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Guarenteed to qualify for being physicist in NASA (salary at least $90000)

  1. Jul 22, 2009 #1
    Hello guys,

    I am going into U.S. Navy next year, and I am signed up in Nuclear Power Program (Nuclear Physics) thing in the Navy. Then, I will also get a bachelor's degree in the Navy while aboard a ship, and after all that six years, I can stay in Navy, and go for the PhD for physics, so that I can get paid in Navy still. After about 9 years of hard work, do you guys think NASA will hire me for working as a physicist, minimum salary of $90000? I really wanted to work for NASA, and it's my dream.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 22, 2009 #2
    I think you're getting the horse in front of the cart. Wait to see if you enjoy and are good a physics. Then decide on grad school. Then decide on a career.

    Regarding NASA.... you can do better, I hope. From my work experience I'm much more impressed with NRL than NASA. There is much better science coming from NRL. Maybe you should consider being a physicist in the Navy?

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 24, 2017
  4. Jul 22, 2009 #3

    Andy Resnick

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    NASA, and the rest of government jobs, follow the general pay scale: $90k is a solid GS-14, well above anywhere you are going to be when you start. A PhD is a GS 11 or 12.

  5. Jul 22, 2009 #4
    Oh, I am 100% confident that I will enjoy and have talents for physics. That's why I am planning a Ph.D on physics. NASA is still my dream!

    Ah, this is the reply I was looking for. Thanks for the site, but do you think from Navy's nuke program and Ph.D in physics will get me into NASA?
  6. Jul 22, 2009 #5
    NASA is a very large (and ever shrinking) program. What exactly are you hoping to do at NASA? By the time you graduate most of the space program (for humans) is likely to have been competely scrapped. I mean this isn't the 60's/70's , I guess I just don't see the big appeal of NASA.
  7. Jul 22, 2009 #6


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    I doubt there's a secret formula. If you really want to get into NASA, the route you're looking at is likely as good as any.

    Really, what getting in will come down to is what openings there will be a decade or so from now when you've earned your Ph.D. and completed your military service, as well as how well your specific qualifications match up with what is needed. That's a long period of time. Think about what the world was like 10 years ago just to get an idea.
  8. Jul 22, 2009 #7
    Well the NASA jobs site says that they can take even bachelor's degree in any scientific areas, so Ph.D will be very exceptional, plus the nuclear power program studies. I know things change over the years and all that, but I've been waiting for a chance to getting into NASA for quite a long time. And I am not an idiot, seriously.
  9. Jul 22, 2009 #8
    But what do you want to DO at NASA? Or is it just a prestigous acronym?
  10. Jul 23, 2009 #9
    Study & research scientific studies (specifically physics) at NASA. Also, teamwork on scientific experiments.
  11. Jul 23, 2009 #10
    Of what though? It's not like NASA is the best research group/agency in your country. They're pretty middling. NASA hasn't been where the "best" minds go for about 30 years. I'm not trying to trample your dreams or anything but NASA has not been the leading expert/research on anything except maybe "sending people into space" for quite some time and they rarely send people into space these days and it's entirely likely that by the time you graduate NASA will send no one into space. Is it aeronautics you're interested in? Is it JPL you're eying?
  12. Jul 23, 2009 #11
    Yeah, you're probably right. NASA isn't everything when it's about gathering brightest minds for research. Do you have any job suggestion for a Nuclear Power Program student/Ph.D physics guy?
  13. Jul 23, 2009 #12
    Sorry about my previous post. I'll look toward to this site.
  14. Jul 23, 2009 #13
    Well of course the obvious answer is any given top tier university (for an american that'd be MIT, Caltech,Princeton,Yale,Harvard, etc.). Although, for whatever reason (I'm not trying to discourage you just haven't specified what you're interested in and why) you seem set on gov't labs (which is rarely, with a few exceptions, where the bulk of physics research is done) and you seem to have your mind set on Nuclear Power physics. Then you might want to know that I'm pretty sure NASA doesn't even have a nuclear power group. Probably the most well known, government run, american research lab that does nuclear physics research would be Oak Ridge National Labs. I'm not american (in Canada it'd probably be Chalk River), nor do I do nuclear physics, so there are probably others kicking around I don't know about.

    Also I get the impression that your image of physics is quite ascew, which is perfectly natural for someone just starting to consider their career in the field, but I feel it my responsibility to give you a little information. NASA does not even do physics research. It does aeronautical engineering. There's never been a famous physicist that worked for NASA. Physicists work for, generally, universities or certain national or corporate labs (actually, one of the most successful physics outfits was Bell Laboratories, unfortunately that was shut down a while ago). If you're interested in quantum mechanics, nuclear physics, general relativity, string theory, etc. NASA does none of these, you'd be more likely to do these things working for Google or Microsoft than NASA (actually I hear these are sweet gigs if you get in their "basic" research departments) but far and away this work is done in universities by professors. Einstein, Feynman, Bohr, Newton, Dirac, etc. every physicist you've ever heard of was a professor at a university.

