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EMPLOYMENT OUTLOOK FOR

PHYSICISTS

JNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

James P. Mitchell, Secretary

BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS

Ewan Clague, Commissioner

in cooperation with VETERANS ADMINISTRATION
O C C U P A T IO N A L O U T L O O K SERIES



Bulletin N o. 1 1 4 4




EMPLOYMENT O U TLO O K FOR

PHYSICISTS

Bulletin No. 1144
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
James P. Mitchell, Secretary
BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS
Ewan Clague, C o m m issio n er

in cooperation with
VETERANS ADMINISTRATION
For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
Washington 25, D. C. - Price 25 cents



Cover picture.— Physicist adjusting the eyepiece of an optical instrument used in observing the circular interference fringe of the green light from a
newly developed m ercury vapor lamp. T h is lamp contains mercury of atomic weight 198. Length measurements based on the interference
pattern shown in the background can be made with an accuracy of 1 part in 100 million. The lamp thus enables any research organization to have
an ultimate standard of length in its own laboratory.

Photographs are by courtesy of the National Bureau of Standards; and the U . S. Civil Service Commission.




LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL
U nited S tates D epartm ent of L abor ,
B u r ea u of L abor S tatistics ,

Washington, D. C., October 28, 1958.
The S ecretary of L a b o r :
I have the honor to transmit herewith a report on the employment outlook for
physicists. This is one of a series of reports made available through the Bureau’s Occu­
pational Outlook Service for use in the vocational counseling of young people in school,
veterans, and others interested in selecting an occupation. The study was financed
largely by the Veterans’ Administration and the report was originally published as a Veterans’ Administration pamphlet for use in vocational rehabilitation and education activities.
In view of physicists’ essential contributions to the national defense and welfare
and the shortage of personnel in this field of science, it is important that information on
the profession be made available to young people who have the abilities and interests
requisite for scientific work.
This study was conducted in the Bureau’s Division of Manpower and Employment
Statistics. The report was prepared by Norman Seltzer and Robert W. Cain, under the
supervision of Helen Wood. The Bureau wishes to acknowledge the generous assistance
and cooperation received in connection with the study from officials of the professional
organizations of physicists, of Government agencies, and of industrial research labora­
tories, and from individual members of the physics profession.

Hon. J ames P. M itchell ,




E w an C lague , Commissioner.

Secretary oj Labor.
nr




Contents

Introduction_____________________________________________________________________________________________
Fields of specialization___________________________________________________________________________________
Fields of employment____________________________________________________________________________________
Private industry_____________________________________________________________________________________
Educational institutions______ T______________________________________________________________________
Government________________________________________________________________________________________
Training requirements___________________________________________________________________________________
Employment outlook_____________________________________________________________________________________
Past growth of the profession_________________________________________________________________________
Prospective demand for physicists____________________________________________________________________
Prospective supply of physicists_______________________________________________________________________
Earnings________________________________________________________________________________________________
Appendix________________________________________________________________________________________________

Page

1
2
6
6
8
8
10
12
12
13
17
18
21

CHARTS

1. —Number of doctor’s degrees awardedinphysics, 1912-52_______________________________________________
13
2. —Growth in membership of professional societies in field of physics______________________________________
15
3. —Ph. D., M. S., and B. S. physicists all have higher incomes in private industry than in other types of employ­
ment______________________________________________________________________________________________
19
TABLES

1. —Distribution by industry of physicists employed in industrial research laboratories, 1950_________________
2. —Functions of physicists by industry, 1951____________________________________________________________
3. —Number of engineers and scientists employed by industrial research laboratories in selected years, 1938-50_
4. —Research and development expendituresin the United States, 1941-52__________________________________
5.—Earned degrees in physics conferred by institutions of higher education, by type of degree, 1947-48 to 1951-52. _
6.—Distribution of physicists employed by the Federal Government, by salary range and grade, June 30, 1951 __




6
8
14
14
18
20

*




EMPLOYMENT OUTLOOK FOR PHYSICISTS
Introduction
Man’s interest in physical facts and his use of
the laws governing them in solving his everyday
problems began in prehistoric times. In erecting
a hut, our remote ancestors applied, in a rough
way, some of the concepts of what physicists call
“statics”—the branch of physics which relates to
bodies held in equilibrium by the forces acting on
them. The man who invented the first wheel, and
thus was able to change his sledge into a cart, used
some of the principles of “dynamics”—the branch
of physics which deals with the motions of bodies
and the forces producing motion.
The organization of men’s scattered observa­
tions about physical facts into a systematic body of
knowledge began in the early civilizations. The
ancient Egyptians and Greeks and other early
civilized peoples made a start in developing such a
body of knowledge and understood that physical
laws can often be described in mathematical terms.
From this point on, advances in physics went hand
in hand with advances in mathematics, until the
development of analytic geometry and of calculus
made it possible to describe complicated physical
phenomena and their relationships by exact math­
ematical equations. Equally important in the
history of the science was Newton’s development
of a comprehensive system of mechanics, the
foundation of what is today known as classical
physics.
Since Newton’s time, the world of physics has
broadened in countless directions. The most sig­
nificant advances have been in electricity, since
Faraday first discovered the principle on which
the modern electric generator is based (1831) ; in




electronics, since Hertz discovered radio waves
(between 1885 and 1889); in theoretical physics,
since Planck enunciated the quantum theory
(1900) ; and in the concepts of the essential unity
of space and time, since Einstein formulated his
theory of relativity.
The advances in theoretical physics have greatly
enlarged scientific knowledge, have given rise to a
host of new products—from radio to the atomic
bomb, and have expanded research in physics.
During the past decade, physics has been growing
so rapidly that there has been a persistent demand
for additional personnel in the field.
As a result of the current mobilization pro­
gram, the demand for physicists has been greatly
intensified. Physical research is underway on
problems related to air, land, naval, and atomic
warfare and on many matters of importance to
the civilian economy. The production of highprecision instruments, the development of intri­
cate electronic equipment, the improvement of
communications systems, and the solution of
biological problems by physical methods are
among the important activities of physicists
which have created the prospect of a continuing
need for trained personnel in this profession.
The present report is designed to give persons
interested in preparing for employment in the
profession an overall picture of the areas of spe­
cialization within physics, the nature of the work
performed, the education and training require­
ments, the current employment opportunities, and
the long-run employment outlook. A short sec­
tion on earnings is also included.
1

2

EM PLO Y M EN T O UTLOO K F O R P H Y S IC IS T S

Fields of Specialization
Present-day physics is concerned, basically,
with energy in all its forms, with the structure
of matter, and with the relationships between en­
ergy and matter. Its major objective is to ex­
plain natural phenomena. Because this requires
a knowledge of the quantitative relationships in­
volved, physics is, to a considerable extent, a
science of measurement. In many respects,
physics is the most fundamental of the natural
sciences—part of the foundation of all experi­
mental science.
As knowledge of physical phenomena has in­
creased, physicists have tended, more and more,
to specialize in different branches of the science.
Most members of the profession now regard them­
selves as specialists in some area of physics, as
indicated by a survey conducted by the National
Scientific Register in early 1951.1 Eighty-five
percent of the survey physicists cited some spe­
cialty in filling out their questionnaire. The re­
maining 15 percent did not consider themselves
specialists—in many cases because their experi­
ence had consisted wholly or mainly of teach­
ing physics at the high school or undergraduate
college level.
Physics specialties have a close interrelationship
and are difficult to delimit and classify. Every
specialty of the profession utilizes principles
drawn from other branches of physics, and they
all rest on the same fundamental principles.
Furthermore, many physicists are engaged in
work which cuts across the usual specialty lines.
For these end other reasons, no system of classifi­
cation has yet been devised which is satisfactory
to all members of the profession. Following is a
list of the major divisions of the science based on
a classification of specialties developed by the
National Scientific Register in cooperation with
1
Manpower Resources in Physics, 1951. A study conducted
jointly by U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics
and Federal Security Agency, Office of Education. (Scientific
Manpower Series No. 3, published by National Scientific Register,
January 1952.)
The survey included about 6,600 members of the American
Institute of Physics and its member societies— somewhat less
than half of all physicists in the country at the time of the
survey. The responding physicists were asked to indicate which
specialty, out of a list provided in the questionnaire, they con­
sidered to be their field of highest competence or to check
“Physics, general” if they considered their experience not
specialized.




