Nuclear physicists attempt to solve the world's energy problems by applying their knowledge in areas such as nuclear particles, nuclear matter, radioactivity, fission and fusion to create alternative fuel sources. Most work in research and development in academic environments, although some work for private laboratories. You'll need a doctoral degree to become a nuclear physicist, which takes about seven years of college to complete.
If you're just out of college, you can expect to earn a living at the 10th percentile for nuclear physicists, which stood at $68,494 as of 2013 in 10 randomly selected cities. The individual cities sampled include Pierre, S.D., $47,863; Augusta, Maine, $53,777; Walla Walla, Wash., $58,470; Philadelphia, $69,774; Chicago, $69,774; Baltimore, $68,896; Miami, $69,899; Houston, $73,444, New York, $83,705 and Washington, D.C., $89,336. The numbers show a big difference in salary for nuclear physicists based on location.
The national average salary for nuclear physicists in 2013 was $85,581, according to the Internet salary survey website Salary Expert. Differences among 10 randomly selected cities include Pierre, S.D., $61,291; Augusta, Maine, $68,865; Walla Walla, Wash., $74,875; Philadelphia, $89,350; Chicago, $89,350; Baltimore, $89,505; Miami, $89,509; Houston, $94,049; New York, $107,189 and Washington, D.C., $114,399. The average salary for these 10 cities was $87,838, with the lowest average paying $53,108 less than the highest.
Nuclear physicists at the top of their field typically hold tenure-track positions at major universities or large private laboratories. In 10 randomly selected cities, the average annual salaries at the 90th percentile, according to Salary Expert, were Pierre, S.D., $88,518; Augusta, Maine, $99,458; Walla Walla, Wash., $108,138; Philadelphia, $129,043; Chicago, $129,043; Baltimore, $129,266; Miami, $129,272; Houston, $135,829; New York, $154,807 and Washington, D.C., $165,220. The average among these cities was $126,859, with variations up to $76,702.
Projected job growth for nuclear physicists is on par with a 14-percent increase for other U.S. occupations, according to a May 2010 survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Positions depend mainly on government grants and subsidies, which the BLS projects will increase through 2020, especially for applied research fields including nuclear physics. Those with doctorate degrees and specialties will fare best.
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