Nature of Work

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.

Training, Qualifications and Advancement

Physicists and astronomers typically need a Ph.D. for jobs in research and academia. However, physicist jobs in the federal government typically require a bachelor’s degree in physics. After receiving a Ph.D. in physics or astronomy, many researchers seeking careers in academia begin in temporary postdoctoral research positions.


Physicists held about 18,100 jobs, and astronomers held about 1,900 jobs, in 2014.

Job Outlook

Competition for permanent research appointments, such as those at colleges and universities, is expected to be strong. Increasingly, those with a Ph.D. may need to work through multiple postdoctoral appointments before finding a permanent position. In addition, the number of research proposals submitted for funding has been growing faster than the amount of funds available, causing more competition for research grants.

Projections Data

As of 2014-2024, 7%


The median annual wage for astronomers was $104,100 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $52,460, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $166,320.

Related Occupations

  • Aerospace Engineers
  • Civil Engineers
  • Geoscientists
  • Mathematicians
  • Mechanical Engineers

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