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How much money do Physicists make?

  1. Jan 30, 2005 #1
    My parents are pressuring me to become a medical doctor but I don't really want to. I mean, I rather become a medical doctor more than a lawyer or business man but I still rather be a scientist, to be more particular a Theoretical Physicist. I am very interested in Time Travel, wormholes, and the natural wonders of the universe and would want to research those topics.

    There is a problem though.

    Well there is actually an advantage in being a medical doctor. They make more money than physicists.....or at least I am told that by my parents. I do want to go into politics later in life so I need to make major money. As a heart surgeon for example I can make $540,000 an year or as a lower doctor I can make at least $200,000 an year.

    How much money do Physicists make yearly? To be more specific, how much do Theoretical Physicists make yearly? I heard it was $90,000, but my parents told me that so they could be lying to get me in a medical profession. $90,000 dollars an year is kind of low, so I would want that.
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  3. Jan 30, 2005 #2
    You shouldn't choose any profession just for the money. Do whatever YOU want to do, don't let your parents pressure you into making a decision.

    When political officals run for office they usually have supporters. If you want to get into politics later in life you should make a lot of friends who are wealthy.

    $90,000 a year is not 'low'. It matters where you live. Docters may make more money a year for salary, but just imagine how much debt they need to pay off from years and years of medical school.

  4. Jan 30, 2005 #3
    i have a similar problem like yours, although indirectly, they make me do medicine.

    Like you i prefer theretical physics as well, or theroetical chemistry, if there is such a thing.

    Although i may be in no position to say it, i agree with logiX. There is no point in making lots of money if you're not gonna enjoy what you actually do.

    And considering the amount of mathematical work and research phyicists do, i think they really should get moer credit. Although then, it won't have that aroma of elegancy..
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2005
  5. Jan 30, 2005 #4
    There was an interesting article in the WSJ a few weeks ago (Jan 10) that talked about two brothers-in-law. One was a cosmetic dentist. The other was a doctor doing family practice. The cosmetic dentist was living the high life - loads of money and relatively easy work schedule. The doctor on the other hand, was pretty miserable. Beginning of article:

    Anyhow - I would say that if you don't go to a top school, then being a medical doctor or dentist is not a bad way to go. You have a good chance of making a good living.

    However - if you go to a top-notch school, then the physics degree is useful in landing a job in quantitative finance, for example. And salaries are pretty high there. But a normal run-of-the-mill physicist is probably not making more than or much more than 100K a year. I've heard of some physics postdocs at national labs making 80K a year. Full profs at top-notch universities are making somewhere over a 100K a year. So your parents are probably right when it comes to theoretical physicists.

    But - you might work in applied physics and develop some technology that you could patent and form a company around. Then - you could conceivably strike it rich. Also - I'm not sure what industry jobs pay.

    If you are focused on just making money - just go to business school. Or just something in finance. There are people 3-4 years out of college who make between 150 to 200K a year. However, chances of getting jobs like this if you don't go to a good school are slim unless you're well connected.
  6. Jan 30, 2005 #5


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    That's roughly correct, for whatever it's worth, but only in the early part of your career. Depending on whether you work in industry or academia, your salary growth could vary.
  7. Jan 30, 2005 #6
    Keep in mind that in physics - the postdoc period can last a long time.
  8. Jan 30, 2005 #7
    Focus on studying to get a job that you will enjoy doing. You want to be able to wake up every morning and look forward to going to work, that is the most important thing. I would rather make 45,000 a year doing a job I truly love than make 250,000 year doing a job I hate. Most people work at least 8 hours a day, that is a really long time to be doing something you hate.

    Success is waking up every morning and being able to do whatever you want, and if that thing you want to do happens to be your job, then you have made it.

    If you aren't sure, just go to college and start with physics as your major. This will let you know how much you truly love it. You can always change your mind about your major and remember that you need a 4 year degree in anything to get into medical school.
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2005
  9. Jan 30, 2005 #8
    The average salary in the US I believe is around $45k, $90k a year is a very nice amount. Do what you love to do, don't worry about the money. I'd rather be a happy begger than an unhappy ceo.
  10. Jan 30, 2005 #9


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    I'd be happy making 30 to 40k.

