Physicists: Salary Overview
Physicists study the way energy and matter interact.
Their exact job description depends on the area of expertise in which they specialize.
For example, a theoretical physicist may study the nature of time or the origin of the universe.
They may also use sophisticated equipment such as microscopes, particle accelerators, and lasers.
A physicist’s responsibilities include developing scientific theories and models, planning and conducting scientific experiments, writing proposals and applying for research funding, designing new scientific experiments, writing scientific papers, and participating at scientific conferences and lectures.
Their job description varies depending on the physicist’s specialty.
Astrophysicists study the universe while medical physicists try to design new medical devices and find radiation-based treatments.
Particle and nuclear physicists study atomic and subatomic particles while plasma physicists study the matter that occurs naturally in stars and interplanetary space.
Other areas of expertise include condensed matter and materials physics and atomic, molecular, and optical physics.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for physicists was $122,850 in May 2019 which means that half of all physicists earned less than this while half earned more.
Salaries vary depending on the industry of employment, the region, and the physicist’s area of expertise, education, and experience.
For example, a nuclear physicist will be paid on a different salary scale than a medical physicist or a plasma physicist.
The top 10 percent of physicists made more than $185,780 a year while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $62,470.
Physicist Salary by Industry
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physicists held approximately 19,200 jobs in the United States in 2018, most of them working in the field of scientific research and development services and colleges, universities, and professional schools.
According to the report published by BLS, the median annual wage for physicists who worked in the field of scientific research and development services was $142,840.
Physicists who worked for colleges, universities, and professional schools earned, on average, $94,100 while those employed by the federal executive branch reported an average annual wage of $120,590.
The highest-paying employer for physicists were general medical and surgical hospitals, a field where the average annual wage for these scientists was $185,880.
Another field where physicists reported a higher salary was the industry of computer systems design and related services- an industry where the average annual wage was $178,850.
Specialty hospitals paid physicists, on average, with $162,080 per year.
In conclusion, salaries for physicists vary widely depending on the field of employment and the field of expertise.
Becoming a medical physicist specialized in magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound imaging may help you get a higher-paying job in a general hospital.
Bonuses and Other Benefits
Along with a fixed salary, some physicists also earn bonuses and a share of the company’s profit.
According to a report published by payscale.com in July 2020 physicists earn, on average, $2,463 a year in bonuses and $3,931 per year in profit sharing.
These additional earnings also vary depending on the physicist’s level of experience, expertise, and the industry of employment.
The report shows that bonuses range between less than $1,000 and more than $15,000 a year.
Physicists may earn between less than $500 and more than $10,000 in profit sharing.
A physicist’s job prospects also vary depending on his/her area of expertise and the region.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overall employment for physicists is projected to grow 9 percent from 2018 to 2028 but, since this is a relatively small profession, the growth will result in only 1,800 new jobs over the next decade.
Physicists who specialize in research, education, or healthcare should have the best job prospects.
However, as federal spending is the primary source of physics research funds, job opportunities in some specialties will vary based on the level of government spending.
* Based on information from the May 2021 salary report from the BLS. The figures represent accumulated data for all states of employment for Physicists. BLS data represents averages and medians for workers at all levels of education and experience. This data doesn't represent starting salaries.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.