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Which Category of Physics is more Rewarding?

  1. Oct 30, 2013 #1
    Hello! Physics has interested me for a while now, and i'm just wondering which of the categories of physics seems to be more rewarding in the long run? I've been considering astrophysics or biophysics for a while now (albeit im only 15.), but which one pays more and is more enjoyable? Also, which classes should i take to prepare myself for these occupations?

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  3. Oct 30, 2013 #2
    Enjoyably really depends of what you like, I personally don't know any dull areas in physics. There are lots of interesting things to explore!

    Concerning what pays more... The majority of people doing research in physics get something close to the minimal wage, work loads are around 60 hours per week, and neither PhD Scholars nor Postdoctoral Researchers are considered employees (at least in the US), so don't expect any benefits or employer-sponsored health insurance. There are physics-related jobs that actually do pay sub-middle-class or even middle-class wages, but such jobs are so rare that I would not count on getting one, even being really good at physics.

    EDIT: that is my personal view, and others may disagree. By minimal wage I meant PhD researchers, although postdoctoral researchers are not very far from per-hour minimal wage considering the workloads.
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2013
  4. Oct 30, 2013 #3


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    I agree.

    Well, then don't go to/stay in the US if that is true. In Europe, the wages could be better, but you get more than the minimal wage, and health insurance is included.

    Work load is much more than you get paid for, that is true.
  5. Oct 31, 2013 #4


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    I had university-sponsored health insurance when I was a graduate student at Michigan c. 1980. I'd be surprised if this was unusual, or if it were different now. We didn't have a retirement savings plan, nor did our stipends count towards the US Social Security system (government old-age pension).
  6. Oct 31, 2013 #5
    In 2006 I had offers from several top programs, not one of which included access to the health insurance they offered employees, thought they do allow you to buy into the same plan they sell to their students, at the same rate they charged their students (in all cases this was an 80/20 uncapped plan with large copays and prescription copays, no maternity coverage whatsoever).

    At the time, it was substantially cheaper (and better coverage) to buy a plan on the individual market (which is what almost all the grad students I know did).
  7. Oct 31, 2013 #6

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    You're allowed to do that with opinion, but not facts. You've made some factual assertions (that are contrary to my experience). Please post evidence for them.
  8. Oct 31, 2013 #7


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    This is off-topic, but I'm curious as to how the Affordable Care Act would change the situation for grad students in terms of health insurance.
  9. Oct 31, 2013 #8

    Vanadium 50

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    Let's stay on topic, folks.
  10. Oct 31, 2013 #9


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    Obviously this is the kind of question that's going to have different answers for different people as it depends on what you really find interesting.

    The more financially rewarding branches of physics tend to be the ones with professional applications. Medical physics (radiation therapy, medical imaging, etc.) and geophysics (searching for oil) are the two big professional branches that I know of.

    But then most people who go into physics tend to do it because they are interested in the big fundamental questions questions about the universe. I started out in astrophysics and ended up in medical physics myself.

    At your age I would recommend just taking all the science and math courses you can. On top of that read up on what interests you. There's no need to make any kind of decision about what sub-field to go into at 15. That's a decision that you make when you're entering graduate school.
  11. Oct 31, 2013 #10
    what you consider "rewarding" depends from person to person and changes for an individual person over time.
  12. Nov 5, 2013 #11
    PhD scholarships are about $20000 per year tax free (http://scholarship-positions.com/category/usa-scholarships/usa-phd-scholarships/), which approximately equals the minimal wage considering 50-60 hour load.

    Postdoctoral salaries are about $40000 to $50000 per year (http://postdocs.stanford.edu/handbook/salary.html), which leads to about $12 per hour pre tax considering 60-70 hour loads. That is more than the minimal wage, but not by much. Taking into account that a postdoctoral researcher has to change jobs every year or two, and that relocation expenses are usually not covered, the salary gets even closer to the minimal wage.

    As for the insurance and benefits, both PhD students and postdocs usually get no retirement benefits and have to pay themselves for the insurance even when universities offer health plans (http://www.brandeis.edu/ora/postdocs/docs/PDPolicy112011.pdf). There are some exceptions, and some positions may include more benefits than others (http://www.gdnet.ucla.edu/gss/postdoc/pdhlthbnft.htm), but often academic research it is not considered a real job.

    If you want to argue that there are better paid research positions with full benefits (tenure in universities or jobs in industry), you will be correct. My opinion however is that they may be omitted (or at least not considered a likely outcome) when looking at research-related jobs, since the number of these positions is far smaller than the number of PhD researchers or postdoctoral scientists. If you have a different opinion, I do not object.

    In my post I have also mentioned that I personally don't know any dull areas in physics, and that there are lots of interesting things to explore. I will not be providing any evidence here, that is just my view. Again, if you have a different opinion, I do not object.
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2013
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