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Physics bachelors continue to snag good-paying, satisfying jobs

19 May 2017

The lion’s share take private-sector STEM positions.

UMD commencement
Graduates celebrate commencement at the University of Maryland in 2014. Credit: Jay Baker, CC BY 2.0

Physics continues to be a good stepping-stone to employment, according to a new report by the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics (which also publishes Physics Today). Bachelor’s recipients in the US from 2013 and 2014 earned a median annual salary of $32 000 to $55 000, depending on the type of employment. Only 5% reported being unemployed.

The success in the job market comes as the number of physics degree recipients continues to grow—the 7526 bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2014 is more than double the number awarded in 1999. As in previous years, the split was close between those entering the workforce (46%) and those going straight to graduate school (54%). Of those who took jobs after completing their undergraduate education, 17% said they planned to go to graduate school later.

Nearly two-thirds of the newly employed physics bachelors took jobs in the private sector, mostly in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields, including computer or information systems, and in such non-STEM fields as banking. The other third of graduates who entered the workforce ended up at colleges and universities, high schools, the military, and government labs.

Nearly two-thirds of newly employed physics bachelors joined the private sector, which generally pays more than government, military, and university employers. Credit: AIP SRC

Women made up about 20% of the 14 855 new physics bachelors from the classes of 2013 and 2014. As in previous years, more women than men taught high school, and more men than women joined the military.

Across all fields of employment, respondents expressed a high degree of job satisfaction. In particular, those who took private-sector STEM positions or entered the military were satisfied with job security, the level of responsibility, the opportunity for advancement, salary and benefits, and the intellectual challenge.

Two recent reports by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) provide a snapshot of starting salaries across various STEM fields. Chemical engineers lead the pack, with newly minted bachelor’s recipients expected to earn more than $68 000 in 2017. Outside of engineering, the association projects bachelor’s-holding physicists to be the top paid, with an average starting salary exceeding $64 000. Those data are from surveys conducted of NACE’s employer members; the types of employment represent a subset of what AIP includes in its surveys.

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