Physical Scientist: Career and Salary Facts

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

What Is a Physical Scientist?

Chemistry, physics, math, astronomy and the earth sciences, such as geology and oceanography, are all physical sciences. While studying these disciplines, you'd typically focus on the non-living systems of the Earth and universe; however, there's some cross-over with biology in fields like biochemistry and environmental science. A few examples of physical scientists are geoscientists, astronomers and environmental scientists. Geoscientists study the physical attributes of Earth to learn more about its origin. Astronomers study anything outside of the Earth to learn more about our universe. Environmental scientists work to protect the environment, which in turn leads to improving human health. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering three careers in this field.

Geoscientist Astronomer Environmental Scientist
Degree Required Bachelor's degree at minimum, master's degree optional Ph.D. Bachelor's degree at minimum, master's degree optional
Key Responsibilities Study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure, and processes, to learn about its past, present, and future Observe, research, and interpret astronomical phenomena Use knowledge of natural sciences to protect the environment and human health
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 10% (for all geoscientists except for hydrologists and geographers) 3% 11% (for all environmental scientists and specialists)
Median Salary (2015)* $89,700 (for all geoscientists except for hydrologists and geographers) $104,100 $67,460 (for all environmental scientists and specialists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Jobs Can I Find in Physical Science?

If you choose a career in the physical sciences, you can probably find a niche related to your interests. If you're drawn to chemistry, for instance, you might become an analytical chemist at a pharmaceutical company searching for new medicines. As a graduate of a geology program, you could pursue a career as an oceanographer studying sea life in coastal waters, or work in a natural history museum as a paleontologist.

As an environmental scientist, you can be a civil engineer, land use planner or a petroleum geologist. With a background in physics, you could be an astronomer, nuclear medicine technologist or a research and development scientist. Or you might decide to become a teacher in any one of these areas. These are only a few of the abundant career choices available to you as a physical scientist.

What Training Do I Need?

Most jobs in the physical sciences call for at least a bachelor's degree and many require a master's degree. If you aspire to be an independent researcher, you'll likely need a doctorate.

Some schools feature a cross-disciplinary Bachelor of Science in Physical Science degree program. In most cases, you'd earn a bachelor's degree in your area of interest, such as geography, physics or earth science, and become more specialized if you proceed to graduate school. The physical sciences are interdisciplinary in nature, so whatever focus you choose, your courses may draw from other fields.

What Could I Earn?

Your salary would vary by specialty and experience level. In 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) reported median annual wages for physical scientists, including:

  • Astronomers - $104,100
  • Environmental scientists - $67,460
  • Urban and regional planners - $68,220
  • Nuclear medicine technologists - $73,360
  • Geoscientists - $89,700

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A couple of related careers that require a bachelor's degree include natural sciences managers and environmental engineers. Natural sciences managers may oversee a team of physical scientists to coordinate research efforts to complete a specific project. Environmental engineers combine engineering principles with science to help solve environmental problems. Anthropologists and archeologists are also related careers, but require a master's degree. These professionals study human culture, behavior and language, including by examining archeological remains.

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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