# Physics Salaries

I truly want to major in physics in my undergraduate year (I'm currently a high school student who is going to the Georgia Institute of Technology the following fall). The thing is, I'm really interested in the topic (done and got 5's on Physics B, both parts of Physics C, qualified for semifinalist on USAPho, self-studied all physics I've ever learned) but am unsure of its future... I've heard that it is hard to make a six figure job. Is this true? I really want to do something I like, but I also want to do something which will pay well.

Frankly, I don't know a single person who was being paid six figures straight out of college, regardless of degree. Making that kind of money requires a lot of hard work and has nothing to do with your degree. Go to college because you are passionate about a particular subject. If you don't, then college becomes nothing more than an over-glorified training center.

Moonbear
Staff Emeritus
Gold Member
How do you define "hard" to make six figures? Do you think that sort of salary comes easily to anyone? Anyone making that sort of salary has to work for it.

My usual advice to people is that if you're motivated primarily by money, go into business, that's what they do, play with money all day. If money isn't your primary motivator, do what you enjoy...you're more likely to be successful (by any definition of success) in a career you enjoy than in a career you dislike.

I understand this, but generally, is getting a PhD in Physics worth it, or will I end up spending a good bit of time paying the debt due to education off?

I understand this, but generally, is getting a PhD in Physics worth it, or will I end up spending a good bit of time paying the debt due to education off?

If you do well as an undergrad, you generally do not pay for graduate school. That said, I am a bit puzzled as to how you equate "pays well" with "six figures."

Jordan Joab
If you do well as an undergrad, you generally do not pay for graduate school. That said, I am a bit puzzled as to how you equate "pays well" with "six figures."

Because that's what 21st century American values dictate. Young people nowadays expect rewards near instantaneously. Quite frankly, if I'm not making 100k 2yrs after I get my BSc I'll be quite disappointed. Then again, I'm just typing non-sense. Blame my 10x faster than dial-up digital upbringing.

Jordan Joab.

100k (USD) is what an established engineer in England would be earning...

Starting salaries here are £20k on average, thaats about $38k usd... As some one said, business and finance is where that type of money is, or Dr's of health care... What are you doing a BSc in Jordan, think il switch to it if you can get 100k after 2 years... Jordan Joab I was just trying to be funny but guess it didn't work. Anyways, going back to the threat topic, I understand Domnu's point of view and I'd have to say I agree with him partly. To many people under 30, making good money is arguably just as important as having a good career. We grew up in a period of abundance, easy credit, new accessible technologies, fast information, etc. Now we are young adults that want our own homes and cars, that have credit debt, and in uncertain economic times. So yes, we want high-paying jobs. I disagree with him on how soon one should be making this kind of salary. I expect to be making six-figures after 10yrs of smart/hard work. Is it realistic? Perhaps not but I'll be working with that objective in mind. One last thing, I believe telling people to "go into X if you want to make money" is not a proper approach to the matter. Stop to consider that there are people that want to make good money and love physics. Perhaps explaining what a person should expect from a particular field is more helpful. Jordan Joab. Of course there are people who want to make good money and love physics. You can want many things, but they aren't necessarily realistic. I think you can make a decent living in physics, but you can certainly make a better living in other fields with less work. There is a tradeoff here, and I don't think it's a bad thing to point that out. (I'm an aspiring physicist, currently in the computer industry. I fully expect to take a 30-50% paycut if I do manage to switch fields.) Hmm... I guess I phrased it a bit incorrectly, heh... I know that I can't probably make a 6 figure job immediately out of college or even immediately after a PhD, but I was just wondering if, eventually, it is common for physicists, after some 15 years, say, to make 6 figures. I just want to make sure that physicists don't make a really low salary. I'm just a bit afraid that if I go into the field, I will end up spending some nine years paying off a large debt from graduate school and the debt that may acquire from getting a PhD. After all, without a PhD, getting a really good job in research physics is literally impossible. Frankly, I don't know a single person who was being paid six figures straight out of college, regardless of degree. Making that kind of money requires a lot of hard work and has nothing to do with your degree. Go to college because you are passionate about a particular subject. If you don't, then college becomes nothing more than an over-glorified training center. I think people work harder for less than that kind of money. People who earn that much don't work themselves, usually. They earn money from the work others do for them. If you own a factory you can easily make 100 people collect that money for you. I never heard of people making 6figures without being owners of some company. robphy Science Advisor Homework Helper Gold Member Here is the recent AAUP salary survey results: http://chronicle.com/stats/aaup/ (which include all disciplines... not just physics) Note that most faculty salaries are 9- or 10-month contracts...[check before making comparisons with non-faculty positions]. So, one can supplement one's salary in the summer by additional teaching or by research or whatever. From the AIP http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/phystrends.html http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/reports/fall07e.pdf PhD Salaries - 10 years later http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/reports/spring07b.pdf Faculty salaries see also http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/emp_salary.html Hmm... I guess I phrased it a bit incorrectly, heh... I know that I can't probably make a 6 figure job immediately out of college or even immediately after a PhD, but I was just wondering if, eventually, it is common for physicists, after some 15 years, say, to make 6 figures. I just want to make sure that physicists don't make a really low salary. I'm just a bit afraid that if I go into the field, I will end up spending some nine years paying off a large debt from graduate school and the debt that may acquire from getting a PhD. After all, without a PhD, getting a really good job in research physics is literally impossible. As another poster has alluded, there's no such thing as accumulating debt from graduate school, at least not typically. Every physics graduate program I know of puts its students on a teaching or research assistantship, which covers all tuition expenses and even pays you beyond that. I don't pay a penny to go to grad school. I even get paid. It's not much, but it takes care of the bills. Now, you may have to worry about paying off your undergraduate debt (since most school loans don't require you to pay anything back if you're enrolled full time). But at every graduate program I know of, you won't be paying. I've heard vague stories of people being admitted to master's programs without assistantships. Can't give any specifics though. But my ignorance on this might be an indication as to how rare it is for graduate students to pay for school. In the UK, its very uncommon to get "Masters" fees paid for. A Masters can range from £3000 - £9000 ($6000-$18000) depending on what masters is chosen, its content and school. PHD's and EngD are still hard to get funding for, their are loads more ways to find funding, but, most involve finding sponsorship from companies. Same applies to Masters, some companies will sponsor the masters, but not that many, and normally for very high calibre students who have secured work with that company. So, general rule, we pay for masters over here... As for earning$100000 which is £50000, then thats after 10-15 years, and is pretty much the top salary for the sciences and engineers.