the American Institute of Physics: mechanics,
heat, optics, acoustics, electronics, atomic and
molecular phenomena, solid state physics, nuclear
physics, classical theoretical physics, and quantum
mechanics.2
The new and growing fields of electronics and
nuclear physics are now the largest branches of
the profession. Eighteen percent of the physi­
cists in the National Scientific Register survey
cited electronics as their field of highest compe­
tence, and 15 percent cited nuclear physics.
Another sizable group (14 percent) reported
specialization in optics. Not more than 7 percent
checked specialties in any other major branch of
physics.
A few illustrations of the types of work with
which physicists in each of the major branches of
the science are concerned are presented in the fol­
lowing paragraphs.
Mechanics.—This branch of physics treats of the
action of forces on bodies, including liquids and
gases as well as solids. Specialists in mechanics
work on many problems important to the defense
program. They may, for example, be concerned
with problems encountered when jet aircraft and
guided missiles move faster than the speed of
sound or with the characteristics of the shock
waves produced by explosions or by objects mov­
ing with supersonic speeds. Other physicists in
this specialty are concerned with the development
of new methods of measuring the physical proper­
ties of substances—for use in connection witk
automatic process controls—which are being in­
troduced to an increasing extent in private in­
dustry. Another series of problems on which
physicists in this specialty are working, in both
private industry and Government, are those re­
lating to the strength of basic materials and
machine parts under stress.
Heat .—The problems studied by physicists spe­
cializing in heat—its measurement, development,
transmission, and effects—are of great industrial
and military importance because of the tremen­
dous amount of fuel required by our industries and
2 Each of these major branches of physics was subdivided into
a number of narrower specialties. The list of detailed specialties
developed by the National Scientific Register in cooperation with
the American Institute of Physics is given in the appendix
(p. 21).

F IE L D S O F S P E C IA L IZ A T IO N

Armed Forces. Among the types of problems
which these physicists study are the processes by
which heat is generated in the burning of fuels
and methods of reducing heat losses. Other spe­
cialists in this area are investigating the funda­
mental thermodynamic properties of various
gaseous compounds, such as those used in jet
engines. Research is also underway with regard
to the properties of metals and ceramic materials
at the extremely high temperatures developed in
jet engines.
Optics .—This branch of physics is concerned
with the study of light, its sources, propagation,
and effects. Among the more important problems
in optical physics is the search for better sources
of illumination. The development of fluorescent
lamps has depended to a great extent on research
by physicists who have studied intensively the

3

laws of radiation, the optical spectrum, fluorescent
materials, and radiations from hot wires.
Because of the need for extremely accurate and
versatile optical instruments in many types of
scientific, industrial, and military work, some spe­
cialists in optics are concerned primarily with
developing and designing such devices. These in­
clude, for example, high precision spectrometers
used to determine the properties of optical glasses,
emission spectrographs used in analysis of atmos­
pheric dusts and gases, and such military items as
rangefinders, gunsights, and bombsights. In in­
vestigations related to photography, some phys­
icists are concerned with developing improved
films and plates especially suited for astronomical
and spectroscopic uses.
Acoustics.—This is the science of sound. One
of the major investigations undertaken by physi-

Ele ctro n ic specialist ad ju stin g a recently developed electron-optical device, w hich is used in investigating ex trem ely sm all electronic and m agnetic
fie ld s in spaces w here m easurem ents could not previously be made.




4

E M P L O Y M E N T O U T L O O K F O R P H Y S IC IS T S

cists specializing in acoustics is the study of sound
transmission in the subsonic and ultrasonic fre­
quency ranges, a matter of great importance in the
development of military communication equip­
ment. The planning of auditoriums and broad­
casting and television studios involves the solution
by physicists of such acoustical problems as the
effects on sounds of various kinds of materials and
structures. Other specialists in acoustics are do­
ing research, often in conjunction with engineers,
on the reduction of noise and vibration in indus­
trial machinery. Still others are concerned with
the physiological and psychological effects of
sound.
Electronics.—Research in this branch of phys­
ics has paved the way for the development of
radio and television, radar, and the countless other
industrial and military applications of electron­
ics. Physicists specializing in electronics are con­
cerned with the emission, behavior, and effects of
electrons, especially in vacuum tubes. They may
be engaged in developing more advanced forms
of such devices as vacuum tubes, gas-filled therm­
ionic tubes and electron-tube circuits, for use in
many types of industrial and military equipment.
Electronics specialists are also participating,
along with physicists specializing in optics, in the
development of improved electron microscopes.
Some working in the field of television are en­
gaged in research aimed at improving transmis­
sion; they employ special monitoring equipment
to test the various methods suggested by their re­
search. Specialists in this branch of physics also
participated in the development of the new elec­
tronic computers, which can rapidly tabulate great
masses of statistical data and solve in a short time
complex mathematical problems, the solution of
which would have taken years with the best elec­
trical computing equipment previously available.
Atomic and molecular phenomena.—This
branch of physics deals with the structure and be­
havior of molecules and atoms (but not of the
nucleus of the atom, which is the special concern
of nuclear physics). Some physicists doing
fundamental research in this area are engaged in
the study and interpretation of properties of mat­
ter in terms of properties of atoms. In this re­
search, they use such instruments as the spectro­
scope, which makes it possible to measure the
wave length of radiations from atomic particles.



Other atomic physicists are investigating the proc­
esses by which atoms and molecules obtain or
lose energy—problems of great importance in the
conversion of nuclear energy for either military
or industrial purposes. In the study of the be­
havior of free electrons and the development of
methods and equipment for measurement of ioni­
zation produced by electrons, some atomic physi­
cists work with electronics specialists who are seek­
ing to develop new electronic devices.
Solid state physics.—Some physicists concerned
with solid state theory are studying intensively
the wave mechanics of the solid state, in order to
better understand the motion of the electrons and
nuclei in solids. Such studies have led to an
understanding of the difference between electri­
cal conductors and electrical insulators. Special­
ists working in this branch of physics also analyze
the properties of semiconductors—substances
with characteristics intermediate between conduc­
tors and nonconductors. The study of semicon­
ductors is important in the development of such
items as transistors which have some of the char­
acteristics of vacuum tubes and which are being
used in connection with various types of com­
munication equipment. The behavior of solid
materials under stress is being intensively studied,
especially in view of the present widespread use of
plastics. Solid state physicists working on prob­
lems of the flow properties of solid materials con­
duct experiments to enable them to classify solids
as either elastic, viscous, or viscoelastic. This in­
formation is of importance in determining the best
kinds of material to use in constructing certain
types of mechanisms.
Nuclear physics.—This branch of physics is con­
cerned with the structure and properties of the
nucleus of the atom and with nuclear reactions.
Much of the research carried on by nuclear phys­
icists centers on the utilization of nuclear energy
for military and industrial purposes. With the
aid of special instruments such as betatrons, syn­
chrotrons, and cyclotrons, physicists are attempt­
ing to determine the modes of disintegration of
atomic nuclei. Some physicists specialize in the
study of the detection and measurement of nu­
clear radiations and of methods of protection
against radiations from radioactive materials.
Still other nuclear physicists are engaged in the
study and measurement of isotopes and their

F IE L D S O F S P E C I A L I Z A T I O N

applications in industry and in the fields of biol­
ogy and medicine.
C la ssica l a n d q u a n tu m th e o re tic a l p h y s ic s .—
These two broad areas of physics provide the theo­
retical basis for all the other branches of the
science. Classical theoretical physics is the logical
foundation for much of the subject matter of the
“old” fields of physics—acoustics, optics, mechan­
ics and heat. It is concerned with the concepts,
laws, and advanced theories based upon Newtonian
mechanics. Quantum theoretical physics (or
quantum mechanics) is the basis of modern
physics, including electronics and atomic and
molecular, solid state, and nuclear physics.

The physicist who specializes in the theoretical
aspects of the science uses as his basic tools a thor­
ough understanding of physical principles and
advanced mathematical methods. He often works
closely with experimental physicists to assist them
in planning experiments and interpreting the re­
sults. His work is designed to clarify the signifi­
cance of experimental observations already made
and, even more important, to point out the direc­
tions in which further progress can be made in the
understanding of natural phenomena.
R e la te d fields. —In addition to the areas of spe­
cialization which have developed within physics,
a number of new disciplines have been built up in

Nuclear physicists adjusting the "doughnut” of the National Bureau of Standards’ 180 million electron-volt synchroton




5

6

E M P L O Y M E N T O U T L O O K F O R P H Y S IC IS T S

recent years on the borderline between physics and
other sciences. Among these new areas of special­
ization are biophysics, geophysics, astrophysics,
and chemical physics—which draw their method­
ology and subject matter in part from physics, and
in part from biology, geology, astronomy, or chem­

istry. In its practical applications, physics also
merges with engineering, and there is evidence of
a growing demand on the part of employers,
especially in private industry, for personnel with
training in both disciplines.

