Physicists are scientists who study the nature and interactions of energy, motion and matter. They carry this out with the use of various experiments, which may include particle accelerators, mass spectrometers and electron microscopes. A Ph.D. is almost always required for those who wish to pursue a career as a physicist.
National Salary Scales
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that 13,630 people were employed as physicists in 2009, with an average salary of $111,250 a year. The median salary came in at $106,390. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $56,210 a year, the bottom 25 percent earned less than $79,740, the top 25 percent earned $138,560 or more and the top 10 percent earned incomes of $165,750 a year or more.
Local Salary Scales
In 2009, the highest-paying state for physicists was Kentucky, with salaries averaging $139,810 a year. Florida had the second highest salary at $136,380, which was closely followed by Indiana, Minnesota and Illinois. The highest-paying metropolitan area was the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area in New York, with wages averaging $148,350 annually. The Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown area in Texas followed at $132,220 annually on average.
Salaries by Industry
The highest-paid physicists in 2009 worked in medical industries. Those in the offices of physicians earned $148,960 a year on average, according to the BLS, followed closely by those employed in general medical and surgical hospitals. The biggest employer was the scientific research and development services sector, employing 5,180 people at average incomes of $115,880 a year. The federal executive branch followed, employing 3,120 physicists at average salaries of $112,480 a year on average.
For those wishing to become a physicist, a doctorate degree is almost always required. Physicist positions are usually found in academic institutions and independent research bodies and councils. Those with less than a Ph.D., such as a master's degree, typically do not pursue a career as a physicist but instead are more focused with careers relating to physics, such as applied research. After the completion of a Ph.D., physicists tend to begin their careers in a post-doctoral research position.