Many students who study physics at university aspire to one day become professors themselves. As with any profession, the salary of a professor is an important consideration when deciding whether or not to pursue this career path.
Physics is a highly respected and challenging field, which requires advanced degrees and years of experience. It’s only natural for aspiring physicists to wonder how much money they can expect to earn as they progress in their careers. And just as importantly, what kind of salaries are enjoyed by top educators in the field?
In this article, we’ll explore the world of physics professor compensation, taking a look at some of the highest paying jobs and comparing them to other academic professions. By digging into these numbers, you’ll gain valuable insights that could help you plan your own future as a physicist or educator in the field of physics.
“While many people view teaching as simply a job or even a “stepping stone,” I’m convinced that it is a calling.” – Lyle W. Dorsett
Whether you see yourself as a lifelong educator or simply want to know what kind of financial rewards await those who succeed in the field of physics, this article will provide useful information about the salaries of top professors. So sit back, relax, and get ready to discover the exciting world of physics education.
What is the Average Salary of a Physics Professor?
Overview of Physics Professor Salaries
Physics professors are responsible for teaching physics concepts to students at colleges and universities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2020, the median annual salary for postsecondary physics teachers was $98,420. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $50,840 per year, while the highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $191,710.
In comparison with other university proffesionals, physics professor salaries rank within the top tier in overall earning potential.
Salary Range for Physics Professors
The salary range for physics professors varies depending on factors such as location, institution type, experience level, and education qualifications.
For example, according to Payscale.com, an associate physics professor with less than five years of experience earns an average total compensation (salary plus benefits) of $84,000 annually, whereas a full professor with twenty or more years of experience takes home around $116,000 per year.
Influence of Experience on Physics Professor Salaries
Experience plays a significant role in determining the salary of a physics professor since it affects their work output and quality of their research. Novice physics professors tend to earn lower salaries compared to those who have been teaching for many years due to skills acquisition, training, and network development impacted over time despite degrees qualifying them for the job.
According to Glassdoor, a junior assistant professor in the first three years of tenure-track can expect to earn $60,000 – $90,000 per year; however, after gaining ten years of experience, they could be making up to $120,000 per year. Also, senior tenured postsecondary Physics professors may earn up to $150,000 or more.
Factors Affecting Physics Professor Salaries
The following are some factors that influence the salary range of physics professors:
- Type of Institution: The salaries offered by public colleges and universities differ from private institutions. Public institutions pay their faculty lesser on average than private ones do since they usually operate with narrower budgets.
- Location: Location significantly affects salaries since based on city type (urban versus rural), regions have different costs of living where urban areas have higher associated expenses.
- Educational Qualifications: Individuals with advanced degrees tend to start at a slightly higher salary bracket upon entry into college/university teaching.
- Specialization: Professors who specialize in in-demand fields like nuclear physics, astrophysics, or materials science generally receive better overall compensation packages due to easily obtainable grants for research opportunities alongside assistantships within industry companies outside of academia one needs to understand a solid job placement path for those long-term careers.
How Do Salaries of Physics Professors Compare to Other Professors?
Comparison to Other STEM Professors
Physics professors are considered part of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) field. When it comes to salaries within this group, physics professors are among the highest paid. In fact, according to a 2019 study by the National Science Foundation, physics professors had an average salary of $106,000 per year. This was higher than the average salary for other STEM disciplines such as biology ($90,000), mathematics ($92,000), and computer science ($103,000).
The same study also revealed that there is gender pay gap within the STEM field, with male professors earning more than female professors. However, in physics specifically, the gender pay gap is smaller compared to other STEM fields. According to data from the American Institute of Physics, in 2017 male full-time faculty members in physics earned about 8% more than their female counterparts.
“The leaky pipeline has been demonstrated relentlessly. It’s not just women exiting because they’re underpaid; it’s women exiting because they don’t feel valued,” said S. James Gates Jr., a theoretical physicist at Brown University.
Comparison to Non-STEM Professors
Compared to non-STEM professors, physics professors’ salaries generally fall within the top half of all academic disciplines. The average salary for all full-time instructional faculty members during the 2019-2020 academic year was $79,540 according to the American Association of University Professors.