Fields of Employment

Between 15,000 and 20,000 persons were em­
ployed as professional physicists in the United
States in 1953. The largest number work for edu­
cational institutions and firms in private industry.
Another large group (over 3,000 in 1951) are em­
ployed by government agencies. A few work for
nonprofit foundations or are self-employed as in­
dependent consultants. Although most physi­
cists work full-time for only one employer, many
with regular teaching jobs do consulting or re­
search work on a part-time basis for other
organizations.
Private Industry

Physicists are employed in many different
branches of manufacturing and in some nonmanu­
facturing industries. The companies employing
them range in size from small laboratories with
only a few technically trained persons and assist­
ants on their staffs to giant corporations employ­
ing hundreds of physicists and thousands of other
workers.
The industries which offer the most employment
opportunities for physicists are indicated by a
1950 survey of industrial research laboratories con­
ducted by the National Research Council.3 Onefifth of the total of approximately 3,000 physicists
covered by the survey were in laboratories owned
and operated by the telephone and radio and tele­
vision broadcasting industries (table 1). The next
largest groups were in two major branches of
manufacturing—the professional and scientific
instruments and photographic equipment indus­
tries (13 percent) and the electrical equipment in­
dustry (12 percent). Independent consulting
laboratories, which do research work on a contract
3 Research and Development Personnel in Industrial! Labora­
tories— 1950. Report of the N ational Academy of Sciences—
N ational Research Council to the National Scientific Register,
U. S. Office of Education, Federal Security Agency. (Scientific
Manpower Series No. 1, May 1951.)



basis for concerns in different industries, were also
one of the major sources of employment for these
physicists.
Table 1.— D is tr ib u tio n

b y in d u s tr y o f p h y s ic is ts e m p lo y e d
in in d u s tr ie s r e se a rc h la b o r a to r ie s, 1950
Industry

Total__________ _____ _____ ____ _____
M ining.._____________________________
Railroads________________________ _
Utilities_________ ________ ______
Consulting laboratories____ ___________________
Trade associations__________________________ _
Ordnance____ _________ . . . .
Food products____________ _____________
Textile mill products___________________
Lumber and wood products. . . . _ ._ _.
Furniture______________________________
Paper products___ _ __________ ....
Printing and publishing___. . . ______ _
Chemicals___ _____________________ . . .
Industrial inorganic and organic_____________
Drugs and medicines_____. . . _____
Soaps, cleaners, textile auxiliaries_____. . . ..
Paints, varnishes, lacquers, and inorganic pig­
ments. ___________ ______ _ . . .
Other chemical products___ . __ .
Petroleum and coal products...............
Rubber
____ . . .
Stone, clay, and glass____ _ ________
Primary metal industries _ _ _ _ ______
Fabricated metal products. _ ____ .
Machinery (not electrical)_______________
Electrical equipment_________ _____________
Communications_________ _ __ _
Motor vehicles__________________________
Aircraft______________ _ __ _
Instruments__________ _____ ____
Scientific i n s t r u m e n t s ______ _
Photographic equipment. _. ______ _________
Other.________ __ __ ___
Miscellaneous manufacturing.. ____ _____
Miscellaneous nonmanufacturing- ____ _ __ _

Number
2,969
11
9
6
270
4
112
10
29
1
1
36
5
216
124
20
9
23
40
245
82
93
88
27
144
344
615
66
124
398
245
109
44
16
17

Percent
100.0
.4
.3
.2
9! 1
1
3.8
.3
1.0

0)
0) 1.2
2
7. 3
4. 2
.7
.3
.8
13
8.3
2. 8
3.1
3. 0
.9
4. 9
11. 6
20. 7
2. 2
4.2
13. 4
8! 3
3. 7
1.5
.5
.6

1 Less than 0.05 percent.
Source: Research and Development Personnel in Industrial Laboratories—
1950. Report of the National Academy of Sciences—National Research
Council to the National Scientific Register, U. S. Office of Education, Federal
Security Agency. (Scientific Manpower Series No. 1, May 1951.)

The 3,000 physicists covered by the National Re­
search Council survey probably represented twothirds to three-fourths of the total number
employed in private industry. The survey did
not cover all industrial research laboratories in
the United States. Furthermore, although physi­
cists in private industry work mainly in labora­
tories, some are employed in production plants and
administrative offices.

F IE L D S OF E M P L O Y M E N T

The variety of activities of physicists in private
industry is indicated by data from the National
Scientific Register survey already cited. About
72 percent of the physicists in manufacturing cov­
ered by this survey were engaged primarily in re­
search and development work. Other functions
performed by smaller numbers included manage­
ment, design, inspection, and production (table 2).
In most companies, physicists are permanently
assigned to the same type of activity. In some
instances, however, the work is so organized that
a physicist can follow the development of his own
embryo idea to the completion of the final product.
After spending some time in applied research, in­
volving experiments supplemented by theoretical
computations, he may supervise the preparation

and testing of laboratory models and, later, the
design and testing of working models. Thus, the
scientist may have the satisfaction of seeing his
research materialize in the production of a new
item or the modification of an existing product.
While the work of individual physicists in pri­
vate industry tends to be specialized, the special­
ties cover most of the branches of physics outlined
in the previous section. For example, many of
those in the communications and electrical equip­
ment industries are specialists in electronics, con­
cerned with research involving vacuum tubes for
operation in all parts of the radio-frequency spec­
trum and for special functions. In both these
industries, research regarding the application of
electronics to nuclear physics is also in progress.

Solid-state physicists at the National Bureau of Standards use this specially designed apparatus in studying the internal friction of crystals.




7

E M P L O Y M E N T O U T L O O K F O R P H Y S IC IS T S

8

T able 2.— F u n c tio n s o f p h y s ic is ts , h y in d u s tr y , 1 9 5 1 1
Industry

All industries___________________ - ____
Manufacturing________ _
____ Chemicals___________ _ ______ Electrical machinery
Transportation equipment
Professional, scientific equipment___
Other manufacturing______ ________
Transportation and communication
Research and consulting services
Educational institutions
_____
Government
__ __ _ _________
Other industries, n. e. c_. _ _____ ______

All func­
tions
Percent

100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

Percent distribution
Research2 Consult­ Manage­ Teaching Technical
ment
writing
ing
46.9
71.6
70.4
73.4
73. 5
54.7
79.1
93.1
69.8
18.9
70.7
40.4

1.5
1.3
2.1
1. 5
.9
2.1
.7
1.0
9.8
.1
3.1
3.8

8.4
12.1
12.0
13.3
8.8
18.2
8.0
2.9
13.2
2. 7
16.6
23.1

36.6
.2
1.4
.9
.2
.4
77. 7
2. 2

0.6
1.4
1.4
.8
1.2
2.3
.1
.9
3.8

Design
2.7
6.6
4.9
6.1
6.2
13.8
3.4
1.0
5.4
.2
1.8
3.8

Inspec­
tion
1.7
3.6
6.4
1.6
6. 2
4.7
3.9
1.0
1.0
(3)
3.1
7.7

Produc­ Technical
tion
sales
1.3
2.4
.7
2.6
3. 5
2.9
2.1
1.0
.4
.3
1.6
11.6

0.3
.8
.7
.7
2.4
.3
5.8

1 Covers 5,905 physicists reporting a function in the survey.
2 Includes basic and applied research, and development.
3 Less than 0.05 percent.
Source: Manpower Resources in Physics, 1951. A study conducted jointly by U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics and Federal Security
Agency, Office of Education. (Scientific Manpower Series No. 3, published by National Scientific Register, January 1952.)

