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How to beome a well paid Physicist- Also Questions about Engineering

  1. Apr 5, 2009 #1
    I'd like to begin by saying i'm not just interested in making money. I'd rather like what i'm doing and get paid little then be miserable and make a lot of money.

    Anyways, when i look at the salaries of physicists, i see that it ranges. Overall, I'd like to say that physicists do not get paid little. But, there are some people making less money than others while some people making more money than others. I want to know, how do become a high paid physicist. Does fame matter, or discoveries? What makes these few physicist get paid more than others. Note that i'm talking about most physicist in general not medical physicist.

    My other question is if there is such thing as a engineering physicist. I mean i would like to do research in a lab in all, but it'll be cool if i get to design stuff. I don't just want to be observing stuff i want be building new devices sort of like an inventor/engineer, who deals a lot with physics.

    I hope you can help!
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 5, 2009 #2


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    This is a pretty wide-sweping question.

    I once read a tag-line for a business seminar that went along these lines: "In business, you don't get what's fair. You get what you negotiate."

    The key to making money is to understand a little bit about the concepts of supply and demand. Essentially if you have a skill or service for which there is high demand, but little supply, you are in a much better position when it comes to negotiation for salary.

    Most academic positions held by physicists exist because as a society we recognize there is a value to advancing fundamental research. However the perception of return on investment into fundamental research is that there isn't much. The funding for this work most often comes from government agencies rather than private industries for this reason. How do you convince a capital investor to give you money to study black holes, when his other option is a drug that might cure cancer?

    Many people would like to believe that we live in a perfect merritocracy - that if you get better marks or publish more papers you will end up with better pay. And while I would argue this is a general trend, there are a lot of compounding factors - including being in the right place at the right time, with the right experience to capitalize on an opportunity.
  4. Apr 5, 2009 #3
    What?? So you don't care about making money, but wanna know how to become a high paid Physicist? If you don't care about making money then why keep asking about it?
  5. Apr 5, 2009 #4
    Well, really I didn't seem to ask the question right. My question wasn't how do i become a high paid physicist. I really was asking what makes a high paid physicist so special. What do they do differently than other physicist.

    And i know i said i don't care about money, but really although being happy is more important, i think it'll also be important to have money, cause for me that adds happiness. Some people say, well yeah money dosen't buy happiness. i think money comes with happiness. To be honest if i was a major millionaire but hated to work i would still be happy because i can come home and buy anything. though if i wasn't a major millionaire but maybe a surgeon who hated their work it would suck because you have a bad balance. If i was a physicist who got paid a lot it'll be a great balance because you get money for something you love doing. I hope i don't sound like in idiot but really in the real world that's sort of how most people think.

    But then again if you think about it most people want to be rich because they want to be happy. Most people don't think of it like that. So they should realize that if they were rich but unhappy, it defeats the whole purpose.
  6. Apr 5, 2009 #5
    Okay, so this is when i ask about the engineering part. We know that engineering will give the investor something in return. So what happens if physicists didn't just do research and write papers but instead also engineered stuff, found in the same research they just did. What i'm trying to say is physicists should do research, and then put that into a working purpose. I know you might say well that's exactly what engineering is. This is isn't true because engineers just apply science and math into purpose. They don't conduct research or anything like that. Maybe there should be a hybrid of physicist and engineer. Is there such a thing?
  7. Apr 5, 2009 #6
    You say you don't care about the money/salary part of the career, yet why is it that you've posted up all of these threads?

    I'm pretty sure you've gotten all of the answers you could possibly need from all those threads.

    Not to mention that most of those answers (including mine) aren't worth very much as they're usually anecdotal or second hand sources. You'll have better luck finding more substantial information with regards to salary through profession statistics and labor/industry data.

