Jobs in Physics in 2002: a new equilibrium?
John R. Prescott
Department of Physics
University of Adelaide SA 5005

This is the twenty-fourth report in the series of annual surveys carried out by the author for the Australian Institute of Physics. Over the past five years, employment opportunities for physicists appeared to have settled down to something over 500 per annum, to be compared with around 700 which applied for the decade to 1990.  In 2002 they held this level, in spite of falls in some areas. Changes noted last year in the distribution of positions within this total have persisted.  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 2001 are to be found in Prescott (2002). 

The Surveys

The surveys are based on posi­tions advertised in The Weekend Australian and in the Higher Education section  of the Austral­ian on Wednesdays.  If they are not also advertised in the print media, positions within Australia and New Zealand are included from John O'Connor's email address at:

An increasing number of positions is being advertised in this way.  There is a trend for advertised positions to omit details and to refer applicants to a web site.

One hundred and sixty six ARC Fellowships at various levels were offered in 2002.  These are not advertised in the press.  Thirty five were awarded in Physical and Earth Sciences and a notional twelve are included in the present survey, based on past experience.  In 2001 more than one third of the prestigious Federation Fellowships were awarded to physics or physics-related scientists, in 2002 it was one fifth. Although they are not included in the present count, at least one had already produced an advertised job, which was included. 

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.  This year, as we do from time to time, we sampled the Age and Sydney Morning Herald for the third quarter of 2002.  As usual, the Adelaide Advertiser was sampled for the full year.  About half the advertisements in these "local" papers were for positions already noted in the Australian.  School teaching accounted for a large fraction of the others.  It was disturbing to find that positions in Commerce and Industry were far fewer than when these newspapers were last sampled five years ago.  This reflects a general observation and is discussed further below. Pro rata, based on the sampling of capital city newspapers, as  reported in the the ANZ Bank Employment Advertisement Series, it is estimated there were that at least as many positions advertised in the local press Australia-wide as in the Australian.  This, at least, continues a long-established pattern.

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 said to be true for optoelectronics, although evidence for this is elusive.   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.  In one case, the heading stated "Chemist" while the body of the advertisement called for a "radiation physicist".  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 2002 are shown in table 1, which also includes those for the previous four years.  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 Advertisement 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 about steady, both as a percentage and as a base.  For many years about one third of all jobs were in this group.  In 2002 the proportion rose to 42%; and somewhere round 40% may represent a new equilibrium.  CSIRO had about 60 positions on offer over a very wide span of activities. Much less than half were continuing.  If we accept the contention that CSIRO is being taken strongly in the direction of commercialisation by the new management, it can be discerned in the pattern of advertisements.  Defence, comprising DSTO, Defence Intelligence and Defence Signals, peaked in mid-year but advertised hardly at all in the fourth quarter. No obvious reason could be seen.  There was a strong emphasis on imaging.  DSTO advertised regularly for "Graduates", without specified duties.  "Sources" say that DSTO has difficulty filling available positions. The main operations of DSTO are in Adelaide but the proportion of Defence jobs in the Eastern states increased considerably in 2002.  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 consistently.

The direct Commonwealth involvement in research over recent years 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.  For overall expenditure on research, Australia stood 20th of 36.

State and Territory Governments appear to have satisfied their requirements for environmental monitoring for the time being. The most interesting entries in this area were for the Australian Synchrotron Project which is, of course, a Victoria State Enterprise.  Victoria also advertised two posts for directing "Innovation" for the state. In passing, one of these post has recently been readvertised in 2003. 

Most Hospital and Medical posts are in state hospitals with an occasional post in private practice.  The demand has been relatively small in the past but has been steadily growing so that it has become a significant component of the job market, at over forty positions in 2002.  Almost all these positions are now advertised on email by the Australasian College of Physical Scientists and Engineers in Medicine, in much the same way as the AIP does.  These are included in our count. New Zealand job opportunities are found on the same email circulation.

The areas with which Universities are associated, teaching, research and their support were down somewhat. Teaching positions included seven Deans of Science.  The term "Director", noted last year, has not reappeared.  A new discipline of "biophotonics" was advertising for staff; and a Lecturer in Materials Science was sought for the Bachelor of Science (Surf Science and Technology) at Edith Cowan. An Associate Professor position was advertised in Townsville to head The Astronomy Centre which is, "expected to become self-funding within three years".  The count includes six positions in mathematics departments for physics topics, such as relativity or guided-wave optics. 

Limited term Research positions in Universities continue to be the biggest single group at 21.5% of all positions, although down in absolute numbers to 135 from the 2001 record of 150. As usual ANU was the biggest single advertiser but otherwise positions were distributed widely across the university scene.

It was noted above that Government research expenditure places Australia near the top of the OECD table for governments. Expenditure by Industry and Commerce places us near the bottom.  The year 2002 did nothing to improve the situation.  In an extraordinary state of affairs, there were but twelve jobs advertised in Industry and Commerce for the entire year. In correspondence, the Minister of Science challenged my contention that the fall in jobs in industry is recent and argued that it represented a long-term trend. The statistics do not support this but, even if they did, the trend continued downward, while jobs in general and physics in particular were increasing after the recession (fig.1).  Some inspired new ideas are needed to promote research in the non-government sector and reverse the trend. 

