MadSci Network: Physics

Re: How can I prepare to be a Nuclear Physicist

Date: Sat Feb 27 18:45:04 1999
Posted By: Michael Baker, Staff, Environmental Science and Waste Technology, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Area of science: Physics
ID: 920049840.Ph


This is a rather broad question, but I will try to do my best to give you some answers. First, at your age you should concentrate on getting a well balanced education that prepares you for college. This should include any advanced math or science classes availble to you.

Be prepared for at least 8 years of college. To work as a nuclear physicist you will need to complete a PhD in physics at a well respected school. As an undergraduate you should concentrate on a well rounded education but you will need to concentrate in physics and mathematics.

After completing a PhD, you can expect to work 2-4 years as a postdoctoral researcher. This is a low paying ($24,000 to $40,000) position but it is intended to allow you to continue to study and develop your career without some of the other pressures of being a working scientist.

Most nuclear physicists work in either academic positions, such as university faculty, or in large research laboratories which are usually run by the Government. These positions are highly competitive and difficult to get. An openning at a university may have several hundred people applying for the position. Many companies also hire physicists to work in a variety of research areas and environments, but if this is the type of career you are interested in, I would recommend that you think about becoming an engineer.

Pay depends on what kind of job you do and where. For example, faculty members at small colleges may make around $40,000 a year while at larger universities and national laboratories pay may be as high as $80,000 a year for people in their early careers. Most people who are successful as nuclear physicists are not driven by monetary reward, but by the opportunity to participate in or lead discoveries that help us to understand how the universe we live in functions.

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