Jobs in Physics in 2000: Looking up towards the new Millenium?
John R. Prescott
Department of Physics
University of Adelaide SA 5005

This is the twenty-second in the series of annual surveys carried out by the author for the Australian Institute of Physics.

As the country "recovered" from the recession of the '90s, employment opportunities for physicists appear to have settled down to a level of about 500 per annum, to be compared with around 700 that applied for the decade to 1990. In 2000 they went up to 540 from 470. To the extent that there was a discernible pattern within this total, it tended to repeat that of recent years.

It has been the practice in the past to publish a fairly detailed annual analysis in The Physicist. The data for the first decade were summarised in Prescott (1988) and for the first two decades in Prescott (1998). The data for year 1999 are to be found in Prescott (2000). The present report is in abbreviated form.

The Surveys
The surveys are based on positions advertised in The Weekend Australian and in the Higher Education Section of The Australian on Wednesdays. Positions within Australia and New Zealand are included from John O'Connor's email address at: if they are not also advertised in the print media. One hundred ARC Fellowships at various levels were offered in 2000. These are not advertised and a notional twelve were included in the survey, based on past experience.

Most of the advertisements in The Australian call for an honours degree or a post-graduate qualification. Positions for which an ordinary degree or diploma in physics would be suitable are mostly to be found in the "local" press. Estimates based on sampling of capital city newspapers suggest that there were at least as many positions advertised there as in The Australian. Many of these local advertisements are for jobs in local commerce or industry or for school teaching.

In general, the positions are those for which a degree or diploma in physics or applied physics is a suitable training, even though this may not be explicitly stated in the advertisement. In many cases further training would be expected, e.g. for teaching in secondary schools or where a higher degree qualification is stated or implied in the advertisement. In any case, it is good, timely advice to physics graduates to add such further training.

Some firms recruit on campus and do not advertise. For example, this is currently said to be the case for optoelectonics. The present survey, therefore, represents a lower limit to the opportunities for employment for physics graduates, although it probably accounts for most of the positions which would be regarded as for "professional" physicists, in the sense that the A.I.P. would recognise.

No positions are included that call for membership of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, even when it is clear that a physicist would make a suitable appointee. It is now common for an advertisement to state alternative qualifications, such as "physicist/engineer", engineer/scientist, or the like. Often, qualifications in "physics" per se are stated in the body of the advertisement but not in the heading. While a statement of alternative qualifications means that there is competition for the positions, they are nevertheless positions suitable for physicists. At the risk of stating the obvious, in presenting themselves as applicants for such jobs, physicists should give prior thought as to why their particular physics training makes them more suitable than some other possible applicant.

The Data
The statistics for 2000 are shown in table 1, which also includes those for the previous four years. The 1997 figures are interpreted as a statistical low. The twenty-year trends are shown in figure 1 where annual physics jobs are compared with weekly advertisements for all positions as recorded by the ANZ Bank Employment Series, and with those for trades and (grouped) professionals from the DEET Skilled Vacancy Surveys.

We turn now to some of the details:
In those for which the Commonwealth Government has direct responsibility: CSIRO, Defence, Bureau of Meteorology, Ansto and the like, job advertisements continued at about the same level as the previous year. As has been usual for many years, about one third of all jobs are in this group. CSIRO was down in both relative and absolute terms within the group. DEFENCE held steady with perhaps more emphasis on situation analysis than hardware development. In the "not CSIRO/not DEFENCE" group there was strong emphasis on environmental monitoring. The new Australian Greenhouse Office continued to seek staff at the managerial level.

State and Territory Governments were recruiting strongly (for them), mostly for monitoring air, water and radiation.

The areas with which Universities are associated, teaching, research and technical positions, improved marginally. There were more teaching positions on offer, including two tenurable Professors and five Deans of Science. Limited term research positions in Universities continue to be the biggest single group at 28% of all positions. In absolute numbers this is one hundred and fifty positions--as large as it has ever been. ANU advertised strongly, particularly in the second half of the year; it is now heading its advertisements, "Australia's National University", and The University of Adelaide is now "trading under the name of Adelaide University", both, doubtless for commercial reasons.

The demand for school physics teachers was steady. Although these are nearly all in the independent schools, both the South Australian and New South Wales Departments of Education were placing targeted advertising. Although it strictly belongs in 2001, it is worth recording an unique event: The NSW Department has advertised financial incentives for teachers to be retrained for Physics and Chemistry teaching.

An encouraging improvement was an increase in jobs in Industry and Commerce to the best level in over five years. About one third of these were in optics or optoelectronics. There is talk around the tea rooms that the demand for graduates in optoelectronics is growing beyond our capacity to provide them and that we are heading for shortages. The advertised demand is still modest but the signs for an increase may be there. Geophysics barely rose from what had been its lowest level in twenty years. The mining firms are not out there looking for new prospects at the moment.

Most Hospital and Medical posts are in state hospitals with an occasional post in private practice. The demand has been traditionally small but steady and so it was last year.

A National Innovation Summit, jointly sponsored by the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Science and Resources and The Business Council of Australia was held in Melbourne in February 2000. Its Implementation Group reported late in the year. At about the same time the report, Chance for change, by the Chief Scientist, Dr R. Batterham, was released. Both reports analysed issues of Research and Development and made recommendations. In a nut-shell, Australia stands near the bottom of the OECD table for industrial R&D although we do better in Government-supported areas. This has been a familiar theme of the present surveys for some years. The Government announced its response to both reports early in 2001. They include incentives to Industry and additional financial support for the ARC. At the same time, support for government agencies (except defence) has been reduced and they will have to compete for funds with the Universities. The proposals for encouraging Industrial R&D appear little different from the unevenly successful New Start programme. It is easy to be cynical, or at least skeptical, about the eventual outcome. However, there is no doubt that even if no more of the recommendations are implemented, it will be good for the employment of physicists.