Firms manufacturing microphones, loudspeakers,
sound recorders, and sound absorbers—for use in
radio and television receivers, phonographs, and
public address systems—utilize physicists to in­
vestigate acoustical problems and aid in the devel­
opment and design of equipment. The optical
goods industry, with products ranging from such
simple items as eyeglasses to highly complicated
microscopes, and the photographic equipment in­
dustry both employ large numbers of physicists to
investigate complicated problems with respect to
light, spectroscopy, and colorimetry. The many
physical problems involved in chemical research
have led to increasing utilization of physicists in
the chemicals industries. For example, physicists
work with chemists and chemical engineers in ap­
plied research regarding the action of resins in the
manufacture of wet-strength paper or the pro­
tection of woolens against shrinkage.
Educational Institutions

Education is the second major field of employ­
ment for physicists. About one-third of all phys­
icists in the country are employed by educational
institutions, mainly colleges and universities.
Although most physicists on college and uni­
versity staffs are employed primarily as teachers,
some are engaged solely in research, on projects
either set up independently by the college or con­
tracted for by industry or government. Many do
both teaching and research.
In large universities, instructors or assistants,
who may be graduate students studying for ad­



vanced degrees, usually teach the elementary
courses in physics. These junior faculty members
also have such duties as conducting laboratory
sessions and aiding faculty members of higher
rank on research projects.
Generally, the teachers assigned to advanced
courses have reached the rank of assistant, associ­
ate, or full professor. In addition to teaching,
professors often conduct research projects in their
fields of specialization and supervise instructors
and assistants. Those who have reached the top
rank often have administrative responsibilities.
Many college faculty members also engage in out­
side activities, such as consulting and writing for
technical journals.
Relatively few professional physicists are em­
ployed as science teachers in secondary schools.
Governm ent

Most physicists working for government agen­
cies are in the Federal service, although a few work
for State governments. According to a survey by
the United States Civil Service Commission, there
were about 3,000 Federal employees in physicist
positions as of June 30, 1951. In addition, many
persons with training in physics were in related
jobs, such as physical science administrator or
electronic scientist. The Department of Defense
(including the Departments of the Army, Navy,
and Air Force) employed more than three-fourths
of the persons in physicist positions. The agen­
cies employing the next largest numbers were the
Department of Commerce (mainly its National

F IELD S OF E M PLO YM E N T

9

Ahigh-precision spectrometer used by specialists in optics to determine the refractive index of transparent materials.
Bureau of Standards), the Department of the In­ most of the work in nuclear physics. It main­
terior, and the Atomic Energy Commission. tains seven major centers of research, which are
In Federal agencies, as elsewhere, physicists administered either by universities or large com­
carry on a wide variety of activities. The De­ panies. Although the AEC does not itself em­
partment of Defense conducts research on ex­ ploy many physicists, these centers utilize a large
tremely complex physical problems, including number. Each laboratory has its own research
those of supersonic and high-altitude flight, the and development program and offers extensive op­
physics of the ocean, the detection of submarines portunities for pioneering work in physics.
The National Bureau of Standards of the U. S.
and protection against torpedoes, and the physics
of explosions and explosives, both chemical and Department of Commerce, in addition to carrying
nuclear. This research work is carried out in the on a varied scientific program which is concerned
various laboratories of the Departments of the with many branches of physics and their applica­
Army, Navy, and Air Force, including the Naval tions, develops and maintains the standards of
Research Laboratory, the Navy Electronics Lab­ measurement for the whole country. Another
oratory, the Ballistics Laboratories at Aberdeen agency which has in recent years found need for
Proving Ground, and the Wright-Patterson Air physicists in some parts of its research programs
is the Bureau of Agricultural and Industrial
Force Laboratories.
The Atomic Energy Commission carries on Chemistry of the Department of Agriculture.



10

E M P L O Y M E N T O U T L O O K F O R P H Y S IC IS T S

Training Requirements

Persons interested in careers as physicists need
at least a bachelor’s degree with a major in physics
and should, if possible, obtain graduate training.
Doctoral degrees are required for many positions.
Of the physicists included in the National Scien­
tific Register survey, 45 percent held Ph. D. de­
grees and an additional 27 percent held master’s
degrees. However, the proportion of scientists
with graduate training was probably somewhat
higher among the physics society members in this
survey than among all physicists in the country.4
Graduate training is of special importance for
college teaching positions. Colleges and univer­
sities employed close to 60 percent of the Ph. D.’s
in the National Scientific Register survey and
nearly half of the holders of masters degrees, but
fewer than a fifth of the scientists without gradu­
ate degrees. Private industry was the largest field
of employment for physicists without advanced
training, employing 52 percent of those with only
bachelor’s degrees and 67 percent of those who had
not completed college. The proportion of the
bachelors who were in Government employment
was also relatively high (24 percent), but only 1
out of 10 Ph. D.’s and 1 out of 6 masters worked
for the Government.
A starting position in a college or university
may be obtained immediately after completion
of graduate work or, in many instances, while the
young physicist is still taking advanced training.
A 1951 study indicated that, out of a total of
4,971 graduate students in physics, 1,118 were
teaching assistants and 1,180 were research assist­
ants.5 An increasing number of institutions,
especially those with outstanding graduate
schools, will offer permanent faculty appointments
only to individuals whose training includes several
years or more of advanced study and research.
4 The m ailing list used in this survey was the membership
list of the American In stitute of Physics and its five founder
societies. The fact that the A IP has drawn its membership to
a considerable extent from college faculty members partly ac­
counts for the relatively large proportion of Ph. D .’s in the
survey.
5 National] Research Council, N ational Survey of Graduate
Students in the N atural Sciences— November 1, 1951, mimeo­
graphed.




To qualify for a beginning position as Junior
Scientist in the Federal Government, an applicant
must have completed a 4-year course leading to a
bachelor’s degree or have an equivalent combina­
tion of education and experience. In either case,
his college education must include at least 24
semester hours in physics. For positions of
higher grade, there are progressive requirements
with respect to experience, for which graduate
work may be substituted in part.
The amount of training required for positions
in private industry varies from one company to
another, depending on the industry and type of
activity in which the physicist will be engaged and
also on company policy. Many companies prefer
to hire only Ph. D.’s, since they recognize that the
physical problems encountered in their operations
are so complex as to require persons who have
demonstrated their scientific ability by completing
the most advanced graduate work. Others are
willing to hire physicists either with or without
graduate training if they believe them to have
capacity for growth and future attainment. Some
firms actively seek new graduates with only bache­
lor’s degrees, desiring to train them in their own
programs. However, in the great majority of
companies, new entrants with Ph. D.’s are likely
to have greater opportunity to do advanced re­
search than those with less academic preparation.
Also, in deciding the level of position for which an
employee can qualify, most companies regard
graduate training as equivalent to a certain
amount of work experience.
Well over 500 institutions of higher education
offer an undergraduate major in physics. How­
ever, relatively few offer graduate training. Ap­
proximately 150 schools give training leading to
the master’s degree in physics and only about 75
have Ph. D. programs.
Most students taking undergraduate majors in
physics do so in a department of physics of a
college or university. However, a physics major
is offered also as part of the general engineering
curriculum in many engineering schools. In
addition, about 50 engineering schools have set
up an engineering physics or industrial physics
curriculum leading to a bachelor’s degree, and the

T R A IN I N G R E Q U IR E M E N T S

number offering this training in “applied physics
in an engineering atmosphere” is increasing. The
approaches of applied physics are like those of
pure physics, but the subject matter is chosen pri­
marily on the basis of practical usefulness rather
than of conceptual or analytical significance. A
few schools are developing graduate as well as
undergraduate programs in applied physics.
Many industrial firms are interested in obtaining
personnel with this synthesis of physics and en­
gineering training.
A few schools have set up undergraduate pro­
grams in electronics, designed to prepare students
to go directly into work in electronics at the com­
pletion of their undergraduate training. Manu­
facturers of electronics equipment report that per­
sons with such training can be employed in jobs
similar to those held by electrical or electronic
engineers.
Course requirements for a bachelor’s degree in
physics differ considerably among the hundreds of
institutions granting such degrees. A typical
program meeting the credit requirements for en­
trance to most graduate schools would require that
between one-fourth and one-third of the total
semester hours of undergraduate work be in
physics courses. At least another fourth of the
semester hours would be in such subjects as math­
ematics (including calculus) and chemistry.
Courses in French or German should be taken for
competence in reading foreign technical papers.
The undergraduate student first receives train­
ing in general physics, designed to give him a wellrounded background in the fundamentals of the
science. These general courses usually cover the
basic principles of mechanics, heat, sound, light,
electricity, and magnetism. Later, advanced
courses are taken which provide further training
in the above subjects as well as an introduction
to the more recently developed areas of the science,
such as electronics and atomic and nuclear
physics.
For admission to graduate school, an applicant
must meet requirements with respect to under­
graduate training in physics and related subjects,
must have maintained a high scholastic stand­
ing as an undergraduate, and must provide other
evidence of his intellectual attainment, scientific
“bent,” and capacity for study and research. In
most graduate schools, a minimum of 1 year’s



11

study, with at least half the work in physics, is
required for a master’s degree. Examples of the
subjects of graduate courses, many of which in­
clude extensive laboratory work, are atomic struc­
ture, X-ray and crystal structure, thermodynam­
ics, nuclear physics, cosmic rays, and theoretical
physics. Some institutions require a thesis for a
master’s degree; others give a comprehensive ex­
amination covering all branches of physics. In
a few institutions, candidates for the M. S. degree
have to prepare a thesis and also pass a compre­
hensive examination.