Specific salaries can vary widely based on factors such as geographic location, type of institution, and years of experience. For example, physics professors working at institutions classified as Doctoral Universities (granting research doctoral degrees) tend to earn more than those working at Master’s Colleges and Universities.
“The highest earners have physics or math degrees, both of which can lead to comfortable salaries in finance or technology,” said Brendan L. McQuade, a professor of criminology at the University of Southern Maine.
While the salaries of physics professors differ slightly from other STEM fields such as mathematics, computer science, and biology; they are still among the highest paid when compared to non-STEM fields. Factors like gender and geographic location may influence individual salaries within this group. However, for those passionate about physics and seeking a career in academia, it could be a lucrative field to consider.
What Factors Affect the Salary of Physics Professors?
Location and Cost of Living
The location where a physics professor works plays an important role in determining their salary. The cost of living within that area is also taken into consideration. Professors who work in major metropolitan cities may earn more than those working in smaller towns or suburban areas.
For instance, according to PayScale’s data from 2021, the average annual salary for a physics professor in New York City is around $96,000, while a professor in Houston earns an average of $77,000 per year. Similarly, professors who work in big cities with higher costs of living can expect to receive higher salaries to accommodate these expenses.
A survey conducted by the American Institute of Physics (AIP) found that the highest-paying positions for physics faculty are concentrated in states such as California, Texas, Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Illinois, Michigan, Georgia, and New York.
Level of Education and Professional Experience
Another crucial factor affecting the salary of a physics professor is their level of education and experience. Those with advanced degrees such as PhDs tend to earn more than those with only bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Moreover, professors with several years of teaching experience usually command higher salaries due to their expertise.
According to the AIP survey mentioned earlier, new physics faculty members with doctorates earned an average annual salary of $68,700 in 2019, while mid-career physicists with ten to nineteen years of experience had an average pay of $100,200 annually. Senior-level faculty members with over twenty years of experience, on the other hand, earned an average of $137,500 per annum.
Type of Institution and Departmental Budget
The type of institution that employs a physics professor also affects their salary. Professors who teach at research-intensive universities typically receive higher salaries than those employed in primarily teaching-focused institutions such as community colleges.
Another significant factor is the budget allocated to the department where the professor works. Departments with larger budgets tend to pay their faculty more, while smaller departments often offer lower salaries due to financial constraints.
Research and Grant Funding
Lastly, the amount of research funding and grants attracted by a university or college can also impact the salary of its physics professors. Institutions with large research programs generally have better resources and can offer higher salaries to attract top talent for faculty positions.
In addition, professors who secure research and grant funding can supplement their income through these sources. Grants may cover expenses such as travel costs associated with attending conferences, conducting experiments, and purchasing equipment required for teaching or research purposes, among other things.
“The allocation of funding plays an important role in determining the level of remuneration available to support researchers.” -David Sweeney
Several factors influence a physics professor’s earnings. While location and cost of living are crucial determinants, the level of education and experience, type of institution, and research opportunities provided by the department also play vital roles.
What Are the Highest Paying Jobs for Physics Professors?
Positions in Private Industry
While academia may be the most traditional route for physics professors, some of the top-paying jobs can actually be found in private industry. Many tech companies are constantly seeking physicists to develop new products and technologies.
The average salary for a physicist working in the computer systems design industry is $135,760, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is significantly higher than the median salary for physics professors at universities, which is around $96,500 per year, as reported by PayScale.
- Apple: Physicists at Apple can earn anywhere from $82k – $210k per year, according to levels.fyi.
- Google: At Google, the average salary for a physicist is $166,000 per year, according to Glassdoor.
Government Jobs and Research Facilities
In addition to private industry positions, there are other high paying job opportunities available for physicists with advanced degrees. Government jobs offer good salaries and benefits packages too, including access to healthcare, life insurance, retirement plans, and more.
The BLS reports that physicists working for the federal government have an average annual wage of $123,230. Some of the highest paying employers include the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, and NASA.
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory: According to Glassdoor, physicists at this research facility earn an average salary of $120k per year.
- Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory: As a physicist here, you could earn a salary up to $224k per year, based on data from levels.fyi.
