How Can I Begin a Career in Optical Sciences?

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

What Careers Are Available in Optical Sciences?

A career in optical science involves creating, discovering and/or exploring the use of lenses and the properties of light. One common entry-level job is a position as a dispensing optician, in which you fit patients with glasses and contact lenses based on the prescriptions of their ophthalmologist or optometrist. Alternatively, you could become an optical engineer, through which you would apply the principles of physics to design and fabricate optics-related technologies like lasers, optical detectors, optical instruments and optical communications devices. A third career possibility is a job as a postsecondary physics teacher. In this job, you would work at a college or university, teaching classes in physics and conducting your own research in the field.

The table below outlines some general requirements for these career options.

Optical Engineer Dispensing Optician Postsecondary Physics Teacher
Degree RequiredMinimum of bachelor's degree, professional or doctoral degree may be preferred High school diploma or associate's degreeMinimum of a master's, Ph.D. may be required
Job Growth (2014-24) 4% (for all other engineers)*24%* 15%*
Average Salary (2015) $98,150 (for all other engineers)* $36,820*$93,950*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Undergraduate Degree Programs

You can earn a bachelor's degree in optical science, optical engineering, optics or physics with a concentration in optical science. Bachelor's degree programs cover topics including electrodynamics, physical optics, laser fundamentals and aberrations. Courses in advanced mathematics and science usually form the core of the first two years of a program with more specific optical science courses in the third and fourth years. You may also assist graduate students with research projects providing you hands-on experience in optics.

Graduate Degree Programs

You can earn a master's or doctoral degree in optical science or optical engineering. A master's degree program may explore optical materials, devices, imaging and mechanics. Master's programs may include thesis or non-thesis options. Most master's programs require extensive laboratory courses in areas including optical testing, fabrication and engineering.

In a doctoral program, your work is usually focused on research projects and laboratory work, which may include advanced studies in lasers and optics fundamentals. Classes in a doctoral program include mathematics, statistics, quantum optics, photonics and image science.

Can a Minor Be Helpful?

A minor in optical sciences can be useful if you wish to work within a specific industry and want to major in that subject but still need secondary expertise in optical science. An optical science minor can complement programs in engineering, biological science, technology or mathematics. Courses within a minor program may include physical optics, lasers, detection devices, optics instrumentation and radiometry.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Instead of becoming an optical engineer, you could consider getting an engineering job in a different subfield. For instance, you might be interested in a job as a biomedical engineer, in which you would design and implement technologies and programs that improve outcomes in the healthcare industry. The entry-level educational requirement for this job is a bachelor's degree. If you are interested in the practical applications of optical science for eye health, you might want to become an optometrist. These doctors diagnose and treat visual conditions; you would need to complete a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) program and pass a licensure exam in order to get this job.

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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