Physicistthe largest of its kindon high-voltage X-ray installation equip­
ment, making adjustments in the world. This generating at the
National Bureau
and testing. of Standards is used in X-ray research, development
It takes at least 3 years of graduate study and
usually longer to earn a Ph. D. degree in physics.
Every candidate must be able to read two foreign
languages, generally French and German. He
must have a wide and thorough knowledge of
many branches of physics and related sciences and
demonstrate this by passing comprehensive ex­
aminations. He must also prepare a dissertation

12

E M P L O Y M E N T O U T L O O K F O R P H Y S IC IS T S

which shows his ability to do exhaustive, inde­
pendent research of an original nature.
The current emphasis on nuclear physics is re­
flected in the large proportion of graduate stu­
dents specializing in this branch of the science.
The National Scientific Register survey included
1,300 graduate students of physics, about onefourth of the total number in the country in early
1951. One out of every 4 of these graduate stu­
dents cited nuclear physics as his first specialty,
despite the fact that a substantial proportion (36
percent) had not advanced far enough in their
studies to specialize in any one branch of physics.
Electronics, which was the students’ second most
frequent field of specialization, was cited by only
9 percent. The following figures show the pro­

portion of students specializing in each of the
major branches of physics.6
F ie ld o f h ig h e st c o m p e te n c e

Percent

Total__________________________________ 100.0

Physics, general________________________________ 36. 4
Nuclear physics________________________________ 23. 4
Electronics____________________________________ 9.1
Quantum theory________________________________ 8. 8
Solid state____________________________________ 4. 6
Optics_________________________________________ 4.4
Atomic and molecular physics____________________ 4. 0
Classical theory________________________________ 3. 6
Mechanics and heat_____________________________ 2. 5
Acoustics______________________________________ 2.1
Other physics specialties________________________ 1.1
6 Manpower Resources in Physics, op. cit., page 25.

Employment Outlook

A shortage of physicists, especially of those with
advanced training, existed in mid-1953, pri­
marily because of the defense program. Resources
of trained personnel in this expanding profession
were insufficient to meet the demand even before
the current defense program began. In all prob­
ability, the demand for physicists with graduate
training or professional experience will remain
at a high level for sometime, and there will
continue to be an active demand for those with
only undergraduate training. However, it should
be noted that employment opportunities in this
profession depend to a great extent on the level of
expenditures for research and development, pri­
marily those made by the Federal Government and
private industry.
The shortage of personnel will probably be
much more acute in some branches of physics than
in others and some areas of employment, including
atomic energy programs and other work directly
connected with defense activities, will offer more
opportunities than others.
Past G row th of the Profession

Before World War II, physics was a small
though rapidly growing science. Physicists were
employed largely in colleges and universities, al­
though during the 1930’s expanding industrial
laboratories began to employ an increasing num­



ber. The war gave tremendous impetus to re­
search in physics and to the employment of phys­
icists, much like the stimulus which World War
I gave to the development of chemistry. It led
to a great growth in nuclear physics, electronics,
and other “new” fields of the science. Since this
recent expansion in the profession has been mostly
in the realm of applied physics, it has meant a
change in the pattern of employment—the growth
of employment opportunities for physicists in lab­
oratories operated by private industry and
Government agencies.
The growth which has taken place in the profes­
sion is indicated by several types of data. The
number of doctoral degrees awarded yearly in
physics has risen steadily since the early 1900’s,
except for interruptions during the two World
Wars (chart 1). The rise was from 30 doctorates
awarded in 1912 to 148 in 1940, 399 in 1950, and an
estimated 525 in 1952. Though the numbers of
doctorates granted yearly in other sciences have
risen also, the gain in most of these fields has not
been as rapid as that in physics. Between 1940
and 1950, for example, the increase in doctorates
awarded was 158 percent in physics, compared
with only 124 percent in all physical sciences
(physics, chemistry, geology, etc.) and only 88
percent in all natural sciences taken together.
Figures on the membership of a professional
society over a period of years give a rough indica-

EM PLO YM EN T O U TLO O K

tion of the trend of employment in the profession.
As chart 2 shows, most of the leading organiza­
tions of physicists have had a steady rise in mem­
bership, particularly in the last 5 years. It should
be borne in mind in interpreting this chart that
many physicists belong to more than one society,
and that there are still a considerable number
who are not affiliated with any professional
organization:
Another indication of the rapid growth of
physics in recent years is the increase in the num­
ber of physicists in industrial laboratories (table
3). Between 1938 and 1950, employment of phys­
icists in such laboratories increased faster than
that of any other professional group for which
information is available, with the exception of
engineers.



13

In the Federal Government, employment of
physicists nearly doubled between 1937 and 1951,
owing in part to the defense program initiated
after the outbreak of hostilities in Korea.
Prospective D em and fo r Physicists

Expenditures for research and development
work have been mainly responsible for the expan­
sion in employment of physicists and will have a
great influence on future employment trends in
the profession. The Nation spent $3.75 billion for
research and development in all fields of science
and engineering during 1952.7 This compared
7 All figures on spending for research and development refer
to operating expenditures only. They exclude capital expendi­
tures for both plant and equipment.

14

E M P L O Y M E N T O U T L O O K F O B P H Y S IC IS T S

Nevertheless, in view of the long period of defense
mobilization which appears to lie ahead, it is prob­
able that expenditures for this purpose will re­
main high for sometime. In a period of partial
mobilization such as the present, there is in­
evitably great emphasis on continued, rapid
technological advances. Physicists have been and
will be called on to play a great part in this work.
It is probable that expenditures for research in
physics have increased at an even more rapid rate
than total expenditures for research and de­
velopment. In all likelihood, they will continue
to do so.
P riva te In d u stry .—More physicists were em­
ployed in private industry in 1952 and early 1953
than at any previous time, and the number is ex­
pected to increase further over the long run.
Approximately two-thirds of the total national
expenditure for research and development during
1952 was for work performed in laboratories and
other facilities owned or operated by private in­
dustry. Although much of this private research
work was financed by the Federal Government,
more than half was supported by industry itself.
As already indicated, federally financed programs
are likely to stay at a high level for some time.
Those supported from private funds are also likely
to remain large and may expand over the long run.
Up to the present time, industrial research per­
sonnel have been concentrated in a relatively small
number of large research organizations. Accord­
ing to a recent survey made by the Research and
Development Board of the U. S. Department of
Defense and analyzed by the Bureau of Labor

T a b l e 3 .— N u m b e r s o f e n g i n e e r s a n d s c i e n t i s t s e m p l o y e d
b y in d u s tr ia l r e s e a r c h
1 9 3 8 -5 0

Occupation

la b o r a to r ie s in

1950

Total professional personnel___
Chemists___________ ________
Physicists----------------------------M etallurgists-____ _________
Engineers_____ _____________
Biologists___________________
Other professional scientists-----Number of reporting organiza­
tions 1_____________________

1946

s e le c te d y e a r s ,

1940

Percent
1938 change
1938-50

70,577 54,009 34,809 23,236 +203.7
23,159 20,783 11,755 7,328 +216.0
797 +272. 5
2,969 2,660 1,423
968 +176.1
2,673 2,364 2,003
35,601 20,637 12, 711 6,633 +436.1
944
557 +199.8
1,670 1,659
4,505 5,906 5,972 6,953 -35.2
2,264 1,769 +58.0
2,795 (2)

1 The increase in the number of organizations was due not only to better
coverage of the Nation’s research and development laboratories but also to
the increase in the total number of laboratories in the country.
3 Not available.
Source: National Research Council.

with an expenditure of only $900 million in 1941.
Three-fifths of the research and development
funds expended during 1952 (over $2 billion) came
from the Federal Government. Private industry
contributed close to two-fifths of the total sum;
colleges, universities, and other nonprofit institu­
tions and organizations, only about 2 percent.
The substantial increase since 1941 in the ex­
penditures from each of these sources are shown
in table 4. Expenditures by the Federal Govern­
ment have risen more than those from other
sources—by over one-third between 1950 and 1952
and sixfold from 1941 to 1952.
It is obviously impossible to predict with any
exactness the future level of research and develop­
ment activity, which will depend in large measure
on the nature of the defense program and on the
appropriations made available by Congress.

