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As a physics or astronomy student, it is likely that almost all the people you have met who have degrees in those fields are professors. But people with PhDs employed in academia constitute a small minority of all the people who have received physics or astronomy degrees! After completing a bachelor’s, almost half of graduates enter the workforce, two-thirds of them in the private sector. Similarly, less than half of PhD graduates take up a postdoctoral position while the rest take potentially permanent positions in the private sector or in government labs. Fewer than 5% of all undergraduate physics majors end up as physics professors! The resources on this page will help you investigate the possibilities for your own career trajectory.

 
You can find more alumni profiles here.
 

What kinds of jobs do people with physics degrees do?

People put their physics background to use in a wide variety of contexts. The links below will give you many examples of the kind of jobs physicists hold in the private sector, government labs, and academia. The examples include graduates of our own department as well as other members of the physics community, and people with bachelor’s degrees and with MS and PhD degrees. Maybe you will find someone who has your dream job!

 

What can I earn with a physics degree?

People with a physics background can earn quite high salaries (especially in the private sector). These links take you to statistics about starting salaries for graduates at different degree levels, gathered by the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics.


 

What companies hire physicists?

Many companies hire physicists, including some that might surprise you. The links below will take you to interactive tools prepared by the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics.

 

How can I prepare myself for a physics career?

Besides what you can learn from workshops and other events sponsored by the department, the professional societies offer additional guidance.

  • The APS Professional Guidebook focuses on steps you can take to prepare for and find a job in the private sector. It covers everything from career planning, skills inventory, networking, informational interviews, writing a resume, interviewing, and offer negotiation.
    https://www.aps.org/careers/guidebook/index.cfm
  • The SPS Careers Toolbox is specifically for undergraduate students, and covers types of jobs, informational interviews, gaining experience, networking, the job search, and more.
    https://www.spsnational.org/sites/all/careerstoolbox/

  • If you aspire to a career in research, this book may prove useful.
    A PhD is Not Enough by Peter J. Fiebelman (full text available online via UNC Libraries)

  • See below for the materials from the Spring 2022 Department Career Workshops.

 

How satisfied are physicists with their jobs?

The Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics surveyed physicists who received their PhD about ten years ago, and the links below take you to what they said about their jobs.

 

What knowledge and skills do physicists use in various kinds of jobs?

Physicists use a wide range of technical and managerial skills in their work, regardless of what kind of job they hold. The links below take you to graphs that show how often people report using various skills in their jobs.

 

What about a Master’s degree?

 

I’m an astronomer. What about me?

 

How do I find a job?

The American Physical Society and the Society of Physics Students have a lot of information about searching for jobs.

Department Career Workshop Materials