Students who have an interest in both physics and astronomy often pursue careers in astrophysics. A hybrid between physics and astronomy, astrophysics is the study of different objects and matter that exist in space. Astrophysicists usually have a Ph.D., as doctorate degrees are required for basic researcher, college faculty and managerial jobs. Ph.D. students typically become postdoctoral fellows before qualifying for full-time researcher positions. Astrophysicists who increase their visibility in the field by publishing in industry journals and publications can earn salaries within the six-figure range.
Astrophysicists conduct research, experiments and surveys to determine how objects and materials behave in space. For example, astrophysicists use sophisticated laboratory equipment to observe and analyse how particles interact with each other. Using powerful telescopes and computer technologies, astrophysicists pull information on celestial objects using indicators such as motion, size, distance and brightness. They measure the properties of space matter to develop a picture on how energy such as the sun's rays can be harnessed as a power source on Earth. Astrophysicists with Ph.D.s are also qualified to teach in colleges and universities, as well as write for scientific journals and speak at industry conferences. As of June 2011, SchoolsintheUSA.com listed the average salary range for astrophysicists between £19,643 and £60,079 annually.
A June 2011 SalaryExpert report stated that astrophysics teachers, which include trained astrophysicists, averaged varying salaries across different metropolitan cities. In Houston, astrophysics instructors received an average salary of £52,179. In Chicago, astrophysics teachers averaged £32,564 annually. Professionals working in Phoenix earned similar salaries, averaging £34,344 per year. The report also showed that New York City, Miami and Los Angeles astrophysicists reported the highest average salaries. Astrophysics teachers working in these cities earned an average salary of £59,085, £54,215 and £54,135, respectively.
Whether astrophysicists choose to work in academia, for the government or in private industry impacts their salary potential, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Astronomers working in the federal government reported the highest average salary at £85,806, as of May 2010. Professionals employed in colleges and universities reported the lowest average wages at £47,534 per year. In comparison, physicists working for the federal government averaged £73,755. Physics professionals working at colleges and universities reported an average salary of £56,602.
Between 2008 and 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that basic research opportunities will grow for professionals such as astronomers and physicists due to increased federal funding. Because basic research positions are generally open to Ph.D. candidates, astrophysicists with doctorate degrees should be well positioned for these jobs. However, as more students obtain doctorate degrees in physics, astronomy and astrophysics, greater competition is expected for highly coveted research positions. Nevertheless, jobs for physicists and astronomers are expected to increase 16 per cent, which is higher than the national average for all fields combined.