T a b l e 4 .— R e s e a r c h a n d d e v e l o p m e n t e x p e n d i t u r e s i n t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s , 1 9 ^ 1 - 5 2
[ In m illio n s ]

Amount expended byYear
1941______________________________________
1942______________________________________
1943______________________________________
1944............- ______________________________
1945______________________________________
1946______________________________________
1947____________ _________________________
1948______________________________________
1949.______________________________________
1950______________________________________
1951_______________________ _______________
1952______________________________________

All
sources
$900
1,070
1,210
1,380
1, 520
1,780
2,260
2,610
2,610
2,870
3,360
3, 750

Govern­
ment

Private
industry

$370
490
780
940
1,070
910
1,160
1,390
1,550
1,610
1,980
2,240

$510
560
410
420
430
840
1,050
1,150
990
1,180
1,300
1,430

Source: U. S. Department of Defense, Research and Development Board.



Cost of research performed by—
Educational
and other
nonprofit
institutions
$20
20
20
20
20
30
50
70
70
80
80
80

All
sources
$900
1,070
1,210
1,380
1,520
1,780
2,260
2,610
2,610
2,870
3,360
3, 750

Govern­
ment

Private
industry

$200
240
300
390
430
470
520
570
550
570
700
800

$660
780
850
910
990
1,190
1,570
1,820
1,790
1,980
2,300
2, 530

Educational
and other
nonprofit
institutions
$40
50
60
80
100
120
170
220
270
320
360
420

15

EM PLO YM EN T OU TLO O K
C h art 2

GROWTH IN MEMBERSHIP OF PROFESSIONAL
SOCIETIES IN FIELD OF PHYSICS
Thousands of Members

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS



Thousands of Members

S ources:

The Societies and the World Almanac

16

E M P L O Y M E N T O U T L O O K F O R P H Y S IC IS T S

Statistics, nearly 40 percent of all engineers and
scientists employed in industrial research and de­
velopment at the beginning of 1952 worked for
companies (only 44 out of the 1,953 in the sur­
vey) which had at least 25,000 employees.8 There
are thousands of industrial concerns which have
not as yet established formal research and develop­
ment programs, but more and more companies are
setting up such programs or using the services of
scientific consulting firms.
Furthermore, many companies currently en­
gaged in research and development are increasing
their expenditures for this activity. A National
Industrial Conference Board survey of 107 firms
showed an increase in research spending during
1951 and 1952. The results of the survey also
suggested that the upward trend would continue
in 1953. Nearly two-thirds of the firms coop­
erating in the survey stated that their research and
development expenditures in 1953 would equal or
exceed the amount spent in 1952.9
Over the long run, industry’s expenditures for
research and development will probably have a
continuing upward trend. Forward-looking com­
panies are aware of the contribution that research
can make to their growth and to their success in
keeping abreast of the advances made by their
competitors. Because of continually advancing
technology and the changing demands of con­
sumers, newly developed products often become
obsolete within a few years. Furthermore, the
increasing complexity of industrial technology is
creating an increasing need for physicists (as for
engineers and other scientists) in production and
other nonresearch activities. It thus appears that
employment of physicists in private industry will
grow at least as fast as total expenditures for and
employment in research and development work.
For positions in industrial research laboratories,
physicists with graduate training or equivalent
experience will be in greatest demand. However,
opportunities for physicists without advanced de­
grees are likely to expand also. Those with only
bachelor’s degrees have been found to be valuable
8 U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
Bulletin No. 1148, S c i e n t i f i c R e s e a r c h a n d D e v e l o p m e n t i n A m e r i ­

c a n I n d u s t r y — A S t u d y o f M a n p o w e r a n d C o s ts .
9 National Industrial Conference Board, T h e C o n f e r e n c e B o a r d
B u s i n e s s R e c o r d , February 1953. Pp. 82-87.




in positions involving mainly design, inspection*
or production work and as assistants to more ex­
perienced scientists. In addition, as pointed out
previously, some firms are finding that new physics
graduates, particularly those who have taken
courses in applied physics, can handle various
types of engineering work.
E du cation al in stitu tio n s .—In the next few
years, employment of physicists in educational
institutions is expected to remain near the 1952—
53 level. Nevertheless, colleges and universities
will have a considerable number of openings for
physicists each year, to replace those who die, re­
tire, transfer to other civilian jobs, or enter the
Armed Forces.
College enrollments will, for a number of years,,
remain below the postwar peak reached in 194950, when enrollment of veterans was highest. The
total number of students dropped about 15 percent
between the fall of 1949 and the fall of 1951 and
then rose slightly in 1952, mainly as a result of
a 15 percent gain in first-year students. During
the next few years, the college-age population will
increase slowly. However, college enrollments
will be greatly influenced also by selective-service
regulations, the amount of aid given to veterans,,
and other Government policies affecting college
attendance of young men.
University laboratories are among the foremost
centers of basic research and, in recent years, have
undertaken an increasing amount of applied re­
search and development work as well. Much of
their work is done on contract with Government
agencies and private industry; colleges and uni­
versities themselves financed only about one-fifth
of their 1952 research and development effort
(table 4). A substantial part of all Governmentsponsored university research is in physics and
related specialties.10 In all probability, research
in this science in university laboratories will con­
tinue to receive substantial support from Govern­
ment agencies and private industry, and will
continue to employ sizable numbers of physicists.
10 “Research in physics, not including electronics, accounts
for nearly 20 percent of all Government-sponsored research in
the engineering and physical sciences in American colleges and
universities. . . . Electronics, much of which represents the
work of physics faculty members, accounts for another 10 percent
of the total.” Mattill, John I., “College and University Research
in Physics.” In P h y s i c s T o d a y , September 1952 (pp. 14-18).

EM PLO YM EN T O U TLOOK

In the late 1950’s, college enrollments will rise
rapidly, as the large numbers of children born
during World War II begin to reach college age.
Enrollments in science courses are expected to
increase at least as rapidly as total enrollments.
By 1960, the number of physics majors will prob­
ably surpass the 1950 peak. In view of this ex­
pected rise in enrollments and the likelihood that
colleges and universities will continue to play an
important part in the Nation’s research activities,
these institutions should offer expanding employ­
ment opportunities for physicists over the long
run.
G overn m en t .—Employment of physicists in the
Federal Government is expected to remain rela­
tively high for a number of years.
Government laboratories carry on a variety of
scientific activities, important to the national de­
fense and the general health and welfare, in which
physicists have a key role (see p. 9).
Two outstanding examples are the aeronauti­
cal research and atomic energy programs. The
Federal program of aeronautical research and de­
velopment, which has been greatly accelerated
since mid-1950, involves the solution of complex
problems in applied science. This, in turn, de­
pends on advances in basic physics. Among the
branches of the science in which advances are
needed are solid state physics, heat, and acoustics.
Rapid engineering progress results from the res­
olution of engineering problems into their com­
ponent physical subproblems, which are attacked
by the methods of the physicists. Another con­
tribution of physicists to aeronautical research is
the development of new tools of measurement to
accomplish tasks in applied research which other­
wise could not be successfully carried out.
The atomic energy program was initiated in
large measure by physicists, and its future prog­
ress will be closely related to advances in physics.
However, the number of physicists employed di­
rectly by the Atomic Energy Commission is small.
The physicists on the Commission’s payroll are
engaged mainly in administering the manifold
research activities carried out by the industrial
concerns and universities holding contracts with
the Atomic Energy Commission. During 195152, the total cost of the Atomic Energy Commis­
sion’s research program in physics was $17^
million.