In 10 years time, taking into account inflation, todays $100000 would be around$135.000, so if its possible to earn around $75000 in todays market, then in 10 years time you would be on that$100000.

At the end of the day, its only money, and a job should be enjoyable...

Nothing enjoyable in earning loads of cash and looking forward to retirement as you cant wait to get out of the job...

Another thing to consider, some companies offer lower pay, but offer amazing perks and benefits.

I never heard of people making 6figures without being owners of some company.
Then you need to get out more.

If you value what you'll be earning in two/three years over the value of intellectual progression, you shouldn't be doing it at all.

Where has this 6 figure salary stuff came from? Why do you need 6 figures to live again?

I never heard of people making 6figures without being owners of some company.

Seriously? Both my advisers make 6 figures, and they don't own a company, they're simply senior astrophysicists (one is a professor and the other is a civil servant).

Seriously? Both my advisers make 6 figures, and they don't own a company, they're simply senior astrophysicists (one is a professor and the other is a civil servant).

Yeah, starting salaries for PhDs in engineering or physics begin at $100,000 where I live. There are big regional differences, though.$100,000 might seem like a lot of money if you live in rural Arkansas, but it doesn't actually go all that far in coastal California.

I've heard that it is hard to make a six figure job. Is this true? I really want to do something I like, but I also want to do something which will pay well.

Domnu,

I cannot emphasize strongly enough that if one wants a financial measure of the value of a profession, salary is an incredibly bad measure. You would be very wise to move past it as quickly as possible.

Consider this obvious example. Is a million dollars a year good money? If you had to spend 50 years in school to get it, would it still be good money? Obviously not, because by the time you're 68 you'd be in tremendous debt and might have very little lifetime left to enjoy it.

Salary on its own fails every test of financial value. For instance it does not discount properly (money now is worth more than money later) and it does not weight for cost of living.

A PhD physicist typically spends 8-12 years in school and these days most physicists spend 5-6 years as a postdoc before they really begin their career. It is very easy to show that a typical physics professor earning 110k makes substantially less money in their lifetime than an engineer that caps out at 80k. The point quadraphonics makes about location is very important as well; someone making 85k where I live has significantly more disposable income than a physicist earning 110k in California, where the majority of the private sector jobs for physicists are.

Obviously financial motivations shouldn't be your only factor in decision making (and you noted this in your post). However they should play a role, and you'll want to come up with a better measure than salary to determine how it plays into your personal goals.

That said, there are many important job aspects besides salary, and I win hands-down over my less-educated friends in those categories. This would be stuff like latitude in defining my own work, getting to work on interesting things, expanded career options, potential for advancement, stock options, and, let's not forget, a foot in the door of academia.

The point of all of this is that you can make decent enough money in most any career path if you apply yourself. The question you have to ask is what area interests you enough that you will actually be motivated to excel. Unless you're simply interested in maximizing your income with no regard for the quality of work, etc. Some people can cope with a career of drudgery if it makes them rich, but they're pretty rare. For the rest of us, I wouldn't base big career decisions on income, beyond ensuring that you stand to make enough to live a reasonable lifestyle (i.e., pretty much any career outside the arts).

I think people work harder for less than that kind of money. People who earn that much don't work themselves, usually. They earn money from the work others do for them. If you own a factory you can easily make 100 people collect that money for you.

I never heard of people making 6figures without being owners of some company.

