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Are there actually any jobs out there for physicists that get paid a good wage?

  1. Apr 8, 2008 #1
    Are there actually any jobs out there for physicists that get paid a good wage??

    I'd like to think I'm a talented physicist, with a rolling grade of 100% in my A level so far. But it saddens me that a profession I'd would enjoy gets paid so little! Or am I misinformed? Through a little bit of research, I have only seen wages of up to £40,000 ($80,000 in USA, but not sure if the values match up for the prices of your commodities).
    If you know of any highly paid specialists, could you let me know please?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 8, 2008 #2

    D H

    Staff: Mentor

    Many physicists in the USA make six figures. While there certainly are people with a physics education who make well beyond six figures, they aren't doing physics. They are managing a company or something else. If you want to do physics, you can break six figures (inflation adjusted) during your career, but you won't do a whole lot better than that -- maybe $150K or so.

    That said, $80,000 (or £40,000) is a good salary. Its a very good salary. There are a lot of people, including a lot with PhDs, who make far less.
  4. Apr 8, 2008 #3
    ya, If I can get 80 or 100k after my phd I'll be pretty happy.
  5. Apr 8, 2008 #4


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    Staff Emeritus
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    If you really want to be rich, then Physics is not the discipline for you!
  6. Apr 8, 2008 #5
    Yes, but physics is a hard discipline, lots of work goes into it, other courses I'm considering are like pre-school work in comparison, with STARTING wages of $80,000 and that obviously rises with experience.

    But even though they are easier they may not be for me. My mind is strange, I find physics and maths and stuff easy, but economics and law boring and hard.
  7. Apr 8, 2008 #6
    Medical physicists average something like 300k! I guess it depends on your definition of rich.
  8. Apr 8, 2008 #7
    Actually I think it's more like half of that, with many years of experience.
  9. Apr 8, 2008 #8
    Not according to a presentation I saw a year ago by a medical physicist. Or perhaps he was only talking about radiologists, I can't remember. In any case, it's quite a nice payscale!
  10. Apr 9, 2008 #9
    Radiologists get paid a lot of money. But they are doctors. Whats that gotta do with physics?

    Your numbers seem way off laura, or I think you are confusing a medical doctor with a person who knows physics and works in the medical industry.
  11. Apr 9, 2008 #10


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    Well, as Cyrus says, a radiologist is not a physcist!

    Anyway, even if a small group of medical physicists do have a high wage, this is only an extremely small subset of physicists. Thus, my point "if you want to be rich then physics is not the place for you" still holds. I think it is foolish to try and tell people otherwise.
  12. Apr 9, 2008 #11
    "Only $80,000"?

    That is solidly upper-middle class, at least in the US. Hardly a "low" wage.

    Salaries vary tremendously by job; as a secondary teacher, I'm at the low end of physics wages at around $40k, and if I remain in the same position I would expect to top out at around $60k in a dozen years or so, with the salary remaining flat thereafter (all in 2007 dollars). Associate professors at small schools still start in the $30k's, but a successful career and maybe some light admin duties (department chair) could boost that to the high five figures. Heavy admin duties or very high merit (top in field, competitive) would advance above that level.

    If you're looking to get rich, I'd look elsewhere. If you're looking for a decent, liveable wage, that puts you somewhere in the middle class, it's not bad. Personally, I'd rather do what I love to do and make okay money, than do something that makes me miserable and rich.
  13. Apr 9, 2008 #12
    I have absolutely 0 knowledge about this, but one should think that there are a quite a few positions in the private industry that pays well for a physicist. Research for a large player in the drug industry, for example. Yes it is probably mostly chemists and doctors, but I gather they would need some with a pure physics PhD as well, for things like scanner development.

    Drug pushers pay well.

    Oh, and money is second to enjoyment anyway. Why work 8 ours each day to earn enough money to enjoy your spare time, when you can enjoy the 8 at work AND the time at home?

    Last edited: Apr 9, 2008
  14. Apr 9, 2008 #13
    You're unlikely to get over $100,000 right out of school. It took me about seven years to get into the six figure range (with a wireless communication company) after completing my PhD. I've since left to teach, which is much more rewarding, but pays a lot less.

    Make yourself indespensible to a company, and ask for a big raise every year. You will be fairly compensated for your value to the company. You will not be paid big bucks for three letters after your name.

    Michael Courtney
  15. Apr 9, 2008 #14
    No, he was a medical physicist, and the presentation was on medical physics. He was specifically talking about his specialty of radiology. He was a PHYSISICIST, not a medical doctor. He quoted a starting salary of something like 100k and an average of around 300k. I'm not making this up; perhaps he was, but I doubt it. I'm sorry I don't know his source. He got his numbers from somewhere. I'm just the messenger, so don't attack me.
  16. Apr 9, 2008 #15
    No need for people to get so excited about it. But, a quick search on Google for the phrase "medical physicist salary" shows an average of about 150k for board certified medical physicists.

    http://medicalphysics.duke.edu/intro.html (at bottom)

    Another link shows a starting salary of around 80k and topping out around 150k.


    Of course it's not your fault Laura, but it does seem like the presenter was exaggerating a bit.

    To get back to the topic at hand... any of those salaries are quite a bit of money (in retrospect the OP did ask for information on highly paid specialties). However, it seems like with physics in general you certainly are not going to be living in poverty, especially if you keep your skills diverse and applicable to many areas (i.e. being a theorist may not be the best of ideas).

    Also, last summer/fall I was looking into medical physics programs (visiting schools and talking to professors, etc). At one of the schools on the AAPM accredited list that only does MS degrees, the director was very unsure at that point (last August) as to whether or not they would even continue to have the MS program. From what he was saying, there has been a lot of talk in the MP community about doing away with the MS and creating a new professional PhD program, that would include a clinical component in it. I also think that the much talked about "shortage" of medical physicists is an overstatement. As an anecdotal note, one of the soon to be MS graduates at that university said that he applied to 20+ positions and was interviewed for only one of them (apparently 200+ people had applied for that same position). Anyhow, I don't want to turn this into a medical physics thread, but I thought some people might be interested in that information.
  17. Apr 9, 2008 #16
    150k!!! to do physics. sign me up.
  18. Apr 9, 2008 #17
    If we want to be a physicist and do physics, not have a physics degree and be a banker, then you won't get rich, probably, but you will be living relatively comfortably, I think.
  19. Apr 9, 2008 #18
    Physicists who write books can make a lot of money at times...But most physicists aren't in it for just the money.
  20. Apr 9, 2008 #19
    whats the job market like for medical physicists? how numerous are thse jobs? Could i work in any city i lived in? Would the hospital nearby need medical physicists?
  21. Apr 9, 2008 #20
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