Don't worry physics fans; "physicist" ranked pretty highly on the list at 25, ahead of "biologist," (27) "historian," (30) and "taxi driver" (187), to name a few. Newspaper reporters -- perhaps the most similar job to science communication on the list -- ranked very poorly at 196, squeezed between waitresses/waiters and oil rig workers.
Looking at the list, there's definitely a few surprises. Firefighting, the aspiration of many wide-eyed kids, was ranked near the bottom of the heap at 185. Many other jobs were ranked more highly than many would have guessed, and that makes me question how accurately quantified data can represent job satisfaction.
For the list, the researchers weighed income and job outlook equally, combining for two thirds of the overall score. Their methodology section provides some insight into why they weighed these factors more heavily than the final third representing "preferential" factors:
"The logic, simply put, is that most of us work mainly to earn a living and the most important criteria are therefore Income and Outlook, the latter being of course related to employment and income security over the long haul."
While there's certainly some truth to this statement, I think that the survey fails to fully account for key factors, especially those that applicable to careers in physics.
Both aspiring and established physicists list a number of reasons for their career choice. Here's a small sampling of the more popular reasons:
- Intellectual Freedom: Physicists get to study the research problems that you want. Few other careers can be as intellectually flexible.
- Challenging yet Rewarding Work: The payoff of unraveling some of the universe's mystery can be truly fulfilling.
- Good Pay (eventually): Although income may not be the primary motivating factor for many physicists, established physicists at research institutions certainly make decent money. That's part of what made physics rank so highly on the Career Cast list.
The downsides of a physics career may depend on whom you ask, but this list covers some common complaints.
- Long, Difficult Preparation: Graduate school is tough -- and long. For many physics PhD candidates, the stress can be overwhelming at times, but many find grad school a rewarding experience. Take a look at this recent blog post from a physics grad student working at CERN for an interesting perspective on the ups and down of grad school
- Tough Job Market in Academia: Upon completing grad school, most physicists have to take several postdoctoral positions before landing a more permanent research position at a university. Many others eventually choose a different career path outside of academia and research.
- Bureaucracy and Politics in Academia: While you'll run into political bickering in most careers, academia can be particularly inundated with red tape and infighting.
Important factors like these are often glossed over when these career rankings are compiled, but there's certainly not an easy way to quantify all of these factors. Furthermore, weighting all of these factors for everyone doesn't work well: Diverse people are going to value different things in a career.
While these career rankings can be fun and interesting, I don't think they're quite as helpful as they claim to be. Then again, I might just be a sore loser: Newspaper reporters were ranked behind maids, dishwashers and meter readers.
So what factors are most important for you when choosing a physics (or non-physics) career?