Careers in Physics

  • What is Physics? Physics is the study of matter and energy and their interactions. The fundamental ideas of physics underlie all of the basic sciences - astronomy, biology, chemistry, and geology - and all of applied sciences and engineering.

  • What do physics majors do? Richmond Physics graduates have followed many different paths after leaving the University as teachers, scientists, engineers, physicians, lawyers, and problem solvers in industry. They have gone on to scientific careers at places like Princeton, Chicago, MIT, North Carolina, and Virginia in fields from particle physics to planetary science. Perhaps you too want to join the Adventure! You can find more stuff here and here.

  • How does physics help? Majoring in physics is superb preparation for virtually all careers. Physics majors have the highest or second-highest average scores of ALL undergraduate majors on the LSAT (for law school) and the GMAT (for graduate business school). In other words, physics is a better preparation for getting an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) than majoring in business. For people interested in going to medical school, physics majors score second highest of all undergraduate majors on the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test) behind students majoring in biomedical engineering.

  • What do physics majors make? Lots. See the recent articles on salaries and the current job market for physicists from the American Physical Society, the Institute of Physics in England, and the American Institute of Physics. Check out the graphic here that is based on survey data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. On a national scale Physics is the highest earning major offered by the University of Richmond. More detailed information is in the next entry. More recently and even after the financial collapse of 2008, physics major starting salaries remain high as reported here.

  • Earning Potential of a Bachelor's degree in Physics A study by the National Science Foundation and the Bureau of Labor Statistics examined the earning potentials of all Bachelor degree holders in the United States ( Daniel E. Hecker, Earnings of College Graduates, Monthly Labor Review, December, 1995, p. 3). Wage earners were separated into three categories---(i) young (aged 25-34), (ii) midcareer (aged 35-44), and (iii) older (aged 45-64). Physics degree holders are continually ranked amongst the highest for all age groups. In the young group, Physics is ranked fourth at 13% above the median and trailing only Pharmacy, Engineering, and Computer Science. In midcareer Physics is ranked fifth at 16% above the median (behind Engineering, Mathematics, Pharmacy and Computer Science). In late career, Physics is number 1 at 25% above the median! Note that Physics majors typically have a higher earning potential than many majors that would be thought to create high wage earners (like economics, business, accounting, etc.). A survey by the Department of Labor for the Washington, DC area shows that Physicists are the fourth highest wage-earners (below Lawyers, Dentists, and Doctors) in the Professional, Paraprofessional, and Technical occupation category and are compensated at rates that are typically 10-25% higher than traditional engineers. The Physicist median compensation is $36.36 per hour. Overall, Physicists are the FIFTH highest wage-earners out of approximately 500 job categories surveyed by the Department of Labor. Further details can be found at the DOL study.

    A Physics degree has the highest potential for earnings than nearly any other field!

  • Who's hiring? The American Institute of Physics keeps a webpage here on hiring opportunities for people with bachelors debrees in physics.

  • On to graduate school! If you are interested in building your physics education beyond college, there is some useful advice here and on Dartmouth's webpage. There is more specific guidance on our site here.

  • Importance of science training in the workforce - Even workers in non-technical fields find that scientific training gives them an advantage in the workplace. There is more here from a recent survey by the National Science Foundation.

  • For information on graduate and professional school opportunities in physics more information is available in a book produced by the National Academy of Sciences. The book is described here. The Physics Department has a copy of the book that is available for physics majors to help them plan their futures.

  • There is more information on careers in Physics at the Statistical Research website of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) where they discuss surveys of people with doctorates, master's degrees and bachelor's degrees in physics.

  • You can even look for a job here on the AIP website.

  • Some of the places where physicists end up are described in these success stories from the American Institute of Physics.

  • Some of the unique careers of 'hidden physicists' are described here and here.

  • Does It Matter Where I Go to College?


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