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Science Careers Blog

July 16, 2010

Initial Employment for B.S. Physics Graduates

It always feels good to get your hands on sound, reliable data about scientific employment -- or it does, anyway, when you're an editor of a science careers journal. One of the organization that consistently provides such data is the American Institute of Physics (AIP), a meta-society consisting of 10 physics-focused professional societies, with 25 affiliate member societies (including AAAS) representing related disciplines.

The latest statistical snapshot from AIP focuses on what bachelor's degree physics majors do after they graduate. They combined two consecutive classes -- 2006 and 2007 -- and asked them what they were doing shortly after graduation. The numbers are interesting -- especially for aspiring physicists (and career geeks like me).

Unsurprisingly, the AIP data reveal physics as a major for the grad-school bound: about 57% of graduates from the 2006 and 2007 classes went on to graduate school in physics or some other field. Four percent were still unemployed. Even those who took jobs right out of college -- or many of them -- intend to return to graduate school eventually. 25% reported planning to return to school after a year of working -- the standard "post-bac" experience -- and fully half were planning to return to school in no more than 3 years.

39% of recent grads took jobs right away. Where did they work? Working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields was common, but working directly in physics and astronomy was rare: 70% of these grads were able to stay in STEM-related fields, but only 5% were working in physics or astronomy. Instead, most physics grads took jobs in engineering (32%) or information technology (16%). 7% were working in other natural sciences (other than physics and astronomy that is) and 9% in other technology-related positions. 29% took jobs in non-STEM occupations.

These jobs were mainly in the private sector; 59% took jobs there. 13% of physics graduates were employed at high schools, presumably in teaching posts. Another 10% were employed at colleges and universities. 6% were employed in civilian government (including federally funded but privately operated research centers), and 5% in the military.

These physics grads were called on to do several things a physics major doesn't generally prepare them for. While almost all reported solving technical problems as part of their jobs, nearly as many had to work on teams. Other common activities were technical writing, programming, management, and quality control.

In measures of job satisfaction, the military did very well. The military led  in the level of satisfaction with intellectual challenge, salary and benefits, and advancement opportunity. The only area where they didn't rank highest was in the level of job responsibility, where the military ranked third; the leading sector here was high school teaching.

One especially useful information resource on the employment of recent physics bachelor's degree recipients, is contained in a separate document, also from AIP. It's a state-by-state list of companies that have recently employed physics grads.

If you're an undergraduate physics student, or someone who advises them, you should definitely check out these resources.
 
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