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What is Physics?

Physics is essentially the study of the myriad ways forms of matter interact with energy.  A theoretical physicist will focus on the origin of galaxies, planets, stars, and the universe.  Other specialists may emphasis specialized experimentation with cutting-edge technology.  Examples of technology used by physicists can include particle accelerators, laser, and electron microscopes.

What Does a Physicist Do?

In a recent survey performed by the United States Department of Labor, a cadre of professional physicists provided insight into their jobs.  The daily responsibilities will vary by geographic location, organization type, and are of specialty.  However, the most popular job duties of a physicist include:

  1. Designing computer simulations to model physical data to better understand underlying elements at work
  2. Performing an array of complex calculations with computers as prescribed by the analysis and evaluation of data
  3. Reporting experimental data through white papers, in-person presentations, and scientific articles in specific scientific publications
  4. Describing and communicating observations & conclusions in mathematical terms based on data
  5. Analyzing data from research, surveys, and observation to accurately measure physical phenomena

Why Get a Degree in Physics?

A degree in physics signifies that individual has studied the mathematics and theory involved in understanding how the world works. Physics is the study of matter and motion through force and energy, it is the study of why things work the way they do. A degree in physics requires an understanding in a variety of sciences and a strong understanding of mathematics. Degrees in physics are available from the associate level onward, though most entry level positions will require at least a master's degree for consideration.

A curriculum in physics may include classes in:

  • Calculus
  • Chemistry
  • Electricity and Magnetism
  • Mechanics
  • Differential Equations

Employment Opportunities in Physics

A bachelor's degree in physics can be used to enter a variety of post-graduate programs. Students who wish to pursue higher levels of education in physics can pursue master and doctoral degrees. Physicists primarily occupy research positions at institutions for higher learning or government agencies. Often physicist will be given long term grants to conduct experiments for research resulting a long term job security. The barrier to entry for physics is large requiring a high level of education and skill. Pursuing a career in physics will most likely be done because an individual loves it.

How Much Do Physicist Make?

The median annual income for an physicist in the United States is $114,870 which equates to $55.23 per hour.  The expected job growth for astronomers is 7% in coming decade which is above the national average for all occupations during that time frame.

Where Do Physicist Work?

The bulk of physicists work at a college or university in a research or teaching capacity.  Other physicists find themselves employed in private research facilities, observatories such as NOAO, science museums, planetariums, laboratories, or government agencies.  A master’s degree or PhD in physicists is generally required to find employment within the field given the degree of specialty required.  The following areas of discipline are associated with professional physicists that may be worth considering as a vocation:

  • Plasma Physics
  • Atomic Physics
  • Molecular Physics
  • Optical Physics
  • Astrophysics
  • Biological Physics
  • Materials Physics
  • Nuclear Physics
  • Polymer Physics Chemical Physics
  • Fluid Dynamics
  • Laser Science
  • Computational Physics
  • Particles and Fields
  • Physics of Beams
  • Condensed Matter Physics

States with the Highest Employment of Physicists

  1. Texas
  2. Arizona
  3. California
  4. Hawaii
  5. Massachusetts

Top Paying States for Physicists

  1. Maryland             $124,020
  2. Massachusetts    $123,760
  3. Hawaii                 $120,980
  4. California            $117,730
  5. Colorado              $112,550

Individuals interested in a degree in physics may also be interested in chemistry, biology, and mathematics.  Further research can be performed via national trade organizations and associations to learn more about this field of study.  Two of the most popular associations include the American Physical Society (APS) and the American Institute of Physics (AIP).  Both provide tools, research, and professional resources to help extend learning and careers of its members.

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Related Areas of Study

Career Summary: Physics Major

MEDIAN SALARY
$121,770.00

PERCENT ABOVE NATIONAL INCOME AVERAGE
69.56%

TOTAL SECTOR EMPLOYMENT
16,680



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