APS Careers | Becoming a physicist

Why Study Physics?

Want to know “how” and “why?” Learn physics.

A person writing equations

Physics is crucial to understanding the world around us, the world inside us, and the world beyond us. It is the most fundamental science.

Physics challenges our imaginations with concepts like relativity and string theory. It leads to great discoveries that, in turn, bring life-changing technologies, like computers, GPS, and lasers. Physicists also work to solve some of the greatest challenges of our times by finding ways to cure cancer, heal joints, or develop solutions for sustainable energy.

Learn more about the work that physicists do by reading stories from real physicists on our Physicists Profiles and Career Options pages.

If you’re an educator looking for resources to incorporate into your middle or high school classroom, review APS’s PhysicsQuest and STEP UP projects.

Like science? It begins with physics

Physics encompasses the study of the universe from the largest galaxies to the smallest (subatomic!) particles.

Moreover, physics is the basis for many other sciences, including chemistry, oceanography, seismology, and astronomy, as well as the applied sciences, like the various branches of engineering. The principles of physics are also applied in many areas of biology and biomedical science. Advanced education in all of these areas — and more! — is possible with a bachelor’s degree in physics.

Want to learn real-world skills? Study physics!

Physicists are problem solvers. Their analytical skills make them versatile and adaptable, so physicists often work interesting jobs in interesting places. You can find physicists in industrial and government labs, on college campuses, in the astronaut corps, and consulting for the special effects in TV shows and movies. In addition, many physics grads work for engineering or consulting firms, at newspapers and magazines, in government, for non-profits, in data science and app development roles, and even on Wall Street — places where their ability to think analytically is a great asset.

In general, though, most physics majors continue in STEM-related careers or careers that require strong problem-solving skills. Data shows that nearly 4 in 10 physics majors continue in engineering professions, while 1 in 4 go into computer or information systems. Another 1 in 4 physics majors continue in another STEM pathway or a non-STEM career where they regularly solve technical problems.

Want a job? People hire physicists

Physics brings a broad perspective to any problem. Because physicists learn how to critically analyze and breakdown even the most complex problems, they are not bound by context. This form of inventive thinking makes physicists desirable in any field. A bachelor’s degree in physics is a great foundation for careers in:

  • Astronomy
  • Biology
  • Business
  • Computer Science
  • Data Science
  • Engineering
  • Finance
  • Journalism
  • Law
  • Medicine

Want a good salary? Physics tops the sciences

Even when the job market is slow, physicists get well-paying job offers. Employers know that a physicist brings additional skills and expertise — and they pay accordingly! That's why physics graduates can expect career salaries similar to those of computer science and engineering majors.

As of 2020, data shows the mean starting salary for a physics major taking a job in the STEM private sector was about $65k annually, with students who chose non-STEM technical pathways earning slightly less, at about $50k. But some physics majors, depending on their interests and skills acquired during college, start at much higher salaries — $80k or more.

Like most fields of STEM, if you pursue advanced education, your salary increases. After completing a master’s degree, physicists earn an average of about $90k annually, and after a doctorate, physicists earn a starting salary of roughly $120k.

View physics career statistical data

Related

A teacher in front of a classroom

There are a lot of misconceptions about taking physics in high school — here are the facts.

Discover how much you can do with a degree in physics by seeing how others have put theirs to use.

Discover your path to career success, your comprehensive companion offering valuable insights, practical tools, and personalized guidance.

A woman working at a laptop computer

APS supports physicists and other scientists from the beginning of their education to every stage of their careers.

Join your Society

If you embrace scientific discovery, truth and integrity, partnership, inclusion, and lifelong curiosity, this is your professional home.