Careers in Nuclear Science

Research careers that use knowledge of nuclear science. Learn about job duties, education requirements, salary, and employment outlook for several of these careers. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Careers Are Possible in Nuclear Science?

Nuclear science is the study of radiation and its effects on different materials, as well as what kind of useful applications it can have for humanity. Nuclear technician, nuclear engineer, and medical physicist are just three of the possible careers for those trained in nuclear science. Nuclear technicians are assistants to those who perform research on nuclear science, such as engineers, physicists, and more. Nuclear engineers work to find useful and safe applications to nuclear energy, such as power and medicine. Medical physicists use radioactive materials to derive new drugs and treatments for various illnesses, like those used in fighting cancer or internal imaging technology.

The following chart provides an overview of these careers to help you determine if one of them is right for you.

Nuclear Technician Nuclear Engineer Medical Physicist
Degree Required Associate's degree or equivalent military training Bachelor's degree; master's to learn specialization Master's or PhD degree
Education Field of Study Nuclear science, nuclear technology Bachelor's: nuclear engineering
Master's: plasma physics, fission technology
Medical physics
Key Skills/Qualities Communication, computer, math, monitoring, mechanical, critical thinking Analytical, detail-oriented, math, logic, communication, problem-solving Analytical, curiosity, math, problem-solving, self-discipline, communication, critical thinking
Credentials Background check and/or security clearance may be required Professional engineer (PE) license recommended; certification available for reactor operators Certifications available; security clearance and U.S. citizenship may be required for sensitive federal government work
Job Growth (2014-2024) -5%* -4%* 8% (for all physicists)*
Average Salary (2015) $78,850* $106,060* $118,500 (for all physicists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nuclear Technician

As a nuclear technician, you will usually assist other specialists in their work. This includes working in areas of radiation safety. You may also aid in research, run nuclear test equipment, or maneuver radioactive materials via remote control.

What Education Will I Need?

Unlike other careers in the field that necessitate more education, becoming a nuclear technician requires only an associate's degree. The degree program will often focus on radiation safety, though other specialties may be offered, such as control and instrumentation or reactor operation. You may also have the option to learn how to do nuclear power plant maintenance during outages.

What Are My Employment Possibilities?

With this degree, you should be able to find employment in a variety of facilities. These include hospitals, medical facilities, national laboratories, nuclear power plants, radiopharmaceutical companies, U.S. Department of Energy sites, university labs, and any facilities that handle radioactive waste. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an average salary of $78,850 for nuclear technicians in May 2015 (www.bls.gov).

Nuclear Engineer

As a nuclear engineer, you could be involved in designing, maintaining, or operating nuclear power plants. You may also end up designing medical equipment for use by professionals in the field of nuclear medicine. Possibilities also include creating radiation detectors and developing ways to preserve the environment, among others.

What Education Will I Need?

The field of nuclear engineering allows you to work in the field with a bachelor's degree. If you wish to specialize, however, you will want to enroll in a master's degree program, where you can choose a specialty such as plasma physics or fission reactor technology.

What Are My Employment Possibilities?

Nuclear engineers work in both the federal and private sectors. You may be able to find federal jobs in government agencies such as the National Nuclear Security Administration or the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. In the private sector, you can look for employment at defense contracting companies or work for companies involved in the designing of power plants and their control systems. According to the BLS, nuclear engineers earned an average salary of $106,060 in May 2015.

Medical Physicist

As a medical physicist, you could oversee the quality control and safe use of nuclear medical equipment. You could also work on designing new technologies for use in diagnosis. Medical physicists will often help a physician plan a cancer patient's radiation treatment.

What Education Will I Need?

Graduate degrees in medical physics are available at both the master's and doctorate levels, though one option is to pursue a 4-5 year program that ends with a PhD. You can start specializing as a master's student in areas such as diagnostic imaging, oncology radiation, or nuclear medicine. Certification is available by the American Board of Radiology and the American Board of Medical Physics.

What Are My Employment Possibilities?

You may be able to find employment as a medical physicist - also referred to as a health physicist - in federal agencies. Private sector jobs can be found in medical centers, research hospitals and companies that develop medical radiation devices and treatments. The BLS reports an average income of $118,500 for physicists, including medical physicists, as of May 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Astronomers are PhD educated scientists who study outer space and the celestial bodies within it to try and expand our understanding of the universe and our place within it. Chemical technicians assist chemists in running experiments and developing substances for their research, typically holding an associate's degree or higher. Mechanical engineering technicians have similar education requirements, assisting mechanical engineers in their work by planning out different jobs through sketches and preliminary calculations.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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