Do you find yourself wondering how things work, why the world / solar system / galaxy / universe is the way that it is, or what mysteries are left for humans to discover? Do you enjoy solving puzzles and problems? Do you have an active imagination and a creative disposition? If you answered yes to any of the above, a career in physics or astronomy might be just for you!
- Physicists and astronomers study the natural world around us.
- They conduct experiments and make astronomical observations using state-of-the-art technologies,
- They build mathematical models and perform sophisticated computer simulations.
Some of the most exciting areas in physics are at the extremes that we don't usually experience, such as the high temperatures at the center of planets and stars or ultracold temperatures at which all matter becomes quantum mechanical waves. Physics and astronomy is always probing the world where we haven't gone before, so it tends to push technology. For example, basic research in physics led to the development of lasers, cell phones, and the internet, among many other things.
You may be surprised to know that a degree in physics or astrophysics will make you highly sought-after in the workplace. To find out what kinds of jobs are out there, check out our Career Opportunities page.
You may be surprised to know that a degree in physics or astronomy will make you highly sought-after in the workplace. What kinds of jobs are out there? Besides the expected employment sectors such as research labs, universities and technology companies, graduates obtain careers in the following areas, among many others:
- Small start-ups
- Military contracting
- Natural resource industries
- Environmental consulting
In part, it's the math, computer, and laboratory skills you obtain during your studies. But more importantly, it's the ability for physicists to solve real-world problems quickly that creates the big advantage.
About half of the students graduating with Bachelors of Science degrees in physics or astronomy go on to graduate school, obtaining their master's (MSc) or Ddctoral (PhD) degrees. This helps them get even more interesting and better-paying jobs.
According to a 2006 study by the American Physical Society (the largest association of physicists in North America), within one year of graduation the employment of physics/astronomy PhDs was as follows:
- 47% in academia
- 20% in government positions
- 27% in the private sector
- 6% in `transitional' jobs
The highest pay tended to be in the private sector (such as finance or natural resources), where the sky's the limit! The salary was best (on the order of US$75,000 - $100,000 in the first year) in permanent positions such as in government-funded research and development laboratories. Salaries were lower (on the order of US$50,000 - $75,000) in university positions, but these salaries increase with experience.
The following websites are great places to find out about physics and astronomy and the kinds of career opportunities that a degree in these fields can offer.
- U.S.: The career site of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
- U.K.: The career site of Nature magazine