Top 7 stats you should know before considering a graduate degree

Below is a list of the top 7 most useful statistics for prospective graduate students in physics and astronomy.

1. Physics and astronomy enrollment data

Features results from 2009-10 surveys in physics and astronomy enrollment and degrees.


  • There has been a steep jump in bachelor’s degrees awarded in physics and astronomy since 2001.
  • 382 bachelor’s degrees were awarded in 2010, with 36% of them earned by women.

2. Roster of physics and astronomy degree data

These two documents concentrate on the enrollment and degree data for each degree-granting physics and astronomy department in the U.S.


  • The academic year 2009-10 produced more physics bachelor’s and more physics PhDs than in any other year in U.S. history.
  • The academic year 2009-10 also produced more astronomy bachelor’s than any other time in U.S. history.

3. Physics graduate degree trends and degree recipient followup

Comprehensive data about degree recipients and their programs, including years it took to complete the degree, and comparisons between departments.


  •  Condensed matter is the most sought-after subfield in physics PhDs in 2007-08.
  • 78% of physics PhDs (U.S. citizens) would do the degree again at the same institution.

Additional research:

4. Initial employment for physics and astronomy degree recipients

Explores starting salary figures and employment of graduates in physics and astronomy.


  • Within the private sector, astronomy bachelor’s degree recipients employed in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) had a median starting salary that was nearly $25K higher than for those employed in non-STEM positions.
  • About half of new astronomy bachelor’s recipients enter the workforce after earning their degrees.

Additional Research:

5. Career paths for physics and astronomy doctorates

This research explores the career paths of physics and astronomy professionals upon recieving their PhDs.


  • The subfields with the highest potential of offering permanent positions are: atmospheric and space physics, and applied physics and surface physics.
  • In rationalizing their decision to work in a temporary position, 37% of respondents said it was a “necessary step to get their desired future position.”

Additional research:

6. Statistical information about women in physics

Surveys of women physicists conducted by the American Institute of Physics during Paris and Rio de Janeiro conferences.


  • The vast majority of women physicists thought of choosing physics as their career during secondary school.
  • Women felt they had equal opportunities in conducting research abroad.
  • 50% to 60% of women said their careers affected their decisions regarding personal matters, such as marriage and children.

Additional research:

7. Statistical information about minorities in physics

A series of surveys examining the status of minorities in physics and geosciences.


  • Over the last decade, an average of more than 1,700 African Americans earned PhDs each year.
  • The number of Hispanic Americans earning bachelor’s degrees in physics and geosciences is at an all-time high.
  • Native Americans have earned 40% more bachelor’s degrees in geoscience during the last dozen years combined than they did in physics.

Additional research:


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Advice to Students

The best thing you can do as an undergraduate or early graduate student is get as broad a training as possible, in both science and communications.
Communication skills are extremely important, especially to aspiring scientists. Scientific research is funded as a public good by the federal government and various institutions. To get this funding you must compete with many others who want the same funding.
— Dr. Fred Dylla, Executive Director and CEO of the American Institute of Physics, Podcast Episode #4

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