Career Path Forecast
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
employment of physicists and astronomers is expected to grow 16 percent,
faster than the average for all occupations during the 2008-18 decade.
expenditures are the major source of physics-related and
astronomy-related research funds, especially for basic research. For
most of the past decade there has been limited growth in Federal funding
for physics and astronomy research as most of the growth in Federal
research funding has been devoted to the life sciences. However, the
America COMPETES Act, passed by Congress in 2007, sets a goal to double
funding for the physical sciences through the National Science
Foundation and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science by the year
2016, and recent budgets for these agencies have seen large increases.
If these increases continue, it will result in more opportunities in
basic research for Ph.D. physicists and astronomers.
Although research and
development expenditures in private industry will continue to grow, many
research laboratories in private industry are expected to continue to
reduce basic research, which includes much physics research, in favor of
applied or manufacturing research and product and software development.
Nevertheless, people with a physics background continue to be in demand
in information technology, semiconductor technology, and other applied
sciences. This trend is expected to continue; however, many of the new
workers will have job titles such as computer software engineer,
computer programmer, or systems analyst or developer, rather than
addition to job growth, the need to replace physicists and astronomers
who retire or otherwise leave the occupation permanently will account
for many job openings. In recent years the number of doctorates granted
in physics has been somewhat greater than the number of job openings for
traditional physics research positions in colleges and universities and
in research centers. Recent increases in undergraduate physics
enrollments may also lead to growth in enrollments in graduate physics
programs, so that there may be an increase in the number of doctoral
degrees granted that could intensify the competition for basic research
positions. However, demand has grown in other related occupations for
those with advanced training in physics. Prospects should be favorable
for physicists in applied research, development, and related technical
also be numerous for those with a master's degree, particularly
graduates from programs preparing students for related work in applied
research and development, product design, and manufacturing positions in
private industry. Many of these positions, however, will have titles
other than physicist, such as engineer or computer scientist.
People with only a
bachelor's degree in physics or astronomy are usually not qualified for
physics or astronomy research jobs, but they may qualify for a wide
range of positions related to engineering, mathematics, computer
science, environmental science, and some nonscience fields, such as
finance. Those who meet State certification requirements can become high
school physics teachers, an occupation in strong demand in many school
Some States require
new teachers to obtain a master's degree in education within a certain
time. Despite competition for traditional physics and astronomy research
jobs, graduates with a physics or astronomy degree at any level will
find their knowledge of science and mathematics useful for entry into
many other occupations.
Despite their small
numbers, astronomers can expect good job prospects in government and
academia over the projection period. Since astronomers are particularly
dependent upon government funding, Federal budgetary decisions will have
a sizable influence on job prospects for astronomers.
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US Department
of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.