1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Jobs in physics!

  1. Aug 11, 2013 #1
    I am really interested in physics. Currently i am an undergrad. I dont know what course should i take. I really like particle physics. But i am not sure if i will make enough money!
    So i thought about going into applied physics, but i want to do research in physics. Can i do something like applied particle physics and work in a company?
    Even engineering is an option but i have heard people who have done applied physics and doing the job of an engineer earns more.
    Thank you
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 12, 2013 #2
    A lot of people say you shouldn't do physics if you are in it for the money, which is kind of true, but i would be lying if i said i didn't look at the average earning of a physicist. The amount you earn is all with where you live, I don't think you would get a job involving physics straight away. Remember most company's look for physicists that have a lot of experience, but places like banks and accountant firms look at physicist as problem solves so this would help you get a job.

    But my knowledge is limited, so i don't know if my advice is the best.
  4. Aug 12, 2013 #3
    I agree, but a person needs to pay off his bills!
    Do u know how much a average particle physicist earns?
  5. Aug 12, 2013 #4
    An average particle physicist doesn't work as physicist but as programmer so he/she earns decent amount of money.
  6. Aug 12, 2013 #5
    What about the people at CERN or fermilab or SLAC?? do they earn well.
    I am interested in particles. And want to do research in string theory or about the higgs boson or dark matter etc etc.
  7. Aug 12, 2013 #6
    I know many theoretical physicists usually get a job as a professor or highschool teacher depending on their degree. Yourbpay would also depend on both where you live and your degree.
  8. Aug 12, 2013 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    I'm going to try to answer the question that you really mean to ask rather than what you're actually asking...

    Here's what life will look like for a typical particle physicist starting from the completion of high school at age ~ 18 years.
    18-23: You're working on an undergraduate degree in physics. I've added an extra year in here - maybe to find yourself, maybe to work and save some money, maybe to account for that girl/guy that breaks up with you right before exams in your third year... As with most students this will be costly and you will likely accumulate some debt. You should be able to mitigate the debt with summer jobs, but you won't be earning any money. I'm not sure what the probability of getting this far is... probably about 1/2.

    23-30: Graduate school. Probability of getting in given that you've completed your undergrad degree... say about 1/2. Some people complete this a little faster than what I've alotted. You could actually finish by 27 or so, but once you factor in life events and the fact that research hardly ever goes as planned it's not unrealistic to be coming up on age 30 as you finish. The probability that you'll finish... maybe 1/2 again. During this time you'll be earning somewhere in the ballpark of $20-$25k per year. You will no longer be covered under your parents' benefits plan (medical/dental) and you'll be stuck with whatever plan is available for graduate students at your school. Meanwhile your colleagues who started working after undergrad will likely be earning double or more of what you make.

    31-37: The post doc years. Given that you earned your PhD, the chances that you'll get into a good post doc can be anywhere from 1/2 to 1/10. If you did a PhD in something like string theory is might even be smaller. Post docs typically earn in the ballpark of $35-45k with limited benefits and, of course, it's contract work, so it can be difficult to take out a mortgage. I've allotted about 6 years here - basically for a pair of three year positions. And remember once the first one finishes, you have to roll the dice again. You will have to move to where the work is, if you can get it. This can be challenging if you have a spouse or a significant other (known unofficially as the "two body problem"). Also, if you're female, this can be doubly challenging because the system is not overly forgiving towards those who take maternity leave.

    38 - 43: Assistant professor years. The probability of successfully jumping from post-doc positions to a tenure track assistant professorship... maybe 1/5, depending on the field. You don't have tenure yet. You're earning maybe $45-50k per year and have about 5 years to earn tenure, after which point you could be totally out on your tail. I don't know what the probability of earning tenure is. Maybe 1/2.

    So, let's assume you've been lucky enough to get this far. At this point you're in your mid-forties and you finally have a position as a tenured associate professor. NOW you start earning money in the ballpark of $60-80k. Some schools will pay more - maybe even into the $100ks.

    Keep in mind that getting a "positive" result with each of these probabilities is influenced by aptitude and hard work only early in the game. Among those who complete PhDs, you've bottlenecked yourself into a pool of highly intelligent, highly motivated individuals.

    So, what you'll see as a typical salary for a particle physicist may come up in the ballpark of $80k or so. But this doesn't account for time as a student or post-doc.

