I ended being a "happy camper."

 Quote by ParticleGrl Most biology/biochem/biophysics phds don't seem to find full time researcch work at pharma or med companies. My biophysics friends lament how easy it is to get a postdoc and how hard it is to find full-time work. Maybe M.D./Phds do, but I don't know very MD/phds and those that I do know work at academic hospitals. They do some bench research, but most of their time (and income) comes from seeing patients. So an MD might be a good step into some sort of medical research. Its certainly a good way to step into a low-hours, good paying job (my sisters are doctors, they tend to work 3 12-hour shifts a week and make 170k+ a year).
That's interesting you say this, as I used to be employed at a pharmaceutical company and have known a number of biochemistry PhDs working in full-time research (this is in Canada, btw). After all, of all the places that would hire biochemists, I would think pharma companies would be at the top of the list.

Now as far as MD/PhDs are concerned, I have worked closely with a couple of MD/PhDs who were a part of the clinical team of which I was involved with at the same pharma company I worked. There were others who were involved with bench research as well. Granted, the sample of MD/PhDs are quite small, but I would assume that such a combination will open doors to medical research.

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