10 Jobs Involving Physics
Growth Trends for Related Jobs
A careers in physics list reveals the diverse ways in which physics affects our daily lives. Workers involved in physics-related professions keep our lightbulbs burning, airplanes flying and medical technology advancing. In a list of 10 jobs in physics, some physics-related jobs require a Ph.D., while others are open to high school graduates with specialized training. Jobs involving physics offer incomes that range from hourly wages to six-figure salaries.
Research and Education Jobs Involving Physics
Physicists study the manner in which matter and energy play a role in our universe. The field has many branches, including atomic systems, light and gravity. Typically, physicists work in laboratories, conducting experiments to uncover the mysteries of matter and energy or to harness their natural qualities for use in technology such as solar photovoltaic panels or medical radiation equipment.
Physicists use a collection of laboratory equipment such as lasers, telescopes and particle accelerators, along with computer programs that help them analyze and document their findings. A career in a physics field requires excellent communication and writing skills to prepare research proposals, write journal articles and deliver lectures.
In 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported nearly 18,000 physicists worked in the United States. Nearly one-third worked in research and development and more than 20 percent worked for educational institutions. Major employers of physicists include the Los Alamos National Laboratory, U.S. Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Most employers require their physicists to have a Ph.D. in physics. Physics programs often include coursework in statistics, computer science and algebra.
In 2017, physicists earned a median salary of nearly $120,000. A median income represents the center of an occupation’s pay scale.
The BLS expects job opportunities for physicists to increase by around 14 percent through 2026.
Physics teachers plan and facilitate lessons on physics topics and grade students’ tests and projects. High school teachers must communicate the progress of students with their parents and supervise students on school grounds and during field trips. They must adhere to state and school district lesson requirements and prepare their students for standardized exams.
College and university physics teachers prepare and deliver advanced physics coursework. Many postsecondary physics teachers conduct laboratory research and write papers for scientific journals. Often, college and university physics teachers tailor their coursework to topics that prepare their students for a physics-related career. Many postsecondary teachers also serve as student advisors.
More than 17,000 physics teachers worked in U.S. colleges and universities in 2016 per the BLS. The Bureau does not provide a specific number of high school physics teachers because many secondary school instructors teach several subjects.
High school physics teachers much have a bachelor’s degree. Many schools and school districts prefer or require teachers to have a degree in the primary subject they teach. Typically, teachers working in public schools must hold a teaching license or certificate. Colleges and universities often seek physics teachers who have earned a Ph.D.
In 2017, high school teachers earned a median salary of nearly $60,000. Statistically, teachers at public schools earned higher salaries than their private school colleagues did. College and university physics teachers took home around $87,000 during the same period.
The BLS projects high school teaching positions to increase by about 8 percent from now until 2026. However, an ongoing shortage of science instructors should further increase the prospects for physics teachers. Job openings for college and university physics teachers should increase by around 10 percent during the same period.
Energy and Environmental Jobs Involving Physics
Typically, nuclear technicians work for companies or government agencies involved in the production of nuclear energy. Under the supervision of physicists or engineers, nuclear technicians monitor power generation equipment or the radiation produced by radioactive substances during the production process.
A nuclear technician’s job may require the operation of specialized equipment or collection of radioactive samples from contaminated soil or water. The technician may instruct others in areas such as nuclear safety, evacuation planning or disposal of nuclear waste.
Most employers seek nuclear technicians who have earned at least an associate degree in nuclear technology or nuclear science. Many nuclear technicians receive their training while serving in a branch of the military.
In 2016, nearly 7,000 nuclear technicians worked in the United States. Energy companies employ more than 60 percent of nuclear technicians. The BLS expects employment for nuclear technicians to remain at current levels from now until 2026.
In 2017, nuclear technicians earned a median salary of around $80,000. High earners brought home more than $110,000, while technicians at the bottom of the pay scale made around $48,000.