Consulting and Contract Work
Besides working for universities, government agencies, or the private sector, physics professors may find consulting and contract work to be a lucrative venture. This could involve advising on cutting-edge research projects, developing patents, mentoring graduate students, conducting studies that inform environmental policy, or providing expert testimony to legal cases.
The average hourly rate for a physicist consultant is $120 per hour, according to Glassdoor. The BLS reported in 2020 that the top-paid physicists were earning upwards of $200k annually as consultants.
“There’s always opportunities for those who want them because science will never run out of questions,” says Dr. Steve Squyres, a renowned planetary scientist and professor at Cornell University.
While it may take years of dedication and hard work to become a physics professor, there are several high-paying jobs available outside academia. With advancing technology and new discoveries being made every day, the demand for skilled physicists remains strong across many industries and fields.
How Can Physics Professors Increase Their Earnings?
Physics professors may be highly knowledgeable and passionate about their field, but if they want to increase their earnings, there are several strategies they can employ. Below, we will discuss some of the most effective ways in which physics professors can get paid more for their work.
Professional Development and Continuing Education
One way that physics professors can boost their income is by investing in their own professional development. This could involve pursuing additional degrees or certifications, attending industry conferences, or participating in specialized training programs.
The benefits of continuing education are twofold: first, it allows physics professors to stay current with the latest advances in their field, which can help them better serve their students and colleagues. Secondly, advanced degrees and credentials can make a professor more attractive to potential employers, leading to higher salaries or consulting fees.
“Continuous learning is the minimum requirement for success in any field.” -Denis Waitley
Securing Research Grants and Funding
In today’s competitive academic landscape, securing research grants and funding is essential for physics professors hoping to advance their careers and earn more money. By conducting groundbreaking research studies, physicists can not only contribute valuable insights into their chosen subject matter but also attract attention and resources from government agencies, private corporations, or philanthropic organizations.
To secure research funding successfully, physics professors must exhibit both technical proficiency and grant-writing skills, as well as the ability to articulate their vision in terms that resonate with potential funders. The more successful research projects physics professors undertake, the more opportunities they’ll have to command higher salaries, bonuses, or royalties.
“Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.” -Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
Teaching and Consulting Opportunities Outside of Academia
Physics professors are highly respected in both academic circles and the broader community. Consequently, they may find that they can boost their earnings by pursuing teaching or consulting opportunities outside of academia.
For example, physics professors could develop and teach specialized workshops for professionals in industries like engineering, medicine, or IT, leveraging their expertise to help others apply fundamental physics principles to real-world problems. Alternatively, they might act as expert consultants for businesses or startups seeking to develop new products or technologies based on sound physical principles.
“The good teacher explains, the superior teacher demonstrates, the great teacher inspires.” -William Arthur Ward
There are many ways that physics professors can increase their earnings, ranging from investing in professional development to securing research funding or exploring lucrative career paths outside of academia. Regardless of which approach they choose to pursue, it’s clear that physics professors bring immense value to society through their dedication and expertise in this exciting field.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the average salary of a physics professor?
The average salary of a physics professor in the United States is around $95,000 per year. This can vary depending on the level of the professorship (assistant, associate, or full professor), the type of institution they work at (public or private), and the location of the institution.
What factors affect the salary of a physics professor?
Several factors can affect the salary of a physics professor, including their level of education, years of experience, area of expertise, and the type and location of the institution they work at. The demand for physics professors and the availability of funding for research can also play a role in determining their salary.
Do physics professors at research universities make more than those at liberal arts colleges?
Generally, physics professors at research universities make more than those at liberal arts colleges. Research universities typically have more funding for research and larger budgets for faculty salaries. However, there are exceptions, and individual cases may vary.
How much experience is required to become a physics professor?
The amount of experience required to become a physics professor can vary depending on the institution and the level of the professorship. Typically, a Ph.D. in physics is required, which can take 5-7 years to complete. After that, several years of postdoctoral research experience is often necessary before being hired as a professor.
Are physics professors compensated differently depending on their area of focus (i.e. astrophysics, quantum mechanics, etc.)?
Physics professors may be compensated differently depending on their area of focus, as some areas of physics may have more funding available for research or be in higher demand. However, salary differences between different areas of physics are often small, and a professor’s level of education and experience often have a larger impact on their salary.