Careers in Physical Science

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in the physical sciences. Read on to learn more about career options along with information about education, job outlook, and salary. Schools offering Environmental Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Are Career Options for Physical Science Majors?

Physical scientists seek to discover the laws that govern non-living things. Possible occupations include geoscientists and chemists. Geoscientists examine the Earth's makeup and processes to gather information about its present, past, and future while chemists study the atomic and molecular aspects of substances and investigate how these substances respond to each other. As a geoscientist, you will use tools to gather rock, oil, or mineral samples, study these samples in a laboratory and collect and decipher data. As a chemist, you will likely work in either basic or applied research by testing the interactions of elements or working on creating new products.

The following table provides education, qualifications, and employment information for geoscientists and chemists.

GeoscientistChemist
Degree RequiredBachelor's for entry-level work; Master's or Ph.D for research positions Bachelor's for entry-level work; Master's or Ph.D for research positions
Education Field of StudyGeosciences, mathematics, physicsChemistry
Key SkillsCritical thinking, interpersonal, outdoor, problem-solvingAnalytical, mathematical, organizational, problem-solving
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)10%*3%*
Median Salary (2015)$89,700*$71,260*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Types of Degree Programs Are Available in Physical Science?

Physical science refers to a scientific field that involves the study of non-living things, such as matter and energy. Common fields in the physical sciences include physics, chemistry, geology and astronomy. You could choose from a wide variety of associate's and bachelor's degree programs in the physical sciences. For example, you could obtain an Associate of Science (A.S.) in Physics or an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) in Chemical Technology. Common bachelor's degree programs you could choose from include astronomy and astrophysics, geology and geophysics, earth science, physics and chemistry.

You'll need to have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in order to qualify for research positions in physics, chemistry, astronomy and many other fields in the physical sciences. Ph.D. programs are widely available in chemistry, physics, astronomy, materials science, geology or atmospheric science.

If you choose to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry or physics, you'll likely focus your graduate studies on a particular subfield of the broader science. For example, you might choose to focus on organic chemistry, inorganic or organometallic chemistry, physical chemistry, particle physics, optics or condensed-matter physics, to name a few of your options.

What Types of Careers Are Available in This Field?

You have many career options in the field of physical science. Regardless of which field of physical science you choose, you always have the option of conducting basic research and teaching courses at a research university or simply instructing at a teaching university or community college. If you choose to pursue a career in chemistry, you'll also have the option of conducting research in pharmaceutical, chemical, biotech, petroleum and other consumer products industries. On the other hand, if you choose to become a materials scientist, you could find employment with companies that manufacture plastics and other polymers, semiconductors, electronics and chemicals.

If you choose the physics route, you could work for companies that design and manufacture lasers, imaging equipment and other scientific instruments, as well as looking for opportunities with defense contractors and companies that sell data-analysis software. As a physicist or astronomer, you could also conduct research at national labs or federal government agencies, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

What Salary Could I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chemists earned a median annual salary of $71,260 in 2015, whereas materials scientists earned a median of $91,000 that year (www.bls.gov). The BLS reported that, in 2015, geoscientists earned a median salary of $89,700 per year as of May 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If a career in physical science isn't for you, you may choose to work in a different field of science. One such option is agricultural and food science. Scientists in this field research ways to effectively grow and protect crops and farm animals, study soil health and work on efficiency with food products. You may also wish to consider the field of environmental science where you will work to take care of the environment through cleaning up pollution, working with those who make government policies and eliminating excess waste. A bachelor's degree will be needed for an entry level position in all of these fields, though, master's degrees are often required if you wish to advance.

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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