Jobs in Physics in 2001: Much improved but uneven
John R. Prescott
Department of Physics
University of Adelaide SA 5005

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

Over the past four years, employment opportunities for physicists appeared to have settled down to a level of about 500 per annum, to be compared with around 700 which applied for the decade to 1990. In 2001 they went up to 655 from 540. Within this total, there were several significant changes in the distribution of positions. These can be seen in table 1. All Commonwealth Government agencies recruited strongly, even CSIRO which has been having a lean time. There was very little on offer in State recruiting. The biggest change in the table is for Medical/Hospital physicists.

It has been the practice in the past to publish an 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 2000 are to be found in Prescott (2001). The present report continues last year's 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.

It emerged during the year that, not only was there an increasing demand for hospital physicists, but that a substantial fraction of such positions is not advertised in the media. The Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine distributes advertisements by email in much the same way as the AIP does. These have been added to our records.

One hundred and sixty three ARC Fellowships at various levels were offered in 2001, up from one hundred in 2000; this is a non-trivial advance. These are not advertised in the press. There were 47 awarded in Physical and Earth Sciences and a notional fifteen were included in the present survey, based on past experience. There were, in addition, for the first time, fifteen well-publicised "Federation Fellowships". These are worth $225,000 pa, plus on costs, for five years. It is worth commenting that, from the 183 applications, only 15 were awarded of the 25 on offer. Of the 15, no fewer than eight were either directly involved in physics or their project is so close to physics as makes no difference. This is a truly remarkable outcome. There has to be a message there and the profession should be proclaiming it. While projects with leads to technological advance from cutting edge research are featured, Professor Huw Price will lead a International Centre for the Philosophy of Physics. I have not added these Fellowships to the job count for 2001. They should generate new jobs in the future.

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 2001 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 the areas for which the Commonwealth Government has direct responsibility: CSIRO, Defence, Bureau of Meteorology, Ansto and the like, job advertisements were all up, both as a larger percentage and on a larger base. For many years about one third of all jobs have been in this group. In 2001 the proportion rose to 40%. CSIRO had about 60 positions on offer over a very wide span of activities. Rather less than half were continuing. DEFENCE, comprising DSTO and Defence Intelligence, began the year slowly but finished strongly. DSTO advertised regularly for "Graduates", without specified duties. "Sources" say that DSTO has difficulty filling available positions. Defence jobs are almost always continuing. In the "not CSIRO/not DEFENCE" group there was continued emphasis on environmental monitoring. The Meteorological Bureau and Ansto were recruiting strongly. The Australian Greenhouse Office advertised an occasional position. This Commonwealth involvement in research, and the 2001 increase recorded here, will come as a surprise to many. In fact at the time of writing, Australia stood fourth in the OECD table for government expenditure on research. Industry is a different matter.

State and Territory Governments appear to have satisfied their requirements for environmental monitoring for the time being, and recruited little.

The areas with which Universities are associated, teaching, research and their support, improved significantly. Teaching positions on offer almost doubled. This included seven tenurable Professors, no fewer than ten Deans of Science and six "Directors", most with Professorial status. The term "Director" has been relatively rare on the job scene in the past; its frequency in 2001 may be a statistical fluctuation. Quantum computing and nanotechnology have appeared; two of the Professorships were in the latter field. Limited term Research positions in Universities continue to be the biggest single group at 23% of all positions. In absolute numbers this is one hundred and fifty positions--maintaining last year's record figure. Sydney and ANU advertised strongly throughout the year.

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. It is worth recording an unique event: The NSW Department has advertised financial incentives for teachers to be retrained for Physics and Chemistry teaching.

It was noted above that Government research expenditure places Australia near the top of the OECD table. Expenditure by Industry and Commerce places us near the bottom. The year 2001 did nothing to improve the situation. In an extraordinary state of affairs, there were no jobs advertised in Commerce and Industry in the last quarter of the year--not one, not even sales. If firms are seeking graduates in optoelectonics, as has been reported, it is not evident in the advertisements. The promise of 2000 has not been fulfilled. And yet, optoelectronics is seen as a growth area.

Early in 2001, the Government announced its response to the National Innovation Summit, and the report Chance for change, by the Chief Scientist. The proposals 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 may be recalled that this replaced the former 150% tax rebate for R&D. It may be that this has reduced the number of "rorts" of the former system, but in 1996 it took away more than half of the physics jobs in industry. It is easy to be cynical, or at least skeptical, about the eventual outcome. However, if physics jobs in 2001 are any indication, the Government will need some inspired new ideas to promote research in the non-government sector.

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. In 2001 the addition of posts advertised on email added an extra ten positions in forty.

Overseas positions are, of course, only those advertised in Australia. They were all academic posts in our immediate Pacific neighbours with a smattering from the Persian Gulf states.

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

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.

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.

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.

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. (2001) The Physicist, 38, 124
Skilled Vacancy Survey. Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs.(monthly, on the internet)

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.

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
TOTAL positions

370 500+ 470 540 655
Government Commonwealth CSIRO Permanent 3.8 4.6 4.3 2.9 4.0
Temporary 5.0 8.3 4.3 2.5 5.8
Not CSIRO or defence Permanent 4.6 8.0 13.6 11.9 11.2
Temporary 8.6 3.0 2.8 3.7 4.1
15.0 17.0 14.5 12.4 16.3

3.0 4.6 1.7 5.6 2.1

1.6 3.4 1.9 2.2 5.8
Teaching Permanent 0.8 2.4 3.2 3.9 6.4
Temporary 4.0 2.0 2.6 3.0 3.7
26.1 24.8 27.0 28.0 23.2
Technical and Other
2.7 2.2 1.3 1.7 0.8
Cooperative Research
Centres (CRC)

4.0 2.0 3.2 2.0 1.5
Private Industry
and Commerce
non sales

5.1 7.2 6.3 9.0 3.8
Management and sales

2.2 1.8 2.2 2.5 0.8
School teaching,
mostly independent
(physics stipulated)

5.4 5.0 7.3 5.2 5.8
Overseas, various

7.5 3.8 3.9 3.5 4.7

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

90 81 20 25 30

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 $43k-75k
PDF $37k-53k
ARC PDF $40k-49k
ARC Research Fellow/QEII Fellow $46k-55k
Research Fellow/Research Associate $46k-50k
Senior Research Fellow $57k-65k-75k
Tutor/Associate Lecturer $36k-49k
Lecturer $51k-61k
Senior Lecturer $64k-75k
Reader, Associate Professor $73k-85k
Professor/Director $100k-140k
Senior/Research Scientist DSTO $49k-65k; 70k-83k
Experimental Scientist CSIRO $37k-54k
Senior/Research Scientist CSIRO $49k-60k; 64k-87k
Other Commonwealth similar
Engineer/Scientist $48k-63k
Modeller $47k-$65k
Science-based Managers $60k-65k

In round figures, first degree graduates start at about $35k,
first post-doctoral appointments at about $40k,
professionals with some experience at about $50k.


Page Created: 26th April 2002, most recent update 26th April 2002
by Sundance Bilson-Thompson.

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