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Michael Price

New Survey Reveals Trends Among Those with Physics Bachelor’s

The American Institute of Physics (AIP) last week released its annual survey of employment trends among recent graduates with a bachelor’s degree in physics. The survey consists of responses from nearly 12,000 graduates from the classes of 2009 and 2010. The results show that the following year 60% of them were enrolled in graduate school and 40% had entered the workforce–approximately the same ratio as in recent years

Of those 40% who entered the workforce, a slight majority–53%–went into the private sector. Of those private-sector workers, three-quarters work in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, of which engineering is the biggest draw, accounting for 32% of all physics bachelor’s degree-holders employed in the private sector. Also popular in the STEM fields are computer and information systems jobs, which account for 21% of physics bachelor’s workers. Rounding out the private sector statistics, 8% work in “Other STEM” jobs, 8% work in “Other Natural Sciences” jobs, 5% work in physics and astronomy (highlighting the necessity of a graduate degree to work in these fields), and 26% are employed in non-STEM fields, such as finance, accounting, or hourly-wage jobs.

Workers who took public-sector jobs included those who joined the military, went to work for the government or national labs, work at colleges and universities, or became high school teachers.
The highest-paying of all these jobs, according to AIP’s survey, tend to be private-sector jobs in STEM fields, followed closely by STEM jobs in civilian government positions and national laboratories, and then private-sector non-STEM jobs, including quantitative analyst jobs (see Science Careers’ coverage of such jobs here).
Survey respondents who worked in STEM fields reported greater overall job satisfaction and job security than those who worked in non-STEM fields, though both categories of workers expressed happiness that they were able to find work in this sluggish economy. When asked about which particular skills they felt had made them employable, many reported that undergraduate research experience helped prop up their credentials, while others suggested that simultaneously learning computer programming skills had broadened their career options.
Also of note is that physics bachelor’s degree-holders who enter the workforce don’t necessarily forget about higher-education aspirations: 6% of those considered to be employed by the AIP survey were also enrolled in graduate school part-time, and 37% responded that they were planning to enroll in graduate school in the near future.