Overseas positions are, of course, only those advertised in Australia. They were all academic posts in our immediate Pacific neighbours. For the first time in some years, there was no physics job in New Zealand.

Across the board, a PhD was a stated or preferred requirement for more than half the positions advertised. About half of these were permanent.

Sources of Further Information
A record was kept of the salary range for each position, in those cases where it was given. This is shown in table 2 where the numbers are for the second half-year.

A list of all positions surveyed, classified by fields, and giving the employer, the job classification, the salary range (if stated), a brief job description, whether a PhD is specified, whether the position is indefinite or limited-term, and the month of the advertisement, will be sent to all Australian physics departments, to careers officers in tertiary institutions and to employment agencies. Copies are available to interested persons from the author.

Annual and monthly summaries are available on the internet at where other web-site addresses can be also be found.

There are now many outlets for job-lists on the internet. The pattern of advertising is changing and will undoubtedly change further. Already a large fraction of positions in the IT Industry are listed there for preference.

The Australian Institute of Physics maintains an Employment Advertisement service. A list of advertisements cut from The Australian and many of the metropolitan dailies is issued at approximately fortnightly intervals. Members of the A.I.P. can arrange to receive it, free of charge, by writing to:

AIP Employment Advertisements
1/21 Vale Street
North Melbourne Vic 3051

Institutions and non-members of the A.I.P. can receive it for a nominal charge.

Employment information is available on e-mail, sponsored by the AIP. Employers can advertise their vacancies directly to physicists looking for employment. It carries both Australian and overseas vacancies. To receive this information send an e-mail message to:
and include in the body of the text the line:
subscribe physics-employment
Do not sign your name in the body of the text since it will probably be misinterpreted.

At the time of writing, the status of The Australian Institute of Physics Employment Advertisement service was uncertain.

Gillian Robertson provided valuable help. Derek Leinweber created and maintains the Web site.

ANZ Bank Employment Advertisement Series (monthly, on the internet))
Prescott, J.R. (1988) Aust. Physicist, 25, 204
Prescott J.R. (1998) Aust. and N.Z. Physicist, 34, 116
Prescott J.R. (2000) The Physicist 37, 140
Skilled Vacancy Survey. Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs. (monthly, on the iternet)

Figure 1
The heavy solid line shows annual physics employment advertisements (right hand scale). The thin solid line shows seasonally corrected average weekly employment advertisements for all classes of employment (left hand scale). The dashed line and dot-dash line are the DEET figures for "Trades" and "All Professionals" respectively. The two latter are index figures and have been normalised to the other data at 1985.

Table 1
All jobs advertised in The Australian for which a degree or diploma in Physics or Applied Physics provides a suitable starting point.
All subdivision figures are percentages.

1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
TOTAL positions

420 370 500+ 470 540
Government Commonwealth CSIRO Permanent 2.4 3.8 4.6 4.3 2.9
Temporary 2.2 5.0 8.3 4.3 2.5
Not CSIRO or defence Permanent 3.7 4.6 8.0 13.6 11.9
Temporary 3.2 8.6 3.0 2.8 3.7
8.4 15.0 17.0 14.5 12.4

1.7 3.0 4.6 1.7 5.6

3.4 1.6 3.4 1.9 2.2
Teaching Permanent 2.2 0.8 2.4 3.2 3.9
Temporary 3.9 4.0 2.0 2.6 3.0
34.1 26.1 24.8 27.0 28.0
Technical and Other
3.7 2.7 2.2 1.3 1.7
Cooperative Research
Centres (CRC)

6.8 4.0 2.0 3.2 2.0
Private Industry
and Commerce
non sales

10.0 5.1 7.2 6.3 9.0
Management and sales

1.0 2.2 1.8 2.2 2.5
School teaching,
mostly independent
(physics stipulated)

6.6 5.4 5.0 7.3 5.2
Overseas, various

6.7 7.5 3.8 3.9 3.5

100 100 100 100 100
Geophysics (not included
above) Totals

66 90 81 20 25

Table 2
Salary ranges for advertised positions as of late 2000.
Most of the positions advertised had salaries lying in the range quoted, occasionally smaller or larger.

Teacher $30k-52k (small sample)
Professional Officer, Technical Officer,
Research Officer, Research Assistant
Analyst $50k-75k
PDF $43k-50k
ARC PDF $40k-43k
ARC Research Fellow/QEII Fellow $45k-53k
Research Fellow/Research Associate $45k-40k
Senior Research Fellow $55k-64k-75k-83k
Tutor/Associate Lecturer $36k-49k
Lecturer $51k-61k
Senior Lecturer $62k-72k
Reader, Associate Professor $72k-85k
Professor ca$95k
Senior/Research Scientist DSTO $48k-64k/68k-82k
Experimental Scientist CSIRO $35k-52k
Senior/Research Scientist CSIRO $44k-58k/60k-80k
Other Commonwealth similar
Engineer/Scientist $37k-60k
Modeller $45k-$60k
Science-based Managers $70k-80k

In round figures, first degree graduates start at about $34k,
first post-doctoral appointments at about $44k,
professionals with some experience at about $50k.


Page Created: 17th August 2001, most recent update 17th August 2001
by Sundance Bilson-Thompson.

Please send comments/suggestions to
Dr. Derek B. Leinweber
Telephone: +61 8 8303-3548
Fax: +61 8 8303-3551