It is surely ironic that the theme of the AIP Congress in July 2002 was,  Physics and industry working together.  A preview of the present report, based on the previous eighteen months' data, was presented at the Congress as a poster.  It was gratifying to hear Shiela Tobias, a keynote speaker argue the theme that physics prepares students for a wide variety of occupations, and refer kindly to your present scribe. 

As to the statistics on employment in Industry, in the decade 1980-1990, the annual average for jobs in industry was 104.  Leaving out the recession years, 1991-92 (see figure 1) the average from 1993-2002 has been 61, including CRCs which have an essential industrial component. This difference is statistically significant at the three standard deviation level. In short, physics jobs in industry did not recover from the recession and have continued to fall.

As did its predecessors, the present Federal Government has expressed concern about the lack of commitment by industry. In 2001 the Government announced its response to the National Innovation Summit, and the report Chance to change, by the Chief Scientist.  Further changes were announced during 2002.  To quote, "The R&D Tax concession  is the Government's principal support mechanism to increase the amount of R&D performed by businesses in Australia".  The proposals are modifications to the unevenly successful New Start programme.  It may be recalled that this replaced the former 150% tax rebate for R&D. Whatever the intention, this took away more than half of the physics jobs in industry in 1996--and they have not returned.  While there is no reason to challenge the claim of the Government that the present R&D Start programme has been oversubscribed, little if any of it has ended up in the physical sciences; and the OECD comparison remains a reproach.  Of course, the reproach lies not on the government alone, and so long as companies of all sizes do not recognise the need to be innovative, the problem will remain. Perhaps the community at large also need educating. 

Co-operative Research Centres (CRC) and Centres of Excellence (CoE) sought only two physicists in 2002 indicating a satisfied demand, at least for the time being. With a new round beginning there will be new opportunities: six of the eight new CoE were in physics fields

The demand for school physics teachers was down marginally although strong in the three capital city newspaper surveyed.  Although these are nearly all in the independent schools, Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia Departments of Education placed targeted advertising.  The two latter advertised financial incentives for teachers to be retrained for Physics and/or Mathematics teaching. 

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

Geophysics sank again to its lowest level in twenty years.  The mining firms are not out there looking for new prospects at the moment.

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 or modelling. 

Sources of further Information

A record was kept of the salary range for each position, in those cases where it was given.  These are summarised 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.

Scanned advertisements are available about twice a month on the web site of the SA branch of the AIP.

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 is 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 be misinterpreted.

A list of advertisements cut from  The Australian and sometimes from the metropolitan dailies is issued in hard copy at approximately fortnightly intervals.  Members of the AIP 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.


Help from members of the SA branch of the AIP is appreciated, particularly Gillian Robertson and Derek Leinweber who 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.  (2002) The Physicist, 39, 46

Skilled Vacancy Survey. Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (monthly, on the internet).

Legend for figure


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.

AIPJOB02 25/02/03

Table 1
All jobs advertised in The Australian for which a degree or diploma in Physics or Applied Physics provides a suitable starting point. A proportion of positions from Australian email sources has been included since 2000.
All subdivision figures are percentages.

1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
TOTAL positions

500+ 470 540 655 550
Government Commonwealth CSIRO Permanent 4.6 4.3 2.9 4.0 4.4
Temporary 8.3 4.3 2.5 5.8 7.3
Not CSIRO or defence Permanent 8.0 13.6 11.9 11.2 9.9
Temporary 3.0 2.8 3.7 4.1 4.0
17.0 14.5 12.4 16.3 17.2

4.6 1.7 5.6 2.1 2.4

3.4 1.9 2.2 5.8 7.8
Teaching Permanent 2.4 3.2 3.9 6.4 4.2
Temporary 2.0 2.6 3.0 3.7 4.9
24.8 27.0 28.0 23.2 21.5
Technical and Other
2.2 1.3 1.7 0.8 1.5
Cooperative Research
Centres (CRC)

2.0 3.2 2.0 1.5 0.4
Private Industry
and Commerce
non sales

7.2 6.3 9.0 3.8 0.7
Management and sales

1.8 2.2 2.5 0.8 1.4
School teaching,
mostly independent
(physics stipulated)

5.0 7.3 5.2 5.8 4.6
Overseas, various

3.8 3.9 3.5 4.7 7.7

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

81 20 25 30 20

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 $40k-60k
PDF $41k-58k
ARC PDF $50k
ARC Research Fellow/QEII Fellow $63k-75k
Research Fellow/Research Associate $51k-63k
Senior Research Fellow $65k-75k
Tutor/Associate Lecturer $42k-51k
Lecturer $53k-65k
Senior Lecturer $66k-78k
Reader, Associate Professor $73k-85k
Professor/Director $100k-140k
Senior/Research Scientist DSTO $49k-67k; $72k-86k
Experimental Scientist CSIRO $42k-54k
Senior/Research Scientist CSIRO $52k-58k; $64k-88k
Other Commonwealth similar
Medical Physicist $37k-55k-69k
Engineer/Scientist $39k-63k-80k
Modeller $49k-$65k
Science-based Managers $55k-65k some to$100k

In round figures, first degree graduates start at about $37k
first post-doctoral appointments at about $43k,
professionals with some experience at about $50k.

Page Created: 27th October
by Peter Dawson.

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