    Asking about the whereabouts for the future of Aerospace mean salary

    Pay with regard to being a "rocket scientist" (AKA aerospace engineering variant, physics variant)

    Pay, once again, with regard to being a "rocket scientist"

    Pay with regard to being a physicist
  8. Apr 5, 2009 #7
    okay, yeah i just admitted i do care about money. But not to a point that it'll totally change my future. I posted those threads because i wanted information. And you know what i did get a lot of helpful information. Sorry if i may have sounded like a hipercrite but seriously who cares what i said. I think you should ignore the fact that i care about money or not, if you want to help go ahead but you don't have worry about me if you don't want. So from now on i'm not going to say that i don't care about money. The only reason i say that is because i don't want to get replies like all you think about is money. This thread wasn't suppose to be all about salaries i wanted to know what makes a good physicist. And if there was such a thing as a engineering physicist.
  9. Apr 5, 2009 #8


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    I think we can cut TOE some slack here. If I recall, in one of his posts he mentioned that he (or she) isn't even in high school yet. I think he's just trying to investigate a career path. When I was that age I wanted to be a private investigator and drive a Ferrari.

    Lots of physicists go on to develop the technology they create. Varian Medical Systems was started by a pair of brothers who developed the first klystron microwave amplifier - and now it's a huge company. Numerous medical physicists have gone on to found companies based technologies they first took an interest in academically. Some recent examples include Tomotherapy Inc. and Resonant Medical. Jozef Straus - one of the founders of what is now JDS Uniphase, is a physicist.

    In fact some universities have programs that are set up to encourage industrial development of academic work. If I were a graduate student today, looking into these types of programs would be something listed on my priority list.
  10. Apr 5, 2009 #9


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    That is easy. They manage other people. If you look at the salary scales for a typical university you will find that the best paid people are -not surprisingly- heads of departments etc. I.e. people who are no longer directly involved in research.

    There are examples of people who are well paid AND are still working in the lab but that is very, very rare. The only examples I can think of are people who have become famous (by e.g. winning a Nobel prize) and are then offered a well-paid position somewhere, essentially because the university/institute/company wants the prestige of having them working there(I've been told that this is especially true for American universities since having a Nobel prize winner is very good PR).

    The price of success in science is almost inevitably more paperwork...ยจ
  11. Apr 5, 2009 #10
    Industry physicists tend to make the most money. The other side of that coin is that you have the least freedom in research.
  12. Apr 5, 2009 #11

    D H

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    Science and engineering are fairly egalitarian. Freshouts with a masters degree are typically offered $50,000 per year or more. The Nobel prize-winning head of the US Department of Energy (Steven Chu) makes less than $200,000 per year. The ratio of the mean salary for the top quintile to that of the bottom quintile for engineers and scientists is pretty small compared to other intellectual fields such as the legal, business, and medical professions.

    In short, if you want to make a lot of money, engineering and science are not the fields for you. You need to look for a field that is far less egalitarian than science and engineering -- and then you need to do your damndest to make sure you are at the top of your selected field.

    If, on the other hand, you are fairly intelligent and inquisitive, want to work on some very interesting problems in a stable, well-paid profession, and are willing to forgo the possibility of a truly astronomical salary then science or engineering might well be right for you.
  13. Apr 5, 2009 #12


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    I'm going to take a shot in the dark here but maybe the OP is wondering, especially in times like these, if physicists are financially well off? Do they typically have enough pay that they don't live paycheck to paycheck, won't face a disaster if they're laid off, can afford to take a long trip to europe or some nice destination like that without it having to be your reward for retiring? Personally i'd like to know too because i don't mind not living in the best part of town... but I'll be damned if i can't have a 50" flat screen tv in my life... :rofl:.

    Also, by "typically", I mean of course, taking into account that some people are terrible with money, some have extraordinary expenses like family, past debt, etc.
  14. Jun 4, 2009 #13
    My advice if you want to keep the interest in Physics alive but also do some design work as an engineer, target the Nuclear Industry. We are undergoing what has been coined as a "Nuclear Renaissance" in the last few years and I kind of fell into it.

    Undergrad was in Physics almost twenty years ago and I decided to go into grad school for engineering. This was an relatively easy adjustment and then upon graduating I worked in the Auto industry for over five years. This is where I got my core mechanical engineering design knowledge and became a Professional Engineer. I returned to school to become a Ph.D. and worked on thermal-fluids research which is the best move I every made since it is applicable to so many areas of research and industry. Not to mention working on turbulence, the other great unsolved problem along with quantum mechanics is, I find very satisfying.

    Nuclear has many different disciplines to choose from: Reactor Physics would have your core phycists but also engineers and Process (where I work) has a majority of highly educated engineers.

    I hope this helps.
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