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Where do physicists work?

More than most other majors, physics is a passport into a broad range of science, engineering, and education careers. Where you are likely to work will differ by your degree level. The majority of physics bachelors work in the private sector compared to only about one-quarter of physics PhDs. In academia, most physics bachelors and masters teach in high schools, while virtually all university and 4-year college positions are held by PhDs. The other sector that employs a large number of people with physics backgrounds is the government including federal agencies, government laboratories, state and local government, and the military.

What do physics bachelors do?

The most common occupations differ by where they work,but few physics bachelors have the title, physicist. In large part, this is because most physicsbachelors work in the private sector and, unlike other sciences, there is no "physics" industry; physics is used in nearly all industries.

Among the most common occupations are engineer and computer scientist. Many physics bachelors also teach science in secondary schools. Over time, physics bachelors are often promoted into positions that involve managing projects, people, and budgets.

What do physics masters do?

Physics masters work primarily in science, engineering, and education, although their occupations differ sharply by employment setting. Physics masters are, in general, more likely than bachelors to be hired into positions with supervisory responsibility and frequently use advanced knowledge and technical skills to solve complex problems.

What do PhDs do?

There are about 35,000 physics PhDs in the workforce. Nearly half of physics PhDs work in academia. Slightly less work in the private sector in corporate labs conducting long-term research. About one-quarter of physics PhDs work in Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, government laboratories, or federal agencies with a scientific mission. Most of these physicists are engaged in long-term research, but a variety of other activities including management and policy formation is also common.

What kind of environment do physicists work in?

Most physicists work in a team environment, regardless of their highest degree or where they are employed. Even basic research at the PhD level is typically a team effort. As your years of experience and degree level increases, so does the likelihood that you will be supervising a team.

In the private sector, most physicists work in cross-disciplinary teams. These commonly include engineers, materials scientists, chemists, computer specialists, mathematicians, and administrators. These individuals are brought together because of their unique perspectives and skills to help solve a specific problem.

Within the autonomous private sector (self-employed, consulting, and other small business), many people with physics degrees report that they work independently. However, this largely reflects the fact that the companies in which they work are simply too small for a team environment. In this sector, a significant amount of a physicist's time is usually devoted to customer and client interaction.

What skills do physicists use most frequently?

Virtually all physics bachelors report that they are frequently engaged in problem solving, typically complex technical problems. Interpersonal skills are cited one of the most important skills as well since most physics bachelors are involved with one or more of the following: working in a team, supervising a team, working with customers and clients, or interacting with students.

Computer-related ability, management ability, and technical writing ability are other skills physicists typically use.

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