Environmental specialists advise clients on protecting the environment surrounding office buildings and factories and devise cleanup plans for natural areas contaminated by toxins. Some environmental specialists work for government agencies in drafting and administering environmental legislation aimed at protecting the environment or holding environmental offenders accountable.
Environmental specialists analyze data collected from water, air, soil or food samples, which they use to prevent environmental destruction or repair damage that has already occurred. They must prepare reports, presentations and action plans, which they deliver to private sector clients, government agencies or the public.
Most employers seek environmental specialists with at least a bachelor’s degree in a science discipline such as biology, geology or physics. Some employers may also require research experience or coursework in a particular area of environmental science, such as climate change or waste management.
A 2016 BLS survey found that nearly 90,000 environmental specialists and scientists work in the United States. About half of the people surveyed worked for consulting companies or government agencies.
In 2017, environmental specialists earned a median salary of nearly $70,000. On average, the federal government paid the highest wages.
According to BLS projections, environmental specialist positions should increase by around 11 percent through 2026.
Solar Photovoltaic Installers
Solar photovoltaic installers work on the front line in the renewable energy industry. They serve customers by evaluating their solar energy needs and installing and maintaining the solar panels and battery components needed to generate electricity and heat water.
Solar photovoltaic installers must understand the workings of electrical systems and comply with construction standards and building codes. Some installers also provide regularly scheduled maintenance to keep their customers’ solar systems operating safely and efficiently.
Most employers do not require photovoltaic installers to have a college degree. Many installers receive training through a community college or technical school program or on the job with an energy company.
In 2017, photovoltaic installers took home a median salary of around $40,000. Installers at the top of the pay scale made more than $61,000.
More than 11,000 photovoltaic installers work in the United States, where nearly half are employed by contractors. The BLS projects a whopping 105 percent increase in photovoltaic installer positions through 2026.
Wind Turbine Technicians
Wind turbine technicians advance the sustainable energy movement by installing, repairing and maintaining electric generating wind turbines. The job requires a mix of skills involving mechanical and electrical systems, along with nerves of steel for climbing several stories high to perform their duties.
Some wind turbine technicians also install and maintain control systems and fiber optic systems that support electric wind generation.
Typically, employers do not require technicians to hold a college degree. Many wind turbine technicians receive their training in technical school courses or on the job. Some community colleges offer associate degree programs in wind energy technology.
Nearly 6,000 people in the United States work as wind turbine technicians. Through 2026, job openings for wind turbine technicians are expected to increase by nearly 100 percent.
In 2017, wind turbine technicians earned a median income of nearly $54,000. Technicians in the top pay bracket took home more than $80,000.
Engineering and Design Jobs Involving Physics
Architects design a wide range of structures, from office buildings to manufacturing plants, dream homes to jails. They work closely with clients to create the structures they desire. Architects define structural aspects such as dimensions and building materials. Most architects use specialized computer programs to produce artistic renderings and technical drawing used to produce blueprints.
Architects must work within a client’s budget, considering the costs of building materials, labor and land. They often spend time at construction sites to make sure contractors adhere to the plans they created.
Architects must earn a bachelor’s degree in architecture and pass the Architect Registration Examination. Most architecture programs take five years to complete and include an internship.
In 2016, the BLS estimated that nearly 130,000 architects worked in the United States. Nearly 70 percent work for firms that offer architectural or engineering services.
Based on 2017 estimates, architects earn a median income of around $78,000 per year. Architects at the top of the pay scale take home more than $130,000.
The architect profession should experience just 4 percent growth through 2026. However, architects who specialize in sustainable and environmentally friendly design may see more job opportunities.
Aerospace engineers design spacecraft, satellites and aircraft, along with high-tech military weapons such as cruise missiles. Some aerospace engineers develop prototypes, while others are involved in testing new designs.
Aerospace engineers must have keen analytical skills to assess a project’s technical feasibility and to evaluate its ability to meet the customer’s goals. They must ensure a project complies with the law, budget limits and environmental regulations.
