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Highest Paying Scientist Jobs in the USA: Physicist Description and Salaries

The author enjoys researching the job market to report on the latest salaries, opportunities, and employment trends.

Dr. Martin Balluch, physicist and philosopher.

Dr. Martin Balluch, physicist and philosopher.

The highest paying physical scientist jobs in the USA belongs to physicists. They study the physical world and discover the principles and theories that govern its composition, interaction and energy. They may specialize only in theoretical research or apply their knowledge to practical problems in such varied fields as communications, electronics, optics and aerospace . They use different scientific equipment to perform their studies such as particle accelerators, mass spectrometers and lasers.


The jobs available to physicists depend on their degree. Training for these scientist jobs is available at many colleges and universities such as MIT.

  • Physicists who perform basic research require a Ph.D., typically with a specialty in a subfield. Those with this degree also often teach in colleges and universities, or advance to management.
  • Those with master’s degrees may find positions in manufacturing, or applied research and development. They may also teach at two-year colleges or secondary schools.
  • Bachelor’s degrees allow work as research assistants or as technicians in software development or engineering.

Salaries and Employment

The U.S. Department of Labor shows the following earnings stats for the profession:

  • Physicists make a mean wage of $63.02 per hour or $131,080 per year, though low medians can descend to $30.03 per hour or $62,470 per year, or rise to over $97.11 an hour or over $201,990 per year.
  • Scientific research and development services offer the most positions for these scientist jobs, numbering 5,430, with wages at $68.67 per hour or $142,840 per year.
  • The highest-paying jobs are in general medical and surgical hospitals. Average salaries run $89.37 an hour or $185,880 a year.

Best Locations for Scientist Jobs

Income for physicists varies according to location:

  • The state with most jobs for this profession is California, with 1,950 physicists making a mean $58.98 per hour or $122,670 per year.
  • The state with the highest pay is Kansas, where 30 jobs earn a mean $87.11 per hour or $181,190 per year.
  • For cities, Washington, DC, has the most scientist jobs at 1,880, with wages at $64.36 per hour or $133,860 per year.
  • Buffalo, New York, boasts the best pay for its 40 physicists at $92.86 per hour or $193,150 per year.
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The Labor Department sees jobs for physicists increasing by 9 percent from 2018 to 2028. This faster than average growth primarily stems from federal spending, particularly in basic research.

Prospects will be best for those with training in applied research and development, though a recent increase in the number of physics doctorates will also increase competition. Physics graduates at any level will also find good prospects, as long as they are not wedded to the title of physicist. Many of the available jobs will have different titles such as computer scientist, engineer or high school teacher.

Physicists will remain the highest paying scientist job in the country for the next few years.

© 2011 Aurelio Locsin


Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 12, 2019:

One of our neighbor's sons is a physicist living in California. It is interesting to me the number of different jobs that they can hold. What surprised me most is the fact of some of them working in hospitals.

hanwillingham on October 03, 2011:

Amazing!I almost couldn't believe that Physicist in US were highly paid. Never thought they were so much lucky as this.Thanks for the information.

b. Malin on July 04, 2011:

I didn't know that Physicists where that Highly Paid. Not that it is not warranted. This was a Wonderful and Interesting Read as Usual Alocsin. This certainly would be a Field for a Science Major to Consider.

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