Quick Facts: Physicists and Astronomers
2012 Median Pay $106,360 per year
$51.14 per hour
Entry-Level Education Doctoral or professional degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 23,300
Job Outlook, 2012-22 10% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 2,400

What Physicists and Astronomers Do

Physicists and astronomers study the ways in which various forms of matter and energy interact. Theoretical physicists and astronomers may study the nature of time or the origin of the universe. Physicists and astronomers in applied fields may develop new military technologies or new sources of energy, or monitor space debris that could endanger satellites.

Work Environment

Physicists and astronomers spend much of their time working in offices, but they also conduct research in laboratories and observatories. Most physicists and astronomers work full time.

How to Become a Physicist or Astronomer

Physicists and astronomers need a Ph.D. for most research jobs. Many physics and astronomy Ph.D. holders typically begin their careers in temporary postdoctoral research positions.


In May 2012, the median annual wage for physicists was $106,840. The median annual wage for astronomers was $96,460 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of physicists and astronomers is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about 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.

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