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Physicists and Astronomers Job Outlook

Employment of physicists and astronomers is expected to increase by 14 percent from 2010 to 2020, as fast as the average for all occupations.

Expected growth in federal government spending for physics and astronomy research should increase the need for physicists and astronomers, especially at colleges and universities and national laboratories.

Federal spending is the primary source of physics- and astronomy-related research funds, especially for basic research. Additional federal funding for energy and for advanced manufacturing research is expected to increase the need for physicists. Funding growth for astronomy research is expected to be smaller because of the limited applications of work in astronomy.

Declines in basic research are expected to be offset by growth in applied research in private industry. People with a physics background will continue to be in demand in medicine, information technology, communications technology, semiconductor technology, and other applied research-and-development fields.

Job Prospects

Competition for permanent research appointments, such as those at colleges and universities, is expected to be strong. Increasingly, those with a Ph.D. need to work through multiple postdoctoral appointments before finding a permanent position. In addition, the number of research proposals submitted for funding has been growing faster than the amount of funds available, causing more competition for research grants.

Despite competition for traditional research jobs, prospects should be good for physicists in applied research, development, and related technical fields. Graduates with any academic degree in physics or astronomy, from bachelor’s degree to doctorate, will find their knowledge of science and mathematics useful for entry into many other occupations.

A large part of physics and astronomy research depends on federal funds, so federal budgets have a large impact on job prospects from year to year. This is especially true for astronomers, who are more likely than physicists to depend on federal funding for their work.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition