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A Theoretical Astrophysicist's Salary
Theoretical astrophysicists are the Einsteins of the postmodern age. These physicists blend their knowledge of physics, astronomy and math to develop a theoretical and mathematical framework for understanding the nature of the universe. Prominent theoretical physicists such as Michio Kaku and Brian Greene have written numerous books on their continuation of Einstein's quest to explain the universe with a single mathematical equation. Aside from the considerable academic prestige gained from working as a theoretical astrophysicist, salaries for those working in these fields are often higher than those of many other college professors.
Physicists working in colleges and universities nationwide made an average annual salary of $87,080 per year in 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This salary was significantly lower than the salary for all physicists nationwide across all industries. These physicists earned an average salary of $112,020 per year in 2010. Bringing up the average were physicists working in various areas of the medical field, who made average salaries in excess of $145,000 per year.
Placing the average salary of theoretical astrophysicists and other physicists in colleges and universities within the larger pay scale for physicists nationwide can provide some additional context. Physicists generally earned salaries ranging from about $58,850 to $166,400 per year, as of 2010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median salary for these physicists was $106,370, with the middle 50 percent of the pay scale earning between $79,710 and $139,060 per year.
The salaries earned by faculty members at colleges and universities tend to vary based on the rank of the professor. The American Astronomical Society notes that assistant professors tend to start out around $50,000 per year, as of 2011. From there, salaries go up to about $80,000 to $100,000 per year for associate and full professors. However, because of the competitive nature of this field, some Ph.D. graduates are forced to take post-doctoral fellowship positions for one or two years following graduation in order to gain additional experience and exposure. The AAS reports that these positions only pay about $35,000 $45,000 per year, by comparison. It is also noteworthy that most professorial positions are for a nine-month contract, giving theoretical astrophysicists the opportunity to gain additional income during the summer months through other pursuits, such as book publications or even speaking engagements.
The job forecast for those entering the fields of physics and astronomy appears favorable, based on projections made by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the period from 2008 to 2018. According to the Bureau, the number of jobs in these fields will grow by 16 percent during this time frame. Similarly, the overall job market for college professors will also grow at a similar rate of 15 percent. Both figures represent above-average job growth, compared to all other professions.
Jared Lewis is a professor of history, philosophy and the humanities. He has taught various courses in these fields since 2001. A former licensed financial adviser, he now works as a writer and has published numerous articles on education and business. He holds a bachelor's degree in history, a master's degree in theology and has completed doctoral work in American history.