Doctors, Dentists, Lawyers, and Financial advisors generally hit that income range and do not necessarily own their own businesses. They put in a tremendous amount of work. Besides, one doesn't simply go out and "own a factory." It still takes quite a bit of work to reach that executive position before one can reap the benefits.

I do agree that many people do work harder for less money, but I think you are missing my main point. One shouldn't go to college because of the prospects of a future income. One should go to satisfy his or her innate curiosity and love for learning.

Doctors, Dentists, Lawyers, and Financial advisors generally hit that income range and do not necessarily own their own businesses. They put in a tremendous amount of work. Besides, one doesn't simply go out and "own a factory." It still takes quite a bit of work to reach that executive position before one can reap the benefits.

I do agree that many people do work harder for less money, but I think you are missing my main point. One shouldn't go to college because of the prospects of a future income. One should go to satisfy his or her innate curiosity and love for learning.

AMEN.

One can make a LOT of money with pretty much any degree... or not. Its best to think about college and education in a way divorced from finances.
Some degrees will make you more money than others... science/engineering, for instance, pays better than what humanities majors earn.
If you want a LOT of money, however... then nothing will help you. Enough people in this world make ridiculous amounts of money with no degree whatsoever. Many aren't even very smart, given the conventional sense of the word "smart."
Be diverse, become skilled... and be able to sell yourself off however you want. If you can do this you can usually get a well-paying job at the very least.

My usual advice to people is that if you're motivated primarily by money, go into business, that's what they do, play with money all day.

Moonbear is doing some "business bashing" once more.

But the essence of her point is very true...

marlon

Doctors, Dentists, Lawyers, and Financial advisors generally hit that income range and do not necessarily own their own businesses. They put in a tremendous amount of work. Besides, one doesn't simply go out and "own a factory." It still takes quite a bit of work to reach that executive position before one can reap the benefits.

I do agree that many people do work harder for less money, but I think you are missing my main point. One shouldn't go to college because of the prospects of a future income. One should go to satisfy his or her innate curiosity and love for learning.

Sure, in the US doctors dentists etc might earn that much. But at least here in Sweden they usually earn about 6*10^4 $(excl tax). Ok, maybe 10^5 right now because of the low value of the USD. Scientists and engineers earn a lot less. You can easily earn more than 10^5 if you own stocks and profit from other people's work that way. I've got stocks I make 300% profit from by doing nothing. Executives usually don't own the companies they work at. But my personal experience from CEOs is that they have done little to earn anything. They take some idea from an engineer and find funding for it. Sure, in the US doctors dentists etc might earn that much. But at least here in Sweden they usually earn about 6*10^4$ (excl tax). Ok, maybe 10^5 right now because of the low value of the USD. Scientists and engineers earn a lot less. You can easily earn more than 10^5 if you own stocks and profit from other people's work that way. I've got stocks I make 300% profit from by doing nothing. Executives usually don't own the companies they work at. But my personal experience from CEOs is that they have done little to earn anything. They take some idea from an engineer and find funding for it.

I do agree that many people do work harder for less money, but I think you are missing my main point. One shouldn't go to college because of the prospects of a future income. One should go to satisfy his or her innate curiosity and love for learning.

....

Yeah, starting salaries for PhDs in engineering or physics begin at $100,000 where I live. There are big regional differences, though.$100,000 might seem like a lot of money if you live in rural Arkansas, but it doesn't actually go all that far in coastal California.

Looking at the Chronicle survey, the average annual salary for an assistant professor at Cal Poly SLO is $66,400. At UCLA it is$67,400. Heck, USC is only $82,000. Unless starting physics professors are at the very distant upper tail of the salary distribution, they're not making six figures right after a Ph.D. or post-doc. Looking at the Chronicle survey, the average annual salary for an assistant professor at Cal Poly SLO is$66,400. At UCLA it is $67,400. Heck, USC is only$82,000.

If those salaries are median earnings for all professors they have little value in determining what the salaries are for a physics professor.

If those salaries are median earnings for all professors they have little value in determining what the salaries are for a physics professor.

The spread in salaries between physics professors and other professors is not, from what little I know, so great as to make the data useless.

Your average tenured university professor of physics probably makes close to \$100k/year...

College is the one chance you get to study something that interests you before you go off on your career...spend that time wisely and study what interests you.

I think it is a mistake that a physics degree isn't worth much. Sure, if you just have a BS in physics, and plan to DO PHYSICS, you probably won't do too well making money. If however, you finish your degree, and decide that you don't want to do physics, and would rather make money, there are plenty of options available to you at that point (law school, business/finance, etc). A physics degree is fine for landing a job in the business world, it shows that you have excellent training in quantitative issues (just as long as your social skills are also there).

Getting a degree in physics won't close any doors for you as far as making money goes. Getting a degree in some other subject just because you might be guaranteed a higher starting salary out of college, will close the door for you if you decide that you hate your job and would rather have done something like physics that requires a degree, at least.