To land a job as an aerospace engineer, a candidate must have at least a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. Typically, aerospace programs include coursework in physics, computer languages and mathematics. Jobs offered by defense contractors typically require U.S. citizenship and security clearance.
In 2016, nearly 70,000 aerospace engineers worked in the United States. Nearly 40 percent worked for aerospace manufacturing companies.
The BLS reported that aerospace engineers took home a median income of around $113,000 in 2017. Research and development positions paid the highest incomes.
Job prospects for aerospace engineers should increase by around 6 percent through 2026.
Civil engineers play various roles in the design, construction, maintenance and operation of infrastructures such as highways, wastewater treatment facilities, buildings, bridges, airports and dams. Their job requires analysis of survey reports, maps, artist renderings and environmental features in planning and designing projects. Civil engineers must make sure their projects comply with zoning and environmental laws and adhere to budgets.
Civil engineers must determine the best materials for constructing their projects. They must possess expert knowledge of engineering design software and understand how natural foundation elements such as sand, clay and bedrock can benefit or jeopardize a project.
Civil engineering positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering. To qualify for management positions, employers often require a postgraduate degree in engineering or business. All states require engineers offering service to the public to obtain an engineering license. Licensing requirements vary by state.
In 2016, more than 300,000 civil engineers worked in the United States. Nearly half work for companies that offer engineering services.
In 2017, civil engineers took home a median income of around $85,000. The federal government is among the highest paying employers for civil engineers.
Civil engineers should see an 11 percent increase in jobs, from now until 2026.
Electrical engineers develop electrical equipment and electrical systems used in facilities and machines such as power generating plants, automobiles, airplanes and appliances. Some electrical engineers serve in testing roles, while others oversee the manufacture or installation of electrical equipment or components.
Electrical engineers must create specifications for the production of equipment and components and ensure that projects adhere to budgets. Some electrical engineers working in the consumer marketplace evaluate problems with products and formulate solutions.
Typically, electrical engineers need at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Most electrical engineering programs include classroom coursework and laboratory exercises. A job seeker can land an entry-level electrical engineering job without a license, but some states require licensing for engineers who supervise the work of other engineers.
According to a 2016 BLS study, nearly 190,000 electrical engineers work in the United States. About 20 percent work for companies that offer engineering services, while about the same percentage work in research and development or electric power generation.
In 2017, electrical engineers earned a median salary of around $95,000. The highest earners worked in research and development positions.
The BLS expects electrical engineer positions to increase by around 7 percent from now until 2026. The greatest increase in jobs should occur in the private sector.
Engineering Physics Major
The technological demands of the 21st century have produced the engineering physics major, a degree program that combines physics and engineering studies. The degree provides a foundation for students planning careers in cutting-edge technologies such as nanotechnology, quantum science and renewable energy.
- Physics.org: Careers From Physics
- Ohio State University: Careers in Physics
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Civil Engineers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Postsecondary Teachers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: High School Teachers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Aerospace Engineers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Nuclear Technicians
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicists and Astronomers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Electrical and Electronics Engineers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Architects
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Solar Photovoltaic Installers
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Wind Turbine Technicians
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Environmental Scientists and Specialists
- The Princeton Review: Engineering Physics
- Stanford University: Engineering Physics Major
Michael Evans’ career path has taken many planned and unexpected twists and turns, from TV sports producer to internet project manager to cargo ship deckhand. He has worked in numerous industries, including higher education, government, transportation, finance, manufacturing, journalism and travel. Along the way, he has developed job descriptions, interviewed job applicants and gained insight into the types of education, work experience and personal characteristics employers seek in job candidates. Michael graduated from The University of Memphis, where he studied photography and film production. He began writing professionally while working for an online finance company in San Francisco, California. His writings have appeared in print and online publications, including Fox Business, Yahoo! Finance, Motley Fool and Bankrate.