    NASA's job WAS to get people into space, now they mostly do astrophysics/astronomy (not much interest in sending people into space these days not that the cold war is over and that we realise that the moon really was just a hunk of rock, just like everything else in our solar system).
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2009
  15. Jul 23, 2009 #14
    Again thanks for the good reply. Yeah I might have to find another job where it gives me a lot of opportunities for physics. But, being a university professor is not my interest, since the salary is not good enough for me. I am on iPod Touch now, so sorry for the short reply.
  16. Jul 23, 2009 #15
    Professors, on the average, make more than national lab employees. Corporate lab scientists make the most in terms of "pure" research and working in industry makes the most of all (but then you'll never be tackling the "big" questions, more the "how to make a better lightbulb" variety).
  17. Jul 23, 2009 #16
    Hmm well yeah I guess I'll have to think about this one a bit more. Thanks for the replies!
  18. Jul 23, 2009 #17
    Not a problem. I just didn't want you spending 8 years of your life only to find that your average NASA employee only makes a little over half what you thought they did and that they don't even really do physics. I should point out that a nuclear physicist working for the Department of Energy (I think that's what it's called in the states) will easily make 6 figures. But they don't do research, more keep the power plants running.
  19. Jul 23, 2009 #18
    The job doesn't has to be about research - it can be where physics knowledge can be used.
  20. Jul 23, 2009 #19
    Well the highest paid "physicists" are in medical physics, the second highest are in industrial and the third highest in nuclear. All of these are "working" physicists (i.e. no research, except for med phys). However, often money hungry physicists end up working in engineering or software development which also pays well.
  21. Jul 23, 2009 #20
  22. Jul 23, 2009 #21
    That explains the planned 2020 moon missions?
  23. Jul 23, 2009 #22
    I don't know what you're refering to but NASA makes these kinda claims every couple years when their budget gets cut and then silently scrap it. These failed PR stunts/manned missions almost take up half of NASA's budget and never get off the ground. To me I think the real tragedy would be if we actually DID try and send a manned space flight. What a waste of time. At the moment "manned" space flight exists of putting people on the ISS, which has done basically nothing since it was put up there (and it's still not finished), and then sending manned shuttles to fix the ISS.
  24. Jul 23, 2009 #23

    Vanadium 50

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    I'm sorry, but a lot of information that's been posted here is way, way off the mark.

    First, making $90,000 as a physicist right after a PhD is just not in the cards. Expect perhaps half that. It takes a good 10-15 years post PhD to be making that much - and some people never reach that.

    Second, a BS earned shipboard will not be of anything like the quality you will get by going to a college or university. For instance, what will you do for labs? This will make graduate school more difficult. Also, the amount of time it takes to earn a degree is often wildly underestimated by young soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. Similarly, the amount of free time available is often wildly overestimated.

    Third, the Navy is not going to pay for you to get a PhD and then let you leave for NASA. Expect between 12 and 18 months of obligated service per year of education. An average PhD takes 6 years. Tack on 9 years of additional service obligation to the 4 to get a bachelors and the 15 to be making $90k and you're talking 34 years from now.

    Fourth, it's simply not true that National Lab salaries are lower than university salaries. On average, they are higher. Yes, if you look at only Harvard salaries, the picture is different.

    Fifth, it's simply not true that most research is done in universities. The DoE HEP budget has 37% going to facility operations, 38% to laboratory research, and 16% to university research.

    Sixth, Maverick_Starstrider's "every physicist you've ever heard of" argument relies on a list of physicists who died, on average, 85 years ago. Removing Newton and the average is still 37 years ago. Furthermore, I can easily give you a list of people at labs who have won Nobel prizes based on their work there: Bardeen, Penzias & Wilson, Bednorz and Muller, Charpak, and Smoot. Note that some of these people did their research at the corporate labs that Maverick_Starstrider pooh-poohs as 'never be tackling the "big" questions, more the "how to make a better lightbulb" variety.'

    And finally, a DoE nuclear physicist does not run power plants.
  25. Jul 23, 2009 #24
  26. Jul 23, 2009 #25
    Vanadium is right that the Navy isn't going to go along with your educational plan, and that you'll have a hard time getting into a good grad school with any kind of distance learning bachelor's -- if a physics bachelors is even available in such a way. Further, you seem to think that your enlisted service will be of interest to employers looking for a physicist. But Navy Nuclear experience really won't be applicable to most physics research; even for a nuclear power-related job, the graduate-level training is what's important.

    NASA does have quite a bit of astrophysics research going on, including some very good people (contrary to what maverick_starstrider seems to think). But if you're not interested in astrophysics, then as others have said, NASA isn't the place to look.

    As far as $90K out of grad school, it's certainly possible in industry -- I had several acquaintances in grad school who made more than that going to places like IBM and defense contractors. Postdocs at national labs and places like NIST or the military research labs typically make much more than academic postdocs; a friend at NIST started at around $65K, I think. Any comparison of "national labs vs. academia" or "industry vs. academia" is pointless unless one is very specific about which portion of academia one is talking about; leaving aside the Harvards and Caltechs, professors at major state universities spending most of their time on research and teaching one class per term will make more than professors at smaller state universities who are teaching 3-4 classes per term. Of course, the research-oriented jobs are far harder to get.

    All that being said, if what you want is to make money, save yourself the grad school years and go into business or finance. After a couple of years you can get your company to fund you for an MBA, and in two more years you'll be making the kind of money you're talking about. There are too many "ifs" along the physics-oriented road to high salary.
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