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How much money are physics professors in the US making?

  1. Jun 16, 2012 #1
    Just asking because I love physics so much but i am just wondering on the average salaries...
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 16, 2012 #2


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  4. Jun 17, 2012 #3
    Oh ok, is being a physics professor a lot of work. It's not like i am a lazy person :P but i am thinking that i should also be a pharmacist for i want to study pharmacy and physics...
    So, can you do both.
  5. Jun 17, 2012 #4


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    Yes, it's a lot of work. You need a PhD in physics (8-12 years of college) to apply, and many schools also require one or more postdocs (additional 2-6 years of work). Most new professors work 60+ hour weeks between teaching, office hours, class prep, their own research, advising students, reading, writing, reviewing, and publishing papers, grant proposals, and committee work. Pharmacists make more money in less time and have set job hours. Sounds like that might be a better choice for you. No, you can't be a pharmacist and a physics professor at the same time.
  6. Jun 17, 2012 #5
    Where is the physics in being a pharmacist?

    And being a professor is a ton of work.
  7. Jun 17, 2012 #6
    It should also be noted that there is a great deal of competition for professorships (and equivalent), and most people who make it through grad school will not realize the dream of a faculty position.
  8. Jun 17, 2012 #7
    eri, i know the requirements to be a professor however what disappoints me is the salary however i love physics. Will being a professor in physics and another subject raise my salary...
  9. Jun 17, 2012 #8
    This doesn't make sense. If you love it enough you wouldn't care so much about the money. Plus the money is enough for you to live a comfortable life. People don't go into academia for the money, they go for the stability and freedom after getting tenure.

    You can be crosslisted in two departments but I think the salary stays the same.

    Since you are only a high school student, I'd suggest you consider a career in physics only after you have had some serious physics classes in college. Even if you can be among the top 5% in the fresh PhDs when you get out of grad school(Note:I'm not sure about physics but I vaguely remember in math around 95% of PhDs stop doing original work after 5 years of their PhD, which means the percentage of PhDs going into academia is less than 5%), you still get at least 9 years to go till then.
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2012
  10. Jun 17, 2012 #9


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    After spending 4-8 years in grad school, 40k a year seems like a fortune. But dcpo certainly is correct that even getting a job as a professor can be hard; I recently went through the process, and every job I applied to had between 100 and 300 qualified applicants. They only interview a few people. Many of my friends didn't get positions; some didn't even get interviews. Sounds like you're not up for the work to become a professor or the job itself. That's fine.
  11. Jun 17, 2012 #10
    My tenured professor tells me he made more 20 years ago working in the industry.
  12. Jun 17, 2012 #11


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    Probably true. Did you ask him why he became a professor?
  13. Jun 17, 2012 #12
    He told me he did it because he wants to feel like he is making a difference helping young people succeed and because he genuinely enjoys the research. He really is a nice person.
  14. Jun 17, 2012 #13


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    Karimspencer, there are two important points here: it's not a good idea to go into academia for the money, and getting a tenured position really is a long shot.
  15. Jun 17, 2012 #14


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    It's also worth keeping in mind that being in the top 5% doesn't guarantee you anything. There's this notion that if you keep working hard, that if you get the highest marks you'll be rewarded. And even into graduate school, for most of the students that's what every student has experienced. You do well in high school - you make it into univesity. You do well in undergrad - you make it to grad school. But it's not necessarily the top grad students that get selected for post-docs or the top post docs who are selected for tenure-track positions. At that point there are a lot of external factors that come into play such as what contacts you've established, whether your thesis topic turned out to be hot 5 years after you started it, how much funding is available in your field, whether you have a skill set that transfers well into other fields, and whether or not a butterfly in southeast asia flapped its wings three months ago.
  16. Jun 17, 2012 #15
    1. You don't go into this for the money. Although I don't like people that emphasise this TOO much. I think there's nothing wrong in informing yourself what you're in for in the economic side.
    2. Salaries vary a lot. A noble prize winner in my department has a salary of about 560K a year (his salary is visible to everyone because he works in a public university). Of course this is far from the norm, but other professors make around 150K - 260K. Assistant professors make 80K - 100K. This is for my university.
    3. Yes, it is a lot of work. If you love the intellectual challenge it can be very rewarding.
  17. Jun 18, 2012 #16

    Andy Resnick

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    My salary is public information- you can find it online. It's important to realize that some institutions have '9-month contracts', while others have '12-month contracts'. I have a 9-month contract, which means CSU only pays me for 9 months- I can have that money paid out over 12 months, or I can supplement by either teaching or obtaining extramural research dollars during the summer (currently I do the latter). The current number posted for me represents my full 12-month income.

    My previous institution used 12-month contracts, but part of that agreement required me to 'recover' a certain percentage of my salary through grants- the specific number varied by rank, but ranged from (IIRC) 60% for full tenured professor to 100% for postdocs and non-tenure track faculty of any rank.

    Part-time and adjunct appointments are structured completely differently.
  18. Jun 18, 2012 #17
    You guys are getting me wrong... I love physics and i am not thinking of the money more than i am thinking about my love to physics and being a professor.

    I don't really care about the money. I was just curious and i can't lie about being a little disappointed at first however i then learned that salaries vary.

    I am very dedicated to physics. I am also thinking and studying quantum electrodynamics and i am only 13 years old.
  19. Jun 18, 2012 #18


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    Asking for how much a US Physics professor make will produce a statistics that can be very unhelpful, even misleading! One needs to be aware that the cost of living in, say, Macomb, IL (home of U. of Western Illinois) is wildly different than in Palo Alto, CA (home of Stanford University). In the former, you can buy nice, comfortably large home for barely $100,000. In the latter, good luck in finding a nice home for less than $700,000. Consequently, the income will reflect the cost of living in each of these places. It gives a misleading idea that a professor in a small, rural city does not have the same qualify of life and benefits as someone who makes more money living in Los Angeles, CA.

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