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How much money can you make in physics?

  1. Dec 7, 2018 at 9:46 PM #1
    I am currently trying to decide between going into artificial intelligence and being a researcher in theoretical particle physics. I think I could make a lot of money in ai but the second option seems far more interesting and fulfilling. So my question is; is there potential to make around 500k a year as a researcher in theoretical particle physics, and if so, what level of degree would I need, about how many years will I have to be in the work force to land a job like this, and are the odds very low of this happening or is it not too uncommon?
     
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  3. Dec 7, 2018 at 9:52 PM #2

    russ_watters

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    It's essentially impossible. About the only way is if the physics is just an enabler of something else, like an invention or fame or a high end management job.
     
  4. Dec 7, 2018 at 9:59 PM #3

    Vanadium 50

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    500K? In US dollars? You realize this is nine times the average US family income?
     
  5. Dec 8, 2018 at 12:29 AM #4

    Orodruin

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    Also, becoming a researcher in particle physics really is not something you can decide on your own. You will have to pass through several selection processes and every time you might end up without a job because competition is fierce. If salary means so much to you, particle physics is not for you.
     
  6. Dec 8, 2018 at 2:50 AM #5

    mfb

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    Only 3% of US households (not individuals!) have a yearly income over $250,000, the fraction over $500,000 will be significantly smaller but the statistics don't split that up.
    Jobs in theoretical particle physics are paid by the government in one way or another, they don't get anywhere close to that. Even the US president gets "just" $400,000.
    The vast majority of jobs in every other field (including AI) is way below $500,000 as well.
     
  7. Dec 8, 2018 at 2:51 AM #6

    haushofer

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    500K? :D I don't know about American standards, but I think professors like my supervisor, a renowned theoretical physicist in Holland, maybe hit the 100K gross (euros) at the end of their carreer.

    But I guess your statement

    should be the important one. In both cases, you'll make a way to sustain yourself and a family. So choose wisely.
     
  8. Dec 8, 2018 at 7:05 AM #7

    jtbell

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    If you can leverage your (or someone else's :oldwink:) research in AI to build a successful startup company, you might end up with a net worth of several million dollars. But that requires a lot of luck and good business skills. Look at the overall success rate for startups.
     
  9. Dec 8, 2018 at 10:23 AM #8

    Choppy

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  10. Dec 8, 2018 at 1:30 PM #9
    ya you are exactly right. I thought researchers make around 100k which is still good but @MarneMath said people make more so I was confused. I am just not familiar with how hard it would be to get a job like that, and how much luck it might take.
     
  11. Dec 8, 2018 at 1:46 PM #10

    Orodruin

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    It is hard enough to get a permanent job in academia. Getting one that is paid at that level is a fantasy for most. It is like planning to become a well paid sports star or artist.
     
  12. Dec 8, 2018 at 2:58 PM #11

    jtbell

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    Note his comment:
    This makes the odds even lower than in academic research, which might have what, on the order of a hundred applicants per position?
     
  13. Dec 8, 2018 at 4:29 PM #12

    MarneMath

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    Yea, we typically hire fresh PhD at the 250k range, to get to 500k, you have to have lasted for quite a few years. Most PhD on our staff last typically 2-3 years before they are stolen (thus the high pay) or burnt out. Also, we're based out of NYC so cost of living is a bit higher than the rest of the nation. Nevertheless, I think it's reasonable for a former PhD to be able to reinvent themselves into a role from 125k-250k range. I think most people would agree that's more than sufficient salary for most people.
     
  14. Dec 8, 2018 at 7:25 PM #13

    mfb

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    Total number of applicants is rarely a useful number for well-paid jobs. You have so many applicants who know they don't have a chance anyway.
     
  15. Dec 10, 2018 at 2:27 AM #14

    rkr

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    My advice is always to (1) be good at your craft, (2) set constraints, don't just make global maxima decisions.

