What Are Some Popular Physics Professions?

There are several career options available in physics, from working in a research lab to teaching to observing the galaxy. Read on to learn about four professions where you can put your physics degree to use. Schools offering Biology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Important Facts About Physics Professions

Astronomer Medical Physicist Physics Teacher
Job Outlook* (2016-2026) 14% (for physicists and astronomers) 14% (for physicists and astronomers) 8% (for high school teachers)
Key Skills Concentration, critical thinking, curiosity Analytical, problem solving, interpersonal Communication, patience, resourcefulness
Work Environment Office, laboratory, observatory Office, laboratory, hospital Classroom, laboratory
Professional Certification None beyond education credentials American Board of Health Physics certification State teaching certificate

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Astronomer

With a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) in physics, you can work as an astronomer, using physics and mathematics along with data gathered by astronomical instruments to study parts of the universe. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you will most likely work in research development and application. You may study how the laws of physics govern the universe or work to find ways that technology can increase human understanding of the universe. You may also help develop new technologies for space exploration. Most of your work will take place at a university, laboratory or research center. In May of 2018, the BLS reported that astronomers earned a median annual wage of $105,680.

Medical Physicist

Medical physicists combine their knowledge of radiation physics with an understanding of human biology. According to the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM), medical physicists focus on three main areas: research, teaching and clinical service.

According to the BLS, if you work as a medical physicist in clinical service in a hospital or other medical facility, you'll probably work in one of three main areas: diagnostic radiology, radiotherapy and nuclear medicine. In all three areas, your role as a medical physicist is to review the imaging or treatment plans devised by physicians and administered by technicians, ensuring that the dosages and applications are effective yet safe for the patient. You may also calibrate medical equipment that uses radiation for imaging or treatment. Many medical physicists have Ph.Ds., but some jobs are available to those with a master's degree.

While the BLS does not collect salary data for medical physicists specifically, in May of 2018 it reported a median annual wage for all physicists of $125,280. Payscale.com reported in June 2019 that the median annual wage of medical physicists was $140,437.

High School Teacher

Many states have different regulations about what you'll need to become a high school physics teacher, but generally, you should have a bachelor's degree in physics or education and you should pass your state's teacher qualifying exams to become licensed. Your duties as a teacher may include:

  • Planning lessons
  • Administering and grading tests
  • Maintaining classroom discipline
  • Meeting with parents, colleagues and administrators
  • Supervising study halls, detentions and other extracurricular activities

While the BLS does not collect salary data for physics teachers specifically, in May of 2018, it reported a median annual wage for high school teachers of $60,320.

College or University Professor

If you hold a graduate degree in physics or have experience working in another professional physics field, such as medical physics or astronomy, you may choose to work as a college physics professor. Depending on your tenure status and teaching experience, you may teach mostly introductory courses or you may teach a mix of introductory and upper-level courses. You may also be expected to contribute to physics research. In May of 2018, the BLS reported that the median annual wage for post-secondary physics professors was $90,800.

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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