17

Prospective Supply of Physicists

Even before the outbreak of hostilities in Ko­
rea, additional personnel were needed in physics.
Since that time the shortage of trained physicists
has been greatly intensified.
Employers have had most difficulty in recruiting
scientists with advanced degrees, considerable ex­
perience, or a combination of both. In addition,
companies seeking recent graduates with bache­
lor’s degrees for entry jobs in physics have met
keen competition from other employers, including
companies seeking such graduates for engineering
and related jobs. Specialties in which the short­
age of personnel has been particularly acute in­
clude nuclear physics, electronics, solid state
physics, and certain branches of mechanics.
The current shortage of physics personnel has
developed in the face of record graduations during
the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. The number of
bachelor’s degrees awarded in physics set new rec­
ords after the war, reaching a peak of 3,414 in
1949-50, wdien most veterans graduated (table 5).
Since then graduations have decreased, reflecting
the drop in enrollments (see p. 18), and will con­
tinue to decrease for another few years. After
the middle of the decade, graduations will begin
to rise again. By the early 1960’s, the number of
bachelor’s degrees awarded yearly should again
reach the peak levels of 1949 and 1950.
The numbers of students awarded graduate de­
grees reflect, a few years later (allowing for the
time required for graduate study), the changes in
the numbers receiving bachelor’s degrees. Thus,
the master’s degrees granted in physics continued
to increase until 1951, declined between 1951 and
1952, and will probably decrease further for sev­
eral years. The number of physics doctorates
continued to rise through 1952 and may remain at
peak levels for a year or two longer. Thereafter,
they are expected to decline.
These conclusions regarding future trends in
graduations do not allow for several factors which
may affect college attendance in this partial mo­
bilization period. The decrease in graduations
expected in the next few years may be aggravated
by withdrawals of students for military service,
although up to mid-1953, selective-service policies
had allowed the deferment of all qualified gradu­
ate students and many undergraduates. Defer-

18

E M P L O Y M E N T O U T L O O K F O R P H Y S IC IS T S
T a b l e 5 . — E a r n e d d e g r e e s i n p h y s i c s c o n f e r r e d "by i n s t i t u t i o n s o f h i g h e r e d u c a t i o n , b y t y p e o f d e g r e e ,
1 9 4 1 -4 8 to 1 9 5 1 -5 2

Bachelor’s degree

Year

Total

1947-48_________________________ _______
1948-49________________________________
1949-50________________________________
1950-51...______________________________
1951-52________________________________

2,126
2, 828
3, 414
2,788
2,247

Men

Master’s degree
Women

1,962
2,645
3,287
2, 671
2,141

Total

164
183
127
117
106

706
841
922
973
886

Men

Doctor’s degree
Women

663
798
888
934
851

43
43
34
39
35

Total
198
266
358
443
485

Men

Women

192
259
353
435
476

6
7
5
8
9

1 The questionnaries used in obtaining these figures are in most cases filled out by an official such as the registrar, rather than by the departments involved.
Also, the definition of a major in a specific field varies by school. These factors probably result in underenumeration of degrees in certain fields and in under­
statement of the number of schools granting such degrees; some overenumeration in certain other fields is also known to exist. Other surveys of training in
physics made on a different basis have yielded different figures on schools awarding degrees and total numbers of degrees. (See M. W. White, “Enrollments and
Degrees Awarded to Physics Majors,” A m e r ic a n J o u r n a l o f P h y s ic s , January 1951.)
Source: Annual surveys of earned degrees conferred by institutions of higher education made by United States Office of Education.

ment of undergraduate students is allowed under
two standards: class standing and grade achieved
in the selective-service qualification test. Infor­
mation from a 10-percent sample survey of all
students tested in the spring and summer of 1951
indicated that the proportion of students qualify­
ing for deferment under these two standards was
greatest in scientific and technical fields. Also,
many fellowships and scholarships will be pro­
vided by the National Science Foundation, other
Government agencies, private organizations, and
schools themselves. Thus, it is expected that, in
the near future, science enrollments will hold up
better than total college enrollments.
In conclusion, the supply-and-demand situation
may be summed up as follows. The demand for

trained physicists will probably continue at a high
level for an indefinite period. Furthermore, the
supply of qualified personnel was insufficient in
mid-1953 to meet the need, and decreasing num­
bers of new graduates are expected in the next
several years. Toward the end of the decade, the
number of bachelor’s degrees awarded will be
rising sharply again, but the new upturn in num­
bers of graduate degrees will probably lag several
years behind that in bachelor’s degrees. The out­
look for physicists with graduate degrees or ex­
perience is therefore excellent. In most fields of
specialization, there will be many opportuni­
ties for those with only undergraduate training
for a number of years at least.

Earnings
The median professional income of physicists
included in the National Scientific Register survey
was about $6,100 a year in early 1951.11 Threefourths of these scientists earned over $1,600, and
one-fourth made over $8,000. These figures repre­
sent total professional income, including consult­
ing fees, royalties, and other supplementary
professional earnings, as well as salaries.
During the 2 years since that survey was con­
ducted, earnings have had a general upward trend
in the United States. On the other hand, the men
surveyed probably had a somewhat higher average
income than all physicists in the country. The
proportion of physicists with doctorates was much
11 Manpower Resources in Physics,




op. c i t

p. 18.

higher among the surveyed scientists than among
all members of the profession, and Ph.D.’s tend to
have higher incomes than persons with less aca­
demic training, as shown by the following figures
for physicists at different levels of education from
the same survey:
H ig h e s t d eg re e h e ld

M e d ia n in c o m e

Ph.D_________________________________________ $7,100
Master’s degree_______________________________ 5,300
Bachelor’s degree_____________________________ 5,100

The median income figure of $7,100 forPh. D.’s
is believed to be fairly representative of the 1951
income level of all physicists with doctorates, since
most such physicists were included in the study.
Similarly, the income figure for men with master’s
degrees can be regarded as generally indicative of

19

E A R N IN G S

PH. D., M. S ., AND B. $ . PHY SICISTS ALL HAVE HIGHER INCOMES
IN PRIVATE INDUSTRY THAN IN OTHER TYPES OF EMPLOYMENT
Thousands of Dollars

Median Income by Level of Education and Type of Em ployer, 1951

Years of Age
UNITED OF LABORDEPARTMENT OF LABOR
STATES STATISTICS
BUREAU



Thousands of Dollars

Over
Source: M anpow er R esources in P hysics, p a ge 4 6

20

E M P L O Y M E N T O U T L O O K F O R P H Y S IC IS T S

the income level of such scientists at the time of
the survey. However, the relatively small group
of bachelors in the survey probably had higher
average earnings than all members of the profes­
sion with only B. S. degrees, because the mailing
list used in sending out questionnaires was the
membership list of the American Institute of
Physics and men in comparatively low-paid junior
positions less often join professional societies than
those receiving higher salaries.
In physics, as in other professions, earnings tend
to increase with age and experience. The physi­
cists under 25 years of age in the NSR survey had
a median yearly professional income of only $3,700.
Each succeeding age group had higher median
earnings, up to a peak of $8,000 a year for physi­
cists between 45 and 50. In the still older age
groups, earnings dropped—to a median of $6,300
a year for the scientists aged 65 or over.
Physicists in private industry are likely to earn
more than those employed in Government agencies
or as members of college and university faculties.
The physicists in the survey who were working in
private industry, either as salaried employees or as
self-employed consultants, had a median annual
income of $7,000, compared with one of $6,300 for
the Government employees and $5,600 for those in
educational institutions.
Starting salaries were about the same in each
of the three major fields of employment (chart 3).
The young physicists under 25 years of age had a
median income of $3,600 in both education and
Government, and of $3,900 in private industry.
The differences in average income among scien­
tists in different types of employment were much
greater in the older age groups, however. For
physicists aged 50-54 years, for example, the sur­
vey showed a median income of $11,700 in private
industry, compared with $8,100 in Government and
$6,700 in colleges and universities. Many scien­




tists in private business can eventually command
incomes beyond the rosiest expectations of those on
college faculties or in Government service, where
ceilings on salaries are lower and more rigid than
in private industry.
Salaries in the Federal civil service are fixed
by law. Positions are graded according to the
amount of skill and responsibility involved in the
work, and minimum and maximum salaries are
specified for each grade. A new employee usually
starts at the minimum salary for his grade and
receives increases at regular intervals, up to the
specified maximum salary, provided that his work
is satisfactory.
New graduates with the bachelor’s degree ap­
pointed to professional positions usually begin at
a yearly salary of $3,410; those with a master’s
degree (or a baccalaureate and 1 year of quali­
fying experience), at $4,205; and those with a
doctor’s degree (or an equivalent combination of
education and experience), at $5,060. Table 6
shows the number of physicists employed by Fed­
eral agencies in mid-1951 in each grade of posi­
tion, with the salary range for the grade.
T able 6.—

D is tr ib u tio n o f p h y s ic is ts e m p lo y e d b y th e F e d ­
e ra l G o v e rn m e n t b y s a la r y ra n g e a n d g ra d e , J u n e 3 0,
19511

Salary range and grade
Total, all grades___________________________
$3,410 to $4,160 (GS-5)_____________________
$4,205 to $4,955 (GS-7)_____________________
$5,060 to $5,810 (GS-9)_____________________
$5,940 to $6,940 (GS-11)____________________
$7,040 to $8,040 (GS-12)____________________
$8,360 to $9,360 (GS-13)____________________
$9,600 to $10,600 (GS-14)___________________
$10,800 to $11,800 (GS-15)__________________
$12,000 to $12,800 ( GS-16)__________________
$13,000 to $13,800 (GS-17)__________________

Number

Percent dis­
tribution

2 3,058

708
601
455
447
385
277
134
47
3
1

(3)

100.0
23.1
19.7
14.9
14.6
12.6
9.1
4.4
1.5
.1

1 Although the distribution of physicists is of June 30, 1951, the salary
range shown actually went into effect the following month—July 1951.
2 Excludes 9 physicists employed at grades 6, 8, and 10.
3 Less than 0.05 percent.
Source: U. S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal
White-Collar Workers, Their Occupations and Salaries, June 1951, Bulletin
No. 1117. In cooperation with the United States Civil Service Commission.