    Note: In Canada, of course.
  11. Jan 30, 2005 #10
    You consider $90,000 low?

    $90,000 is more than double the average kid.

    if you're that obsessed with your paycheck, don't bother with physics. Post docs make $50,000 maximum (in general). Usually less. Tenured professors or industry physicists make $90,000 to $110,000.

    I'm sorry, but you ahve no real understanding of money if you consider $90,000 low. Either that or you come from a horribly spoiled upbringing. Or both.
  12. Jan 30, 2005 #11
    If i'm doing theoretical physics i'd be happy making that here in the US.
  13. Jan 30, 2005 #12
    Starting salary for a physicist with a BS ranges from 28-50k. Theoretical physicists i'm pretty sure make the least and have the worst job outlook.
  14. Jan 30, 2005 #13


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    Asking how much Physicists make goes to show that you do care about money.

    The question never crossed my mind.
  15. Jan 30, 2005 #14

    It crossed my mind, but never as a criterion for choosing it as a career, more out of curiosity.
  16. Jan 30, 2005 #15
    Not really, its just as easy for them to get professorship positions and government lab jobs.
  17. Jan 30, 2005 #16
    Guys, don't get me wrong. I am just not after the money. If only was then I wouldn't bother on making this thread. I keep telling my parents that it is better to do a job you enjoy than the money but they keep saying it is better to have money.

    There a couple of reasons why I myself want more money. One reason is that I want to go into politics later in life and you have to have lots of money to be sucessful in that line. Secondly I want a better life than my parent. My father makes on average $112,000 an year as a small buisness owner, so that is why I judge $90,000 a bit lower. It probably is not bad pay at all, so just because I found out most theoretical physicists maker around that much it doesn't mean becoming that profession is out of my idea.

    What if you were to find a major discovery as an theoretical physicist such as a way to travel time ec.t ect. Wouldn't that boose your pay up? There is so much to discover in this line work so it is very likelly I will discover something big. Won't it booste your pay?
  18. Jan 30, 2005 #17
    https://www.physicsforums.com/journal.php?s=&action=view&journalid=13790&perpage=10&page=3 [Broken]

    Check out the "What is a physicist"-entry in the above link. There are lots of references to various sites on the earnings and jobdescriptions of physicists in various fields and in various countries

    Last edited by a moderator: May 1, 2017
  19. Jan 30, 2005 #18
    Yes. If you're churning out major research Universities will want to pay you more, and you'll be more likely to be requested for lectures and seminars which pay very well for the time involved.

    AS for the making less money that your parents, my parents make about the same as yours, my dad works in franchising. Business fields will always have the potential to make more money, its simple capitalism. Science is on the other much less capitalistic in general.

    However to say its very likely you'll discover something big is a height of arrogance even i wouldn't go to(and i'm the most arrogant elitist jackarse anyone i know has ever met, though i can usually put my money where my mouth is, so to speak). It doesn't work that way. Just because there is a lot to discover does not mean that you will discover it, no matter how genius you are. Its a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

    The way real physics works is that lots of little bits and pieces are studied by individuals for years, then every once in a great while an einstein or a feyman comes along and pieces it all together into something coherent and cogent.

    Further as for the money you have to understand the occupational lifestylf of a physicist, especially a theoretical physicist. You'll spend hours locked in a room with coffee and a blackboard, not much time to enjo larg income, you're too busy working on watever problem has you enthralled at the time. You live your job really. It has to be something that you're doing ebcause you love it.

    edit: If you're concerned about cost of education vs payout at the end (which is more legitimate in my mind that being worried about the paycheck in and of itself, physics majors generally don't pay for grad school. You work as a TA or RA (research assistant) during your doctoral work and so don't have to pay.
  20. Jan 30, 2005 #19


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  21. Jan 30, 2005 #20
    If you think $90k U.S. a low income, then you're better off in law or marketing.
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