Physicist Salary

  • Helena Kudiabor
  • Sep 19 2023

A career as a physicist is a great opportunity for someone who is interested in research, and would like to delve deeper into an area of physics that interests them. But, how much can you expect to earn as a physicist?


What is a physicist?

A physicist is someone who studies the universe and its natural phenomena. Given how broad the scope of physics research is, physicists tend to focus on a particular field, such as medical physics, nuclear energy or quantum. Physicists design and oversee experiments to learn more about the phenomena they’re interested in, and analyse the resulting data using computer software. Their findings not only help us to better understand the world we live in, but have also led to the development of many important items, such as communication satellites and MRI scans. 

How much do physicists earn?

How much a physicist earns depends on a number of factors. This includes: where they are employed (or if they’re self-employed), where they live, their education level, and how much experience they have.

According to the UK government, physicists who are only just starting out earn an average of £15,609. As they gain more experience, they can expect to earn approximately £50,000. 

How can a physicist increase their salary?

Pursuing higher education (PhD)

Pursuing postgraduate study is a great way to increase your earning potential. This is especially true if you complete a PhD: research found that those with a PhD are more likely to earn over £30,000 compared to those who have a master’s (87% of PhD graduates vs 43% master’s graduates). A PhD is a great way for you to conduct independent research in an area of your interest, and will provide you with research experience and networking opportunities. It’s even possible to have your PhD published in an academic journal.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re interested in this route. Firstly, PhDs are a long, intensive process. Think about the decision carefully and make sure a PhD is something you’re passionate about. Second, while PhDs are expensive (and paying back loans will take a cut out of your salary), it’s possible to find fully funded PhD opportunities, provided you start researching early. 

Specialising in more lucrative fields

Certain physics specialties tend to lead to higher salaries. If you’re on the fence about which field you’d like to go down, it might be worth comparing average salaries. For example, entry-level medical physicists earn around £31,365, rising to £51,668 with more experience.

In a similar vein, larger, more high profile companies and institutions tend to pay their employees more. However, it all depends on what sort of work environment suits your personality. If you work better in a smaller company, there’s still options for salary advancement, as long as you work hard and contribute innovative ideas.

Seeking complementary opportunities

While independent research makes up a large part of a physicist’s responsibilities, many have additional sources of income. Examples include: lecturing at a university (you’ll need a PhD for this), textbook writing and tutoring. Providing you can still maintain a good work life balance, these are great ways to have extra money in your pocket, while still focusing on physics.