What Can I Do With a College Degree in Math and Physics?
A degree in math and physics can open the door to many career options. Whether you pursue a bachelor's or graduate degree, there are opportunities for teaching, research and engineering to name a few. Read on for more information.
Overview of Math and Physics Degrees
A college degree in math and physics prepares you to work in such occupations as research physics, computer software engineering or university teaching, to name a few.
Important Facts About Some Careers Using Math and Physics Degrees
|High School Teacher||Aerospace Engineer||Natural Sciences Manager|
|Median Salary (2020)*||$62,870||$118,610||$137,940|
|Job Outlook (2019-2029)*||4%||3%||5%|
|Work Environment||Public or private schools||Aerospace products/parts manufacturing, scientific research, government, navigational and measurement instrument manufacturing||Research and development, government, pharmaceutical/medicine manufacturing, colleges and professional schools|
|Key Skills||Communication skills, patience||Analytical skills, math skills, writing skills||Communication skills, critical thinking skills, leadership skills, problem-solving skills|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Careers for Graduates of a Math and Physics Bachelor's Degree
Many private companies hire math and physics undergraduate degree holders as science technicians for their research laboratories. Technician positions can be found in industries including aerospace development, software development, technology consulting and engineering. Other job opportunities include working as a research assistant at a university or national laboratory. The government might also hire you for technical non-research projects. Or, you could obtain a teaching credential and become a science teacher for middle and high schools.
Graduate Degree Options
A bachelor's degree in math and physics serves as a basis for pursuing many different graduate degrees. Depending upon your interests, you can choose from engineering, mathematics, physics and astronomy, among others.
Master's and doctoral degree programs in the areas of mathematics and physics focus on very specific areas of interest. For example, in a mathematics graduate program you may study computer science, in which you use mathematical equations to create computer programs. You might also explore operational research, where you predict physical results using previously known data plugged into a mathematical formula.
The field of engineering, which is based on physics and mathematics, includes a large number of subfields. These include aeronautical engineering, electrical engineering, environmental engineering and mechanical engineering, among many others. A graduate degree in engineering can prepare you for a managerial or executive position in whichever field you choose to study.
The realm of physics contains a growing number of specialized fields as research increases our knowledge of the world and its structure. Areas of study include nuclear physics, atomic physics, astronomy, mathematical physics and applied physics.
Post-Graduate Job Opportunities
As a graduate with a Master of Science (M.S.) degree in mathematics and physics, you qualify for more advanced appointments in manufacturing and research and development, and you might teach at high schools or 2-year colleges. With a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), you can work in many of the same fields as Bachelor of Science (B.S.) and M.S. graduates, but in higher-level positions. These include research physicist, head researcher, university professor, aerospace engineer, research planning executive and many others. A few of these career options are described in more detail below.
As a research physicist, you use operational research mathematics and applied physics either to discover new facts about the universe or to advance technology. For example, a research physicist focused on beam physics may work on developing electron beams and free electron lasers, while a nuclear physicist may focused on producing and trapping uncommon isotopes. Other major areas of physics research include particle physics, biological physics, condensed matter and atomic physics.
The science of astronomy relies primarily upon the application of physics and mathematics to predict astronomical events and discover facts about the planets, the stars and the universe. If you work as an astronomer, you interpret data gathered by space probes and telescopes and relay that information through articles and conferences.
Working as an engineer, you can use applied physics to develop new products, from shotgun shells to orbiting telescopes. As a mechanical engineer, you may create generators, turbines, power tools, refrigeration systems and much more. If you choose aeronautical engineering, you may work with aircraft or spacecraft, developing new models, improving old models and overseeing production. If you become a marine engineer or a naval architect, you could work on nautical vessels, both for private industry and for the U.S. Department of Defense. You may design anything from new motor boats to experimental submarines.
If you are a materials engineer, you work behind the scenes, developing the components used to create other advancements, such as computer chips or improved alloys. As a computer hardware engineer, you develop the circuit boards, chips and other parts for new computers. As a computer software engineer, you use mathematics to create new computer programs. As an electrical or an electronics engineer, you develop other electrical equipment such as radar and GPS.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment changes for popular career fields in the country as well as reports salary statistics for those disciplines. As of 2020, only 1,910 astronomers were employed in the U.S. Also in 2020, there were 16,160 physicists working in the country, and by 2029, approximately 1,300 are anticipated to be added. The job growth for both of these career fields equates to 7%, which is faster than average compared to all occupations.
For mathematicians, an average growth of 3% was predicted for the 2019-2029 decade; however, since this is a fairly niche field, this only works out to about 100 new jobs. Statisticians are also forecast to experience a much faster than average increase in employment, of 35%, though this is a larger career field: 14,800 new jobs are expected to exist by 2029.
The employment outlook for engineers varies depending on engineering specialty. For example, as fast as the average growth of 4% is expected in the mechanical engineering field, while nuclear engineers are predicted to have slower than average decline of 13%, and petroleum engineers are predicted to experience an average job growth of 3%, between 2019 and 2029.
Here is a list of the median annual salaries earned by professionals in these fields, as of 2020:
- Astronomer: $119,730
- Physicist: $129,850
- Mathematician: $110,860
- Statistician: $92,270
- Mechanical engineer: $90,160
- Nuclear engineer: $116,140
- Petroleum engineer: $137,330