    This isn't meant to deter you from the field. Lot's of people who jump off of this path for one reason or another along the way end up doing quite well for themselves. Check out these statistics for example:
  9. Aug 16, 2013 #8
    I am scared to go into particle physics now..
    What about applied physics?
  10. Aug 16, 2013 #9
    Man Choppy's post made me realize that graduate school would have been a mistake for me right after undergraduate.

    to rgujju: my advice is to get a double major in something that will employ you right out of undergraduate just in case you don't want to go to graduate school for whatever reason. This way you keep more doors open.
  11. Aug 16, 2013 #10
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2013
  12. Aug 16, 2013 #11
    So overall, there are many more people with physics phds than jobs in physics, and most of those jobs are temporary contracts that won't lead to something permanent.

    The standard physics path, after the phd, is ~2-4 years of contract work (postdoc), followed by transitioning out of the field. After my phd in theoretical physics I did service work for awhile before transitioning to statistical work.

    One word of caution- referring to the generally bad career prospects for physicists, Kaku suggests that "this dismal situation can't last," and that the Sputnik generation will eventually retire. But today, the sputnik generation has retired, and they largely weren't replaced. The "dismal situation" has gotten worse. There are more people chasing fewer jobs.
  13. Aug 16, 2013 #12

    George Jones

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    These salaries are low. For example, at the University of Windsor, a medium-sized Canadian university, the salary ranges are

    assistant professor $64,336 - $109,372

    associate professor $80,626 - $137,064

    full professor $102,618 - open ended

    Also, I think the probability of someone in a tenure-track position getting tenure is much greater than 1/2. I have been on a promotion and tenure committee.

    The probability, however, of a post-doc getting a tenure-track position is substantially less than 1/2.
  14. Aug 16, 2013 #13
    So do u people suggest me going into physics?
    I love physics. But i am scared.
    Should i take applied physics or theoretical physics? Who earns more?
  15. Aug 16, 2013 #14
    The problem is that looking at salary numbers for "physicists" isn't so helpful, because most people who get the phd and do the postdocs will never become physicists. What you end up doing will depend on your skill set. Some people go into programming/software, some will go into statistical work, some go into finance.
  16. Aug 16, 2013 #15


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Thanks for the correction George.

    For some data (Canadian again):

    Rgujju - whether you should major in physics is a tough question. I majored in physics and it worked out really well for me. Other people struggle because when they get out, they have an education, but not necessarily a vocation.

    If a vocation or profession is extremely important for you, if you really see yourself doing engineering-type work, then you might want to lean towards the engineering disciplines.

    If you're reasonably sure that graduate school is a possibility, if you don't think you'd be happy in engineering, if you're willing to face some the challenges that you'll have in getting a job after you have an education in physics (and most people who do end up doing quite well), then consider physics as a major.

    And remember, you can always change your mind.
  17. Aug 16, 2013 #16

    George Jones

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    This something that you have to decide yourself. It is not an easy decision.

    If you study physics, you will likely end up in job that is not related to physics (then why spend time studying physics?), but, after some stressful times, you will likely do okay.

    If you do not study physics, you will likely miss out on the only opportunity that you will have to spend several years with fellow students who have the same interests, and with instructors who are experts in the field.
  18. Aug 16, 2013 #17
    Just a quick question from me; Would doing a double Math-Physics Major Open up more job opportunities?
  19. Aug 17, 2013 #18
    It depends on what you learn to get the math major. By getting a physics major you've already proven you can work problems from a textbook. However, that doesn't open up many jobs.

    Mathematics is a huge subject. Ask yourself what the additional major is bringing to the table that physics doesn't.
  20. Aug 17, 2013 #19
    What do u mean people dont become physicists??
    My dream is to work at the LHC. How can i make it possible?
  21. Aug 17, 2013 #20
    Most people at the LHC do study Physics but many (most I think) of them are programmers and engineers as well. The LHC needs engineers to properly assemble and design the structure and programmers to decifer and analyze the data from the collitions
  22. Aug 17, 2013 #21
    Remember- the majority of workers on these experiments are temporary (either students or postdocs).

    The good news is that lots of graduate students spend time at the LHC. So while you are getting your phd, you can (and in experimental high energy, almost certainly will) spend a few years working at the LHC.

    The bad news is that getting a full time job in physics requires quite a bit of luck (on top of skill and very hard work). Physics is a very uncertain career path, and odds are after spending your time in graduate school and as a postdoc you'll find yourself unable to continue in physics and you'll scramble into something in programming or finance or whatever else is hiring.
  23. Aug 17, 2013 #22

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    Please reread the forum rules on text-speak.

    This may not be possible. You don't say where you are, but in the US, if you starting college now, one would start working on the LHC around 2019 or 2020. It is far from certain that the US will still be participating in the LHC then. Other countries face similar decision points. It would be a mistake to plan too narrowly.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook