Physical and Earth Sciences

The physical and earth sciences examine the earth's natural systems and processes, including interactions of the earth, ocean and atmosphere. Keep reading to explore degrees and specializations, job options, career outlook data and salaries for this field.

Are Studies in Physical and Earth Sciences for Me?

Career Overview

Physical scientists study natural processes of the earth, atmosphere and space. The physical sciences focus on the natural world and techniques used to probe natural phenomena. They encompass the earth sciences, which focus on the history and evolution of earth's physical systems. Together, they include such disciplines as physics, chemistry, geology, atmospheric science, astronomy, oceanography and environmental sciences.


If you decide to major in the physical and earth sciences, you can receive broad training that allows you to pursue various physical science careers in government, non-governmental organizations, business, consulting and education. Associate's and bachelor's degree programs in physical and earth sciences provide broad academic training that can be applied to further study in a particular physical science discipline or to entry-level employment in scientific and technical positions. Students may also major in a particular physical science discipline to pursue more specialized careers in areas including geology, physics and oceanography.

Salary and Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many physical science occupations were expected to experience strong job growth for the 2012-2022 period, including geoscientists (16%), hydrologists (10%), physicists and astronomers (10%), atmospheric scientists (10%) and environmental scientists and specialists (15%) ( Jobs for chemists and materials scientists may see slower job growth at only 6%, the BLS reported. As of May 2013, the median annual salary was $87,030 for atmospheric and space scientists, $91,920 for geoscientists, $72,350 for chemists, $110,110 for physicists and $93,230 for physical scientists in general, per the BLS.

How Can I Work in a Physical or Earth Sciences Career?

Undergraduate Education

Associate's degree programs can prepare you to pursue internships and continue your education. A bachelor's degree in physical or earth sciences is a good start for a range of entry-level scientific and technical jobs. For instance, you could work as a laboratory technician, technical writer or environmental safety officer. Physical sciences majors may choose to combine their degree with a teaching license to become science teachers.

An undergraduate degree can also prepare you for graduate-level studies in any of the physical or earth science disciplines, and in engineering, teaching, law, policy or business. A bachelor's degree in geology, physics or environmental studies can prepare you for a job as a geologist, physicist or environmental analyst, respectively. In a 4-year physical science bachelor's degree program, you'll likely take core courses in mathematics, chemistry and physics.

Graduate Programs

With a master's degree in your chosen discipline, you could qualify for research and advanced managerial positions within scientific organizations. A doctoral degree can qualify you for work as a professor at colleges and universities. Master's and doctoral degrees in physical science disciplines and sub-disciplines are readily available. For instance, you could pursue a Master of Science in Geology or a Doctor of Philosophy in Synthetic Chemistry. Earning both a master's and doctoral degree requires even further specialization through a thesis and dissertation project, respectively, and can take up to seven years of study beyond the bachelor's degree. Additionally, you can find many master's degree programs designed for science educators.

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