AIP Issues Study on PhD Physicists Working in National Laboratories

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Publication date: 
28 December 1995

A study just released by AIP found that 4,500 PhD physicists are
employed in 29 major Federally-Funded Research and Development
Centers.  A total of 20,000 PhD physicists are employed in 1995 in
this and three other sectors: 10,000 in academe, 3,200 in industry,
and 2,300 in government and other areas.

The "1995 National Laboratory Workforce Report" was produced by
Jean M. Curtin and Christine Cassagnau of the Education and
Employment Statistics Division of the American Institute of
Physics.  The four-page report is the first released by the
division on employment at the national laboratories, with another
survey to be conducted in about two years. 

A total of 29 centers "with a significant physics component in
their missions" were surveyed by telephone.  The centers contacted
included Los Alamos, Sandia, Fermi National Accelerator, MITRE
Corporation, and the Space Telescope Science Institute.

In looking ahead to employment prospects, the report states,
