Physicists and Astronomers

Annual Earnings Percentiles

Skill Scores

  • analytical icon 99

    Analytical

  • creative icon 92

    Creative

  • supported icon 72

    Supported

  • social icon 57

    Social

  • purpose icon 21

    Purpose

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College Majors

Showing data from the American Community Survey for the following US Census occupation categories:

Bachelor's degree majors are shown.

  • Astronomers and physicists

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    What Physicists and Astronomers Do

    Physicists and astronomers study the ways in which various forms of matter and energy interact. Theoretical physicists and astronomers may study the nature of time or the origin of the universe. Some physicists design and perform experiments with sophisticated equipment such as particle accelerators, electron microscopes, and lasers.

    Work Environment

    Physicists and astronomers spend much of their time working in offices, but they also conduct research in laboratories and observatories. Most physicists and astronomers work full time.

    How to Become a Physicist or Astronomer

    Physicists and astronomers typically need a Ph.D. for jobs in research and academia. However, physicist jobs in the federal government typically require a bachelor’s degree in physics. After receiving a Ph.D. in physics or astronomy, many researchers seeking careers in academia begin in temporary postdoctoral research positions.

    Job Outlook

    Employment of physicists and astronomers is projected to grow 7 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Federal government spending for physics and astronomy research is not likely to grow as in past years, and this will dampen the need for physicists and astronomers, especially at colleges and universities and at national laboratories.

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    Job Trends for Physicists and Astronomers

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    This occupation supported 23,300 jobs in 2012 and 20,000 jobs in 2014, reflecting a decline of 14.2%. In 2012, this occupation was projected to increase by 9.9% in 2022 to 25,599 jobs. As of 2014, to keep pace with prediction, the expected number of jobs was 23,700, compared with an observed value of 20,000, 15.6% lower than expected. This indicates current employment trends are much worse than the 2012 trend within this occupation. In 2014, this occupation was projected to increase by 6.0% in 2024 to 21,400 jobs. Linear extrapolation of the 2012 projection for 2022 results in an expected number of 26,000 jobs for 2024, 21.5% higher than the 2014 projection for 2024. This indicates expectations for future employment trends are much worse than the 2012 trend within this occupation.

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