Appendix
List of Physics Specializations1
P h y sic s

(g e n e r a l ) 2

E le c tr o n ic s

T h e o r e tic a l p h y s ic s

(c la s s ic a l)

T h e o r e tic a l p h y s ic s

(q u a n tu m )

Electromagnetism
Analytical mechanics (including elasticity, etc.)
Fluid dynamics
Statistics (including random processes, information
theory)
Other

Nuclear
Atomic
Solids
Field
Other

M e c h a n ic s a n d h e a t

Aerodynamics (including supersonics)
Hydrodynamics
Terminal ballistics, explosions, shock waves
Interior ballistics, jets, rockets, etc.
Flight of missiles
High pressure phenomena
Rheology
Cryogenics
High temperature phenomena
Heat radiation and transmission
Other

O p tic s

Physical optics
Optical instruments (including instrument design)
Physiological and psychological optics
Photography
Photometry
Spectroscopy
Colorimetry
Photoelectric phenomena
Other

A c o u s tic s

Architectural acoustics
Noise and vibrations
Audio communications acoustics
Physiological and psychological acoustics
Underwater sound
Ultrasonics
Acoustical instruments
Other

1 Developed by the National Scientific Register.




Microwaves
Circuits
Physical electronics
Communication
Telemetering
Antennae and transmission lines
Propagation of radio waves
Fluorescent materials
Electron dynamics
Tubes
Other

A to m ic a n d m o le c u la r p h e n o m e n a

Spectrographics
Isotopes (measurement and separation)
X-rays
Other

S o lid s ta te

Physics of metals
Semiconductors
Crystals
Dielectrics (including fluids)
Magnetism
Piezo electricity
Instrumentation
Other

Nuclear physics
Particle accelerators
Instrumentation
Reactors
Particle interactions
Nuclear reactions
Neutron physics
Radioactivity
Nuclear structure, properties
Cosmic rays—high energy processes
Other
O th e r s p e c ia ltie s

Instrumental measurement and control
Servo-mechanisms
Health physics
Astrophysics
Other

2 Only those physicists whose experience is not specialized
are classified in this category.
21

E M P L O Y M E N T O U T L O O K F O R P H Y S IC IS T S

22

Where To Get Additional Information

Additional information on the physics profes­
sion may be obtained from:
American Institute of Physics
57 East 55th Street
New York 22, N. Y.
This organization serves as a clearinghouse for
the profession and also maintains a placement
service for its members. A booklet, Physics As
A Career, containing information on the profes­
sion and the opportunities it offers, has been pub­
lished by the Institute and may be obtained from
its headquarters in New York. In addition, the
Institute publishes a monthly journal, Physics
Today , which often contains articles of interest
to persons considering a career in physics. This
publication is available in many libraries or may
be obtained from the Institute.
The member societies of the American Institute
of Physics and the names of the technical journals
published by them and by the Institute are:
Acoustical Society

—The Journal of the Acous­
tical Society of America
American Association of—American Journal of Physics
Physics Teachers




American Physical Society—Reviews of Modern Physics
—Physical Review
Optical Society of America—Journal of the Optical So­
ciety of America
Society of Rheology
—No publication
American Institute of Phys— Journal of Applied Physics
ics
—Physics Today
—The Journal of Chemical
Physics
—The Review of Scientific
Instruments

Announcements of examinations for physics po­
sitions with the Federal Government are available
from the United States Civil Service Commission,
Washington 25, D. C., or its 12 regional offices,
and are posted in all first- and second-class post
offices. The Civil Service Commission has also
recently published a bulletin entitled The Physicist
in the Federal Service (Pamphlet No. 43). This
bulletin describes the work of physicists in Fed­
eral agencies and gives information on require­
ments for positions, as well as general informa­
tion about the Federal Civil Service system. It
may be obtained upon request from the Superin­
tendent of Documents, U. S. Government Print­
ing Office, Washington 25, D. C., for 30 cents.

23

A P P E N D IX

O c c u p a tio n a l O u tlo o k P u b lic a tio n s o f th e B u re a u o f L a b o r S ta tis tic s *

Studies of employment trends and opportunities in the various occupations and professions are made available by the
Occupational Outlook Service of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
These reports are for use in the vocational guidance of veterans, in counseling young people in schools, and in guiding
others considering the choice of an occupation. Schools concerned with vocational training and employers and trade
unions interested in on-the-job training have also found the reports helpful in planning programs in line with prospective
employment opportunities.
Occupational Outlook Handbook

Employment Information on Major Occupations for Use in Guidance.
Bulletin No. 998 (1951 Revised Edition). Ulus. $3.
Includes brief reports on more than 400 occupations of interest in vocational guidance, including professions; skilled
trades; clerical, sales, and service occupations; and the major types of farming. Each report describes the employment
trends and outlook, the training qualifications required, earnings, and working conditions. Introductory sections sum­
marize the major trends in population and employment and in the broad industrial and occupational groups, as background
for an understanding of the individual occupations.
The Handbook is designed for use in counseling, in classes or units on occupations, in the training of counselors, and
as a general reference. Its 575 pages are illustrated with 103 photographs and 85 charts,
Occupational Outlook Bulletins
B u lle tin N o .

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944
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994
1010
1020
1048
1054
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1126
1128

1130
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1131

Employment Outlook in the—
Plastics Products Industry. (1948) Illus________________________________________________
Electric Light and Power Occupations. (1948) Illus_____________________________________
Railroad Occupations. (1949) Illus____________________________________________________
Petroleum Production and Refining. (1950) Illus_______________________________________
Men's Tailored Glothing Industry. (1951) Illus------------------------------------------------------------Department Stores. (1951) Illus_______________________________________________________
Accounting. (1952) Ulus______________________________________________________________
Merchant Marine. (1952) Ulus________________________________________________________
Electronics Manufacturing. (1952) Ulus________________________________________________
Printing Occupations. Reprinted from the 1951 Occupational Outlook Handbook. (1953)
Ulus.
Air Transportation. Reprinted from the 1951 Occupational Outlook Handbook. (1953)
Illus.
Metalworking Occupations. Reprinted from the 1951 Occupational Outlook Handbook.
(1953) Ulus.
Automobile Industry. (1953) Ulus_____________________________________________________
Employment Outlook for—
Engineers. (1949) Ulus________________________________________________________________
Elementary and Secondary School Teachers. (1949) Ulus________________________________
Earth Scientists. (1952) Ulus__________________________________________________________
Mechanics and Repairmen. Reprinted from the 1951 Occupational Outlook Handbook.
(1953) Ulus.
Technicians. A Report on Draftsmen, Engineering Aids, Laboratory Technicians, and Electronic Technicians. (1953) Ulus.

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Supp. to 968 Effect of Defense Program on Employment Outloook in Engineering. (1951)_______________ 15 cents
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24

B u lle t in

E M P L O Y M E N T O U T L O O K F O R P L IY S IC IS T S

No.

881
1001
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1117
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Special Reports

Factors Affecting Earnings in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. (1946)_________________
Tables of Working Life. Length of Working Life for Men. (1950)_________________________
Employment, Education, and Earnings of American Men of Science. (1951)_________________
Employment and Economic Status of Older Men and Women. (1952)______________________
Employment Opportunities for Student Personnel Workers in Colleges and Universities. (1951) _
Elementary and Secondary School Principalships—Chief Advancement Opportunity for Public
School Teachers. (1951).
Employment Opportunities for Counselors in Secondary and Elementary Schools. (1951)___
Federal White-Collar Workers—Their Occupations and Salaries, June 1951. (1952)__________
Negroes in the United States: Their Employment and Economic Status. (1952) 60 pp________
The Mobility of Tool and Die Makers 1940-1951. (1952) 67 pp_____________________________
Occupational Mobility of Scientists. A Study of Chemists, Biologists, and Physicists with
Ph. D. Degrees. (1953).
Manpower Resources in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. (1953)______________________
Employment, Education, and Income of Engineers, 1949-1950. (1952) 48 pp_______________
Scientific Research and Development in American Industry—A Study of Manpower and Costs.
(1953) 106 pp________________________________________________________________________

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should be addressed to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U. S. Department of Labor, Washington 25, D. C., specifying
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