    Regarding (1), take your claim about AI for example. I was at the most recent ICML and EMNLP, and my Fermi estimate's that we had about 250 attendees for every 1 company recruitment booth. To put that ratio in perspective, Google's AI team has a headcount of about 150, and that's probably one of the largest groups. AI is commoditized, and it will be even more so by the time you're at the peak paying stage of your career. Also take into consideration that 5 tech firms have propped up the market for the last 8 years, and that has slowed down rapidly this year. The job market is incredibly efficient, and it doesn't make sense for there to be a systematic salary bias in favor of AI jobs forever, especially considering the barrier to entry is very low.

    I run a hedge fund and have come across a wide cross-section of wealthy persons as a side effect of my work. (By construction, we are only allowed to accept investors that are 'QPs', which is about a small group of about 30,000 entities in the U.S.) I've come across people making >10^6/year writing books; doing standup comedy; marketing FX derivatives; selling underwear; doing biology or math research; doing runway modeling; selling maple syrup; being employee n<5 at FB/GOOG/AAPL; taking photographs, and so on. The one thing in common is that they're all amazing at their craft.

    (2) is really just a corollary of (1). You can't be amazing at your craft if it's overly broad. Being #1 and biology research or #1 in AI is incredibly difficult. Feng Zhang will probably net a Nobel Prize and amass a $10^8-10^9 net worth in the next decade, and he didn't get there by being #1 in biology research, or even #1 in genome engineering, or even #1 in utilizing the CRISPR system. A constrained optimization is a lot easier.

    @MarneMath's numbers are not as uncommon as it sounds. I'm in the high-frequency space and our numbers are actually slightly higher across the board because of the scalability. I won't speak exactly about our firm, but one of my employees has a physics PhD and netted a $37M bonus in 1 year from generating over $400M for his last firm in a year (his team of 3 was behind 1/10 out of every dollar traded in every single one of the European stock markets), and he was there for 8 years.
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2018 at 2:39 PM
  16. Dec 10, 2018 at 8:46 AM #15
    I recommend you learn to be content with a much smaller income.
     
  17. Dec 10, 2018 at 12:49 PM #16
    And a corollorary of that is to focus, as others have suggested, on what you enjoy. Then, surprise, surprise, because you enjoy it you are, or become, very good at it, thereby maximising the possible income for that role: the best of both worlds.
     
  18. Dec 10, 2018 at 1:57 PM #17
    I agree, but only to a point. On the path of earning a living, there are bound to be a few things that one does not enjoy. The path to a good income nearly always involves some heard work and sweat of the brow. Too much emphasis on paths of less resistance tend to just push the less enjoyable and harder stuff off until later.
     
  19. Dec 10, 2018 at 2:24 PM #18
    We are probably in closer agreement than my earlier post may suggest. From my perspective "hard work and sweat of brow" can be part of the fun and are certainly part of the satisfaction. In my last job I estimate that about 20%-30% of my time was spent in boring paperwork and necessary company politics, but that was the price required to get "access" to the fun part. My salary compensated me for that 20%-30% - the rest I did for free. I imagine - but have only anecdotal evidence to support the view - that most people who enjoy their work have a similar perspective.
     
  20. Dec 10, 2018 at 3:55 PM #19
    I think so, but until they've actually earned a real living for several years, most teens and college students don't get it. The idea of spending 40 hours a week at a real job when 8-12 hours of that is particularly unenjoyable is not on their minds. They tend to focus on the part of stuff they don't like and have not yet matured to work 40 real hours a week, particularly if it includes 8-12 hours of stuff like boring paperwork and stupid company politics.
     
  21. Dec 11, 2018 at 3:33 PM #20

    russ_watters

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    That's great for you guys, but it is probably worth pointing out that for most of the people on the planet, that isn't the case. For most people, work is little more than a way to make money to live on. Kids who have had summer jobs flipping burgers probably do recognize that at least they are looking for a job that sucks less and pays more.

    The enjoyment factor is what causes physics (and other jobs) to be highly competitive and relatively low pay compared with the qualifications. And the other side of the coin is why @MarneMath 's company will pay you $500k to crush your spirit until you quit.

    Pay = suckiness * demand / supply
     
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