How to Become a Physicist
Physicist Careers & Degrees

If you enjoy math and have an intense curiosity about the world around you, then you might like to become a physicist.

A physicist dedicates their career to explaining the nature of the world and how the universe works.

Their studies cover time and space, energy, movement, and matter.

The main prerogative of a physicist is to explain the laws of nature.

They do this through various forms of research, experiments, and use mathematics to collaborate what they discover.

Education Requirements to Become a Physicist

To become a physicist takes a large amount of education.

If you’re a high school student, math and physics will be your most important subjects.

At college, you’ll need to complete a four year physics degree.

A bachelors degree on its own will allow you to work as a research assistant or technician.

Your next step is to complete a masters degree.

If you have excellent marks in your undergraduate degree you may be able to progress right away to a doctorate degree.

A masters degree will qualify you to work in manufacturing and development.

This takes between one and three years to complete.

Some may go on to teach in high school or community college with this qualification.

The best career opportunities will go to those with a doctorate.

A PhD takes between three and five years to complete, and this will qualify you to work in teaching and research.

Physicist Job Description

A physicist seeks to understand the nature of the world around them.

They study matter at its most basic levels, and also seek to understand the nature of things like time and gravity.

Experimental physicists focus on theories.

They usually work in a university setting where they conduct their own research and also teach.

They look to expand on current theories, and also to develop new ones using mathematics and observation as tools to discover new things.

Some physicists work in development where they are employed by private industry to develop better products and materials.

They take the findings of experimental physicists, and apply it to real world situations.

Some physicists are astronomers.

They spend their careers studying space and all its frontiers.

They could work to discover new planets and stars, or be scanning the sky for asteroids.

They are usually employed in universities, while a few are employed by governments and observatories.

Physicist Salary and Career Path

When you become a physicists, your employer will depend on your interests, and qualifications.

Some look to work in the world of academia.

They start their career as a teacher’s assistant, then work their way up to the position of instructor, then professor when they achieve tenure.

They spend their career teaching and researching.

Many physicists and astronomers are employed by the federal government as scientists.

These positions rely heavily on funding, which can vary from year to year.

Some work in the manufacturing industry.

They may start as an assistant, contributing to new development and products, or they could go on to become project managers or supervisors.

When you become a physicist, your career will depend on how long you are wanting to spend studying, and the kind of work you ultimately want to do.

There are many opportunities for promotion and career development, no matter what kind of a physicist you become.

Some physicists go on to work in related fields, such as engineering or computer science.

In these roles they are easily able to use their knowledge of physics to solve real world problems.

The median salary for a physicist is $106,000.

This field is expected to grow faster than average, offering excellent employment opportunity and job security.

Some similar jobs to that of physicist you might be interested in include:

  • Engineer
  • Chemist
  • Biologist
  • Astronomer
  • Meteor hunter
  • Mathematician
  • College Professor

You can discover more information about a career in physics at the American Institute of Physics website.

If you have a curious nature and are good at academics, then you might like to become a physicist.

The work is challenging and the hours can be long, but it’s likely if you are passionate about physics, then you will enjoy your work.

Discovering new truths about the world around us can prove very rewarding.

The below information is based on the 2019 BLS national averages.
  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Arizona- NA -
District of Columbia$144,420
Indiana- NA -
New Hampshire$105,950
New Jersey$146,780
New Mexico$166,720
New York$144,490
North Carolina$140,650
Rhode Island$147,780
South Carolina$153,170

The top earning state in the field is Kansas, where the average salary is $181,190.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Kansas - $181,190
Oklahoma - $173,400
New Mexico - $166,720
Connecticut - $165,650
Louisiana - $158,090
* Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Physicists, OCC Code 19-2012, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

QuestionWhat does a physicist do?

Physicists are people who explore the interaction between energy and matter, the generation and transfer of energy and identify the basic principles that govern the behavior and structure of matter.

There are a lot of subfields of physics; sometimes scientists end up specializing in a subdivision of a subfield.

The subfields include – atomic, molecular, and optical physics; astrophysics; biological physics; chemical physics; condensed matter physics; laser science; plasma physics; polymer physics, and so on.

A physicist can work in colleges, universities, high schools, hospitals, power plants, research labs, museums, the military, oil fields, for the government, and even in the astronaut corps.

The typical duties of a physicist will vary depending on the specialization; however, they usually include conducting reading, computational analysis, and, in some cases, experimentation.

QuestionHow much do physicists make?

On average, a physicist can make a little less than $121.000 per year in the United States.

In case you decide to follow this career path, you can expect to earn anywhere between $59.000 and $193.000 annually.

The salary would certainly depend on a variety of factors – your education and experience level, the employer, the location and so on.

The physicists that work in Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and New Mexico, for example, have the highest average salaries.

An entry-level physicist can earn $28 per hour, while a specialist with plenty of experience will make $93 and more.

QuestionHow much does it cost to become a physicist?

You would certainly need to obtain at least a bachelor’s degree in physics, applied physics, or a related science or engineering subject, in order to become a physicist.

A year in a university can cost you anywhere between $8.000 and $45.000 (and more); the cost depends on a variety of factors (the books, supplies, and accommodation expenses are not included).

However, the majority of employers would expect you to have a master’s degree (between $30.000 and $120.000) or a doctorate degree (around $30.000 per year).

A Ph.D. is a must if you want to teach physics or conduct independent research.

QuestionWhat is the demand for physicists?

Between 2016 and 2026, the physicist job market is expected to grow by 14.5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That is a lot faster than the national average for all occupations in the United States.

Physicists are projected to have employment growth in educational services, healthcare and social assistance industries, and scientific research and development services.

The industry is mainly concentrated in New Mexico, Maryland, and California.

QuestionHow long does it take to become a physicist?

It will take you 4 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree, 2 years to acquire a master’s degree and anywhere between 4 and 6 years to earn a Ph.D.

Specialists with a bachelor’s degree can apply for entry-level positions in the field and become laboratory technicians or research assistants and gain on-the-job experience and first-hand knowledge.

The sooner you figure out what subfield of physics you are most interested in, the better.

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