Is there much money in physics?

1. Aug 17, 2007

tommyburgey

I know people may reply saying that it's not to do with money and it's for enjoyment, your interests and blah blah blah but as i'm at an early stage of my life, just about to start a-levels, should I not aim for something a little more profitable like medicine for example. I've always been interested in physics but for it's difficulty and importance you'd think it would have loads of money in it. I don't want to end up teaching as I hate over inquisitive kids like myself.

Thanks, Tom.

2. Aug 17, 2007

ZapperZ

Staff Emeritus
http://www.aip.org/statistics/

I am starting to think that we may need to put this in a sticky somewhere, at the rate that question like this is being asked.

Zz.

3. Aug 17, 2007

Staff: Mentor

How about medical physics? Then you can have it both ways. I hear medical physicists make good money, although maybe not as much as (medical) doctors.

4. Aug 17, 2007

daveb

A certified medical physicist can make upwards of 150k per year once they become certified (but getting certified is the tough part).

5. Aug 17, 2007

Capt_Jet23

When are people gonna learn that money doesnt matter?

6. Aug 17, 2007

JasonRox

When are you going to learn that it does?

7. Aug 17, 2007

Locrian

Thanks for posting the link. However, I would like to warn readers who look at it to be careful how they interpret that information. Firstly:

The AIP data is a "sample" of their members, not a sample of physicists. Are those physicists who dislike their job and are not happy with the way their career turned out as likely to be a member of the AIP as those for whom everything has gone smoothly? How well this sample actually reflects what physicists as a group make is completely unknown.

I would also disagree with the lumping of all physics disciplines into one area of "physics". It makes as much sense to ask what a physicist in a university makes as it does to ask what a businessman makes. A bookkeeper, vacuum salesman and CEO are all businessmen, and they have wildly varying salaries. The salaries at universities vary as well, and they largely do so by discipline, not by length of time they've stayed.

Finally, the question of whether there is money in physics is not answered by median incomes. It is answered by median lifetime incomes. People pay a hefty price in lost wages by going to extra school, and lifetime earnings are a reasonable way of seeing how well it pays off. I know many students who will make $65,000 a year. . . after 11 years of school, 8 years of postdoc, and several years at the bottom of the teaching pool. That is not the same financially as making$65k after 6 years of school.

For these reasons - and especially the last one - I do not believe the AIP actually answers the question asked in the OP. While I do not consider the AIP statistics "wrong" exactly, I believe they can be very misleading to almost anyone who casually looks at them.

8. Aug 17, 2007

Locrian

Difficulty and perceived importance have little to do with what a profession makes. You would also be wise to break physics down into its respective professions, rather than erroneously trying to treat it as a profession itself.

9. Aug 17, 2007

ZapperZ

Staff Emeritus
Still, the AIP statistics give THE BEST collected data as the starting point. Beyond that, it is speculation and guess work.

BTW, the AIP polls graduating students and APS memberships. One doesn't actually become a "member" of AIP.

Zz.

10. Aug 17, 2007

Timo

Such statements imho mainly focus on doing physics at international university research level. If you're interest in making money, you can go into industry where the wages are relatively high. Especially since physicists can often work in related or relatively unrelated fields in which there is a higher demand for people than specialists available on the market (e.g. in the past as programmers or as statisticans for ensurance companies). You also see physicists in management positions.
In short: Going into physics doesn't necessarily mean you'll have to do 60h/week with below-industry level payment later on.

There is a lot of money in physics research. The amounts of money put into some experiments (large projects like particle colliders, observatories or experiments conducted in space) is tremendous. It's just that a lot of money is spent and designated for equipment (even in theoretical physics where you sometimes end up working on the newest and most powerful desktop computers available when a slightly less modern computer costing half the money would do the trick, too).

11. Aug 17, 2007

Niles

http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/print/1294

A physicist with great programming skills (particulary C/C++) and great math-skills will have good opportunities of getting a lucrative career as an analyst.

12. Aug 17, 2007

tommyburgey

Thanks for the advise, I'll probably:

1. Try for medicine, become a doctor, rake in the money and do physics when I retire.
2. Try for medicine, fail, go for physics
3. Fail medicine, fail physics...become a bum.

13. Aug 17, 2007

symbolipoint

Very nice set of priorities. Here is another approach using your #1 and #2: Earn an undergraduate or more degree in Physics; then try for Medicine. If the approach into medicine does not work, then try for medical physics.

14. Aug 17, 2007

mathwonk

money! ptooie!

15. Aug 18, 2007

ekrim

exactly. it's only a big factor if you enjoy buying stuff more than physics

16. Aug 18, 2007

G01

Just so you are aware doctors don't just "rake in the money." Many specialties can make a good amount of money, but you work your.......well you know...... off for it. I am not a doctor myself but I have family members and friends that are doctors and in other health care professions and I guarantee you that if the only thing you care about is the money, you will be miserable in medicine and health care. You have to love medicine in order to excel at it.

17. Aug 18, 2007

imabug

There's a saying among medical physicists in radiation therapy that goes something like

Like medicine, you really have to enjoy and want to do medical physics, particularly if you're going into therapy. Sloppy work and bad attitudes can be potentially lethal to whole groups of patients.

18. Aug 18, 2007

proton

if you want money so badly you can always try to become a dentist. They can make over 100k a year. Its not as competitive as med school too. Too bad theres little if any math/physics involved

19. Aug 18, 2007

mathwonk

I hear there is more money in selling crack.

20. Aug 18, 2007

Feldoh

I knew I picked the right profession!