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EXPLORE BECOMING A PHYSICIST
What does a physicist do?

Physicists study the physical world. They learn about what makes up things and how things behave. They also study energy. They learn how it is created and transferred.

Some physicists study theoretical stuff. For example, they may study the nature of time and how the universe began. Others take what they learn and apply it to practical areas. This includes things such as the development of advanced materials, electronic and optical devices, and medical equipment.

Physicists design and perform experiments. They observe and analyze. Then they try to explain laws about the forces of nature. These include such things as gravity, electromagnetism, and nuclear interactions. They also find ways to take physical laws and theories and apply them to problems in such areas as electronics and optics.

Most physicists work in research and development. Some do basic research to increase the pool of knowledge. Others conduct applied research. They take what is learned in basic research and use it to build new devices, products, and processes.

Physicists also design research equipment. Many times this equipment has more than just the use for which it was designed. For example, after the laser was created for its original use, it was found that it could be used in surgery as well.

Astronomy is sometimes considered to be a part of the field of physics.

Physicists often work regular hours in labs and offices. At times, those who are doing work that is deeply involved in research may work long or irregular hours. They also may have to work away from their homes for short periods of times. This is because they may not have the equipment they need where they usually work.

How do you get ready to be a physicist?

Most jobs in this field are in basic research and development. You usually need a doctoral degree to work as a physicist. Some students in this field want permanent jobs in basic research in universities and government laboratories. For them additional experience and training beyond a Ph.D. degree is important. Many Ph.D. holders teach at the college or university level.

Master's degree holders often are able to get jobs in manufacturing and applied research and development. Some may be able to teach in high schools or at 2-year colleges.

Those with a bachelor's degree only may work as technicians or research assistants. Some may be able to work in applied research jobs in private industry or nonresearch positions in the government. Some become science teachers in middle schools or high schools.

If you want to be a physicist, you should be good in math. You should also be good at solving problems and analyzing things. You should be curious about things. You should be able to picture results in your mind. You should be a self-starter. Speaking and writing abilities are important. This is because the work is often done in teams. Sometimes physicists have to write research papers or proposals. There are also times when they must explain things to clients or customers who are not familiar with the field.

How much does a physicist make?

The middle half of all physicists earned between $66,680 and $107,410 in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $50,350. The highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $129,250.

How many jobs are there?

There were about 14,000 physicist and astronomer jobs in 2002. Nearly one-third of these jobs were in scientific research and development services firms. Another third worked for the Federal Government. Others worked in colleges and universities, usually in research. Some were on the faculty at colleges and universities.

Physicists and astronomers worked in all parts of the country. Most worked in areas that had universities or large research and development laboratories.

What about the future?

Employment of physicists is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all jobs through 2012. The limited amount of money to do research means that physicists will have to compete for basic research jobs. However, there will continue to be demand for people with a physics background to work in the computer field and other applied sciences.

Are there other jobs like this?

Where can you find more information?

More BLS information about physicists and astronomers can be found in the Occupational Outlook Handbook. The Handbook also shows where to find out even more about this job.

 

 

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics



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