What does a physicist do?
Physicists study and identify basic laws and principles that govern the structure, energy, motions, and interactions of matter. They create and conduct experiments with a variety of equipment such as electron microscopes, lasers, mass spectrometers, and particle accelerators. They use their observations and examinations to explain the laws the describe forces of nature such as electromagnetism, gravity, and nuclear interactions. Some physicists study theoretical applications, such as the origin of the universe; and others study practical applications, such as developing medical equipment. Some conduct basic research and other perform applied research. Physicists are also involved in the design of research equipment that will enable them to perform more in-depth study.
What kind of training does a physicist need?
Physicists typically need a doctorate degree in physics. A master degree may be sufficient for some positions. Prospective physicists complete rigorous instruction in mathematics and theories and methodology of physics. Most aspiring physicists participate in internships or work-study programs to gain practical experience while they are completing their education. Most new physicists start their careers in postdoctoral research positions where they work with experienced physicists to gain essential skills and experience. They initially perform simple tasks and move on to more complex tasks as they gain experience. Many physicists complete postdoctoral training to remain competitive in the field. Physicists must also stay up to date on advancements in the field and often complete continuing education throughout their careers.
What are the prospects for a career as a physicist?
Employment of physicists is expected to grow about as fast as average for all professions, increasing 7% from 2006 to 2016 (1). The increased need for physics related research will drive job growth.
Job prospects should be good with strong competition for research positions. Many job openings will arise from the need to replace physicists that retire, transfer, or leave the profession for other reasons. Physicists with advanced education and experience will have the best job prospects.
How much do physicists make?
As of November 2009, the middle 50% of physicists earn annual salaries between $47,858 and $55,313. The top 10% earn annual salaries of more than $59,539 (2).
A career as a physicist is an excellent choice for individuals with a strong interest in physics and research. Physicists must have an inquisitive mind, strong mathematical ability, analytical skills, and excellent problem solving skills. They must be able to apply their knowledge of physics to a variety of issues. Physicists must have excellent communication and interpersonal skills and be able to work effectively as part of a team. Good written communication is also important because physicists often write proposals and research papers.