Accelerate your career with these top physics degree jobs

Physics is the study of matter and energy. A degree in physics introduces you to the nature, properties, actions, and interactions that can help you understand the composition and behavior of the universe.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupations in the life sciences and physical sciences are expected to experience 8% employment growth from 2020 to 2030. As part of this group, physics professionals will benefit from the addition of nearly 114,000 new jobs. The BLS said the biggest employers of physicists in 2020 were research and development departments, government entities and educational institutions.

Types of careers in physics

As the study of matter and energy, physics is divided into various subdomains. Below is a list of some categories within physics:

  • Quantum physics: Studies energy and matter at the atomic and subatomic levels.
  • Magnetism: Explore magnetic forces and fields, how they interact with each other, and their contact with other forces like gravity and electricity.
  • Electricity and electronics: Exist as related sub-specialties in physics, the first focusing on the principles and properties of electrically charged particles and the second examining closely the application of electricity.
  • Electromagnetism : Studies the interactions between magnetic forces and fields and electricity.
  • Sound and oscillation: Take a close look at vibrations, vibrating objects, and the range and activities of different frequencies.
  • Thermodynamics: Focuses on heat and its connection to work and energy.
  • Optical: A branch of physics that studies light, its behavior and its properties.
  • Geophysics: Explore physics as it relates to geographic bodies and physical processes and properties.
  • Nuclear physics: Studies the nuclei of atoms by examining the forces and interactions within them.
  • Astrophysics: Combine chemistry and physics to explore the properties and activities of stars, planets, and other objects in the universe.

The best jobs for physics majors

Careers in physics exist in many industries and professions. The list below provides an overview of the best jobs available for physics students. Physics majors have the opportunity to enter the workforce right after graduation, but many jobs leading to a physics degree require additional experience and training.

To rank the best jobs for physics specializations, we assessed roles based on salary, job demand and expected growth, work-life balance, and job satisfaction.

1. Physicist

  • Median salary (2020): $ 129,850
  • Minimum diploma required: Doctorate or professional degree
  • Alternative job titles: Astronomer, nuclear physicist, molecular physicist
  • Good fit for: Analytical thinkers, strong written and verbal communication skills, ability to use sophisticated equipment, attention to detail

The description: Physicists often specialize in a subcategory of the field, performing experiments to understand the universe. Physicists work in laboratories with state-of-the-art equipment, test theories, analyze data, and present their findings to their colleagues at conferences and in published books. Becoming a physicist requires advanced education and training as well as extensive laboratory experience.

2. Aerospace engineer

  • Median salary (2020): $ 118,610
  • Minimum diploma required: Licence
  • Alternative job titles: Aeronautical engineer, astronautical engineer, robotic engineer
  • Good fit for: Math skills, analytical mind, good writing skills, ability to solve problems, able to work in a team and independently

The description: Aerospace engineers design, build and test airplanes and spacecraft. Aerospace engineers also work with colleagues to develop safe and achievable aviation and defense systems. Aerospace engineers may specialize in areas such as flight mechanics, acoustics, guidance and control systems, or aerodynamics. An entry-level aerospace engineering position does not require licensure, but graduate degrees and industry certification benefit aerospace engineering professionals in their careers.

3. Astronomer

  • Median salary (2020): $ 119,730
  • Minimum diploma required: Doctorate or professional degree
  • Alternative job titles: Astrophysicist, cosmetologist, planetary and stellar astronomer
  • Good fit for: Math skills, patience, analytical skills, interpersonal communication skills, problem solving

The description: Because astronomers cannot directly experiment on objects in space, they fall into two categories. Observational astronomers see celestial objects and collect data, while theoretical astronomers create models and speculate on how celestial objects work and change. Areas of specialization within astronomy include optical and radio astronomy and extragalactic cosmology and astronomy.

4. Biophysicist

  • Median salary (2020): $ 94,270
  • Minimum diploma required: Doctorate or professional degree
  • Alternative job titles: Biological physicist, medical physicist, applied biophysicist
  • Good fit for: Analytical thinkers, problem solvers, comfortable with potentially hazardous materials, patience and persistence, may work in a lab or office

The description: The advanced knowledge and skills required to work as a biophysicist require a doctorate or professional degree and extensive research experience. Biophysicists plan and conduct research into biological processes and entities to explore the development and growth of cells. Biophysicists can focus on nerve cells, proteins, or diseased cells to design and improve medical products and drugs. Additional applications of biophysical research include agriculture and the environment.

5. High school physics teacher

  • Median salary (2020): $ 62,870
  • Minimum diploma required: Licence
  • Alternative job titles: Professor of natural sciences, professor of physics, private teacher of physics
  • Good fit for: Patience, ability to lead groups of adolescents and maintain classroom integrity, verbal and written communication skills, adaptability and creativity

The description: High school physics teachers teach grades 9 to 12, develop lesson plans, present information, and conduct assessments. Physics teachers supervise experiments, monitor classroom activities, and coordinate with their colleagues. High school teachers also work with administrators, parents and students to address performance concerns. Physics teachers need at least a bachelor’s degree, additional teacher certification is also required.

6. Computer programmer

  • Median salary (2020): $ 89,190
  • Minimum diploma required: Licence
  • Alternative job titles: Computer coder, programming specialist, computer scientist
  • Good fit for: Work independently and in a team, creative, knowledge of programming languages, attention to detail, troubleshooting skills

The description: Computer programmers create and test code that is used to make computer applications and software run smoothly. They use programming languages ​​such as Java and Python to write code and to update and extend existing code. Computer programmers coordinate with software developers and monitor and correct code errors.

7. Nuclear engineer

  • Median salary (2020): $ 116,140
  • Minimum diploma required: Licence
  • Alternative job titles: Head of nuclear facility operations, nuclear scientist, nuclear radiation specialist
  • Good fit for: Detail oriented, analytical, able to solve problems, able to handle hazardous materials, crisis management skills, may work in an office or in a nuclear facility

The description: Nuclear engineers conduct nuclear energy and radiation research to develop instruments and systems to harness the benefits of radioactive material. They oversee operations at nuclear facilities, assess risks and mitigate problems, and ensure safety in the design, construction and operation of nuclear facilities. Nuclear engineers benefit from certification as a professional engineer as well as training in safety procedures, practices and regulations applicable to the field.

In conclusion

There are careers with a degree in physics in all economic sectors and skill levels. Jobs for specializations in physics, such as teaching, research, or engineering, allow you to use and apply the knowledge and skills developed during your physics degree. Occupation levels vary by degree level and experience, but finding the information here can help you determine which physics degree position is right for you.

This article has been reviewed by Sarah Holliday, MS, GCDF

Sarah Holliday is a Higher Education Administrator with over seven years of experience working with non-traditional and traditional-age students in a variety of areas related to career development, professional development and personal enrichment. In addition to coaching students, Holliday works as an auxiliary, teaching English, career development and business courses in asynchronous, hybrid and synchronous formats.

Holliday holds a BA from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in Communication and Technology in English, and an MA from Walden University in Instructional Design and Technology (Training and Performance Improvement). She is currently pursuing her Doctor of Science in Information and Interaction Design at the University of Baltimore. Holliday also has her Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF) certificate from the Center for Credentialing and Education. She is passionate about education and technology and hopes to strengthen online learning for adult learners.

Sarah Holliday is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Independent Review Network.

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