What can you do with a bachelors degree in physics? Well, basically anything. Physics majors go on to medical school, law school, jobs in business, scientific research in a variety of fields, and graduate school. By learning physics, you will develop your analytical abilities and problem-solving techniques, and these skills are applicable and useful in any profession.
Track to Becoming A Research Physicist
Students intending on a career in physics research usually pursue a PhD in the field after graduating from college (see our tips on applying to graduate school). Increasingly, people are beginning to take some time off between college and graduate school to gain experience in industry for a few years beforehand. Depending on your area, graduate school can take (on average) between four and six years. The bright side: graduate schools generally pay you while you are a student, and not the other way around. This income is usually through fellowships, research assistantships, or teaching assistantships. During your senior year at MIT, you should apply to outside fellowships (awards that give stipends regardless of where you attend graduate school).
After earning a PhD, physicists typically begin their careers in postdoctoral research positions. These jobs are for short periods (lasting approximately one to three years) and are intended to be a last step in your preparation to become a research physicist. From there, individuals usually go on to scientist positions in private industry and at universities or enter a tenure-track faculty position in academia.
If this process does not sound appealing to you, you have a lot of alternative career options available to you as a physics major. A physics degree is excellent preparation for law scool or medical school. Particularly, a high demand exists for lawyers with a technical background, especially in patent law. Research and development is a large sector in government, defense, and private industry, and demand is increasing for individuals with background in science and specifically physics.
It is also relatively simple to pursue interests in other fields. With a strong knowledge of physics, you will be prepared for research in areas like chemistry, math, and engineering. Additionally, the analytical skills you will develop as a physics major are readily sought after by hiring businesses. The problem-sovling techniques and logical thinking you will cultivate are useful for careers in finance, marketing, and product development.
Each year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes the Occupational Outlook Handbook with information on careers, including working conditions, training and education needed, and earnings for each profession. If you are curious what you can expect to earn as a physicist, we have compiled a list from the 2002-2003 edition of this source of salary statistics for various professions:
|Profession||Median Annual Earnings||Middle 50% Earnings||Average Starting Salary|
|Physicists||$82,535||$65,820 - $102,270||$68,273 (PhD)|
|Chemists||$50,080||$37,480 - $68,240||$33,500 (BS), $64,500 (PhD)|
|Computer Scientists||$70,590||$54,700 - $89,990||$52,723 (BS), $61,453 (MS)|
|Mathematicians||$68,640||$50,740 - $85,520||$46,466 (BS), $53,440 (PhD)|
|Electrical Engineers||$64,910||$51,700 - $80,600||$51,910 (BS), $63,812 (MS), $79,241 (PhD)|
|Aerospace Engineers||$67,930||$56,410 - $82,570||$46,918 (BS), $64,167 (PhD)|
|Financial Managers||$67,020||$48,150 - $91,580||------|
|Lawyers||$88,280||$60,700 - $130,170||$51,900 (JD)|
The specific information on physicists and astronomers is located here.