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Math Don't take mathematics.

  1. Apr 3, 2009 #1
    Here is a site that puts Physicists at number 5 in the highest paying jobs. Mathematics isn't mentioned at all. The bad news is that they project there will only be 1000 more jobs in 2016 than there were in 2006.

    I'm a software engineer. That's at the bottom of the list. Should I worry that it's at the bottom, or be glad I'm in the top 20, ahead of mule skinner?

    I find it interesting that they report the same number of Lead Computer Programmers as they do Computer Programmers and make the same projection for 2016. I attribute this to the fact that whenever a programmers sends out a resume, they always claim that they were lead.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 3, 2009 #2


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    Very interesting...

    From the link:
    "Physicists observe the laws of physics, develop new theories and apply their knowledge to the development of products and scientific processes.
    Mean annual salary: $93,073
    2006 employment: 17,000
    2016 projected employment: 18,000"

    If you delve a little deeper, the job bank the article links to apprears highly biassed towards medical physics. And there is no mention of what constituted "physicist" - whether that was someone with a B.Sc. degree, or a Ph.D. and a couple of post-docs under his or her belt, which weren't counted in the average.

    Still, I think it's evidence to suggest that studying physics is not a bad career choice.
  4. Apr 3, 2009 #3

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    That's not on the list. You are a software engineer, not a mere programmer. According to http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos110.htm#outlook" on their resume.

    That's always a good trick. Those displaced computer programmers will soon start calling themselves lead software engineer, lead computer scientist, or of course lead short order cook.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  5. Apr 3, 2009 #4
    Holy cow, what an impressively dumb article. How many times do I have to say it?

    Salary is a really bad measure of the financial value of a career

    The article gives means! MEANS! Did that not tip you off? Did you not see the word "mean" and say to yourself "Self, this statistic has no value whatsoever?" Did you not stop and ask

    "What's the distribution look like?"

    "What's the standard deviation?"

    "How does the median compare to the mean?"

    If I offered to sell you an anuity that paid, on average, $110,000 a year, would you buy it? Or would you ask those pesky little questions like "What does it cost" and "When do the payments start, when do they end, and how many of them are there?" Pesky little questions that define the entire value of the annuity?

    And yet we accept that a job pays well by only looking at the mean yearly payment.

    Anyone who reads articles like this and isn't offended by the very premise should be ashamed of themselves. That includes both of you. (edit: at time of original post this referred directly to jimmysnyder and choppy)

    Last time I figured up the net present value of the two, a mechanical engineer making 60-80k significantly out earned a PhD physicist making, towards the end of his career, almost twice as much. Can you see why? Salary can be very misleading.
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2009
  6. Apr 3, 2009 #5
    I'm wary of those statistics. The BLS seems to be using different data...
  7. Apr 3, 2009 #6
    Indeed, don't take mathematics (or for that matter physics or any other science subject) if all you want is to make a lot of money. Mathematics and other sciences are fundamentally about something else than "making money".

    E.g. I published a paper recently about a nice result in mathematical physics. This activity, from start to finish, was not related to or motivated by "making money".
  8. Apr 3, 2009 #7
    I totally agree, I think the question to ask yourself when pursuing a higher degree in physics or math is whether you will eventually be able to get an honest job that pays you to do what you love doing: physics and math. None of my graduate classmates are in it for the money, we all joke about how just about anything else besides physics would be more employable. I think it is similar to people who pursue their dreams of being professional athletes, celebrities, politicians, etc with a small demand by employers and a large supply of potential employees.
  9. Apr 3, 2009 #8
  10. Apr 3, 2009 #9


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    Notice that is median income which is normally a much better measure than mean because salary distribution is not symmetric.
  11. Apr 3, 2009 #10
    Good point. Bonuses are where the action is.
  12. Apr 3, 2009 #11


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    Oh do grow up. There's more to life than just money.

    Besides which, you're not going to have a good career doing something you're not interested it. You'll just end up being another drone counting down the clock until punch-out time.

    Take the subjects that interest you.
  13. Apr 3, 2009 #12
    Oh do grow up. There's something to be gained by reading carefully.
  14. Apr 3, 2009 #13


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    I agree with most of Locrian's points. The data isn't very very revealing. And that was essentially the point I was trying to make. We are not told at which point in a career a person is desgnated "physicist" and therefore that annual mean may not reflect length of time in school or post-doctoral work, etc.

    As well, since it is not a median, it is perhaps not an accurate reflection of a salary a physicist may actually have - as the mean could be biassed by outliers who make extreme salaries (like say, the physicists who develop patents or businesses, but for some reason retain the title).

    But I do not think mean annual salary is completely invalid. As I suspect the median and mean will not differ too much from each other (my guess is that the founder of JDS Uniphase wasn't included in this survey). The mean gives a quantitative snapshot of the career path. I agree that there are better metrics to use such as gross cummulative earnings, but event that is not perfect.

    In the end, the career of "physicist" has been assessed, compared with other options that a student interested in pursuing some kind of science or engineering would tend to consider, and has been found not to be the wet blanket that some people would make it out to be.
  15. Apr 6, 2009 #14
    Strongly disagree. The only reasonable (and I'm not saying it's good, but just that it's useful) measure would be to consider the likely net present value of the salary payments. Because they didn't do that, they provided us with absolutely no information that we can use to compare the different fields.

    For instance, academic physics has suffered a huge pay cut since the early 70's without actually reducing the inflation adjusted salary much by increasing the number of years before employees actually earn that salary (and reducing the probability that they ever will).
  16. Apr 6, 2009 #15
    Who said anything about only wanting to make a lot of money? This kind of straw man always appears in threads like these. If anyone makes the egregious mistake of wanting to measure the value of these degrees they get the patented "don't do it for the money" line.

    I'm going to put forward this wild idea that doing something awesome that you love and getting paid well for it is even better than doing something awesome that you love and not. Crazy, yes? I'm going to go even farther and point out that often we, as human beings, can love more than one thing. Also, sometimes the same thing we love may offer different paths, some of which are more financially valuable than others. I propose we should consider all our choices and make informed decisions.

    Only considering the financial returns of a career is a poor method of career choice. So is not considering them.
  17. Apr 6, 2009 #16
    Well, if you want to compare the earnings of a physicist to someone who doesn't work in academia, the first thing you need to take into account is the actual amount of work they do. E.g. a typical postdoc gets paid for 40 hours per week, but in reality he works 70 hours per week.
  18. Apr 6, 2009 #17
    I did a little research myself, and as you stated, Medical Physicists tend to make MUCH more than your average R&D physicist in another area. Plus, because of it being the mean value, a low salary of some other physicist and the higher salary of a Medical Physicist would average to about 80k or 90k, which is very misleading. There needs to be a decent breakdown, plus a breakdown of ages. aip.org (American Institute of Physics) has a few nice statistics for the community. Good decent breakdowns. Generally, the higher paying Physics jobs are University Professors, Medical Physicists, and if you stretch it, something in the Engineering field like Computer Technology. Then again, Physics is not about the money, its about liking what you do while at the same time you make an okay income (except for those poor postdocs, making 40k a year). It would, however, be nice to be a professor making 100k+ a year...
  19. Apr 6, 2009 #18
    I'm pretty sure they included anyone who at LEAST had a bachelor's degree in physics. lol they need to break it up some more...
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