Promising prospects for physics graduates

7 June 2012

£3,000 more after one year in employment than the average graduate

Increase in unemployed physics graduates lower than average increase

The Career Paths of Physics Graduates

Data collected by the Institute of Physics (IOP) between 2006 and 2010 demonstrates the potential rewards on offer to those who study physics at university.

Data shows that, while the majority of those who study physics (52.4%) go on to further study (studying for Master’s and PhDs), those who go into employment earn an annual salary almost £3,000 more than graduates of all subjects.

The data, gathered from almost 6,000 final year graduates from 55 universities between 2006 and 2010, suggests the average salary for a physics graduate one year after graduation is £22,500, contrasting favorably to the average graduate salary in 2008 of £19,700.

The unemployment rate is significantly lower among physics graduates than all graduates - in 2007, 8% of physics graduates were unemployed, while the national average for all graduates stood at 18% - and the increase in graduate unemployment, following the financial crash in 2008, was much lower for physics graduates than the national average.

The survey, undertaken yearly between 2006 and 2010, collected responses from more than a third (5737 graduates) of all of the UK’s physics graduates over five years; surveying a new year group each year and re-visiting those surveyed the year before.

The questions sought to discover what the physics graduates intended to do upon graduation, and then, revisiting them year on year, asked where their career path had taken them one, two, three and, in some cases, four years after graduation.   

Professor Peter Main, director of education and science at the Institute of Physics, explains, “While there were various sources of information that gave us a partial understanding of where physics graduates find themselves, we have lacked the robust data to see the whole picture of the paths graduates take as they start their careers.  

“This survey has provided the evidence for us to give far more definitive answers to questions about the prospects of physics graduates.”

The survey also inquired about a range of other factors, including gender, ethnicity, social class, disabilities and the possibility of different prospects for graduates with either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in physics .

Small differences by gender were found – with a greater number of women taking master’s or teacher training courses while men are more likely to be studying for a PhD – while respondents from lower socio-economic groups were more likely to be continuing education and less likely to be employed.

Respondents who undertook the integrated master’s degrees (a four year course in England and Wales; a five year course in Scotland) were earning, on average, almost £2,000 more than those who undertook the shorter bachelor’s degree courses (£23,300 in contrast to £21,500).

The research also shows that average earning power for physics graduates is more dependent on degree class than on the institution the degree is awarded by.

Respondents from Russell Group institutions with first or upper second class degrees showing a very similar proportion of graduates going onto further study and earning only slightly higher salaries than those from non-Russell Group institutions.    

Professor Main continues, “The research has found that many graduates go on to further study, while those that enter employment work in a wide range of professions and earn more than average.  They are also less likely to be unemployed than the overall graduate population.

“Work of this nature is crucial to ensure that potential students are given reliable information as the basis for the choices they make on their future.”

The full report can be found at

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