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Physics Physics, my Future, and my family.

  1. Apr 28, 2012 #1
    I'm 16 and just finishing my GCSE's and am on for mostly A*s, and i have wanted to go onto do astrophysics for about 3 years now. Im doing physics, maths, chemistry and history at a level and have already researched a range of universities ( and am currently liking the look of Manchester). Grades permitting, all will go good and i can do my dream job, however there is one other obstacle in the way, my family. Although they are interested when i tell them about the universe, they seem persistently confused and baffled as to why i want to study it and what career i can get with it. For this reasons can someone tell me the average salary of a job in astrophysics (money is of no matter to me but i need it to persuade my parents) and various jobs i can begin to go into? Physics is the only career i can see myself going down, how can i make my family see that too?
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 28, 2012 #2

    Astrophysics in general, I feel, has a stigma associated with it in the general public as being frivolous in a way. It is often hard to make the connection between what they do and their daily lives. This is true for many sciences but specifically, I believe, for sciences that focus on stuff going on off our planet. However, there are obviously numerous applications both in understanding our own planet, to keeping us safe from asteroids or other catastrophic existential risks, and even to harvesting resources which brings me to my next point:

    Being interested in the field you may already know about it but recently some big names in the space and entrepreneurship world announced a new company called Planetary Resources which will focus on, yes, harvesting materials from asteroids. Now, whether or not their gig pans out it says a lot about where private space industry has the potential to go. This is not a new idea, harvesting asteroids, but it's now becoming a reality. More importantly, it is now being looked at as an investment rather than simply a scientific endeavor which means jobs are likely to start opening up. The implications of a successful venture in this area would be tremendous and astrophysicists would be in extremely high-demand for their ability to aid geologists in analyzing and finding potential material hot-spots.

    Now, back to reality, of course it's still a gamble as to whether or not it will pan out. They could run into a road-block that sets them back a few decades, but they're not the only ones planning similar ventures. Nasa, Elon Musk (paypal/tesla), and many other private space industries are pushing towards similar space-bound ventures.

    My point, I suppose, is that industry is betting we'll end up expanding in one way or another into space and that would likely lead to a significantly greater demand for astrophysicists. Once a few big names in industry make big bets the race begins and quite the race it will be.
  4. Apr 28, 2012 #3
    Sorry for the double-post but the computer I'm on is having issues with cookies and the edit function is not working.

    I just wanted to specify. If you want to go for astrophysics because you love it... DO IT. I'm not trying to argue for studying one thing or another. I am simply trying to provide you with some material to show those you care about that there are pratical applications for this degree.
  5. Apr 29, 2012 #4
    Thanks a lot, all the information you gave has really helped me, haha and don't worry about the double post! I think its really helped my parents see that when it comes to careers in this field, there are always new possibilities arising because we are always finding new methods and discoveries, but most importantly its helped them to see it has a purpose, all i can really say is thanks :)
  6. Apr 29, 2012 #5
    Lots of astrophysicists go into investment banking. It turns out that the equations and skills used in astrophysics are the same used in calculating various financial stuff.

    I know of some astrophysics Ph.D.'s at the managing director level that likely pull in close to US$800K-$1M/year. I'm not one of them, but the money is good.

    Then there is


    I should point out that making a ton of money is a bad reason to go into astrophysics, as no one has any clue what the world financial structure will look like in ten years. But if you need to convince your parents that you aren't likely to starve, then.....
  7. Apr 30, 2012 #6
    How many is "lots"?
  8. May 1, 2012 #7
    As a Fermi estimate....

    Your typical investment bank or large hedge fund probably has a half dozen or so astrophysics Ph.D.'s on staff and there are about 50 or so of them in the world. There are several thousand "mom and pop" small hedge funds in the world, and maybe a tenth of them have an astrophysics Ph.D.

    So we are talking about on the order of several hundred positions. That doesn't sound like much, but it's a huge fraction of astrophysics theorists. One other point is that a lot of jobs in academia were created in the 1960's and 1970's are aren't open to new people, whereas pretty much all of the jobs in finance were created after 1995 or so.

    The other thing to point out is that all of the academic jobs involving astrophysicists fit on one web page.


    The number of jobs in finance which will consider hiring someone with astrophysics background, won't.

    The fact that there are such small numbers means that it's easy to get flooded. One reason it's not a good idea to study astrophysics in order to get into finance, is that if you do that, then so will other people, and if you just increase the numbers of Ph.D. slightly, everything gets saturated.

    (Also, people have this impression of banks as tiny, when most aren't. Your typical megabank will hire on the order of 100 math/science Ph.d.'s. A typical megabank hired about 150,000-200,000 employees. Citigroup hires more people than General Motors.)

    One other reason that finance is attractive to astrophysics Ph.D.'s is that there is much less of a glass ceiling. In most companies the senior executive positions are off-limits to the technical people, and you end up hitting the limit when things stop being technical and start being managerial. In finance, there is much less of a barrier for Ph.D.'s to move into upper middle management where the big bucks are.
    Last edited: May 1, 2012
  9. May 1, 2012 #8
    This is a good video and scarily accurate description of the job market.

    It mentions the big three employers of theoretical astrophysicists 1) defense (i.e. building hydrogen bombs and tanks) 2) oil and gas and 3) Wall Street. I've done two of the three. One reason I've kept out of defense is that I like to talk about what I do for a living.

    If I talk too much about my finance job, the worst thing that people can do is fire you, and once they fire you, they leave you alone. It doesn't work that way in defense. If you know how hydrogen bombs work, you'll get into extremely large amounts of trouble if you say too much, and there will be people that will be watching you for the rest of your life. The other thing about working in finance and oil and gas is that if you don't like your work, you can always work for someone else. Defense doesn't work that way.

    It's in fact not hard to make decent or even large sums of money with an astrophysics Ph.d. The hard part is doing so without destroying the planet. There is a deep reason why that is.

    One thing that you will find about the earth is that it's really, really small. You could fry the planet, destroy all of humanity, and the rest of the universe would hardly notice. If you go into astrophysics, you will be studying some of the basic power and energy of the universe, and you'll end up in fields in which those energies and power exists. Those happen to be fields in which you could unleash humanity destroying power.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 25, 2014
  10. May 1, 2012 #9
    Thanks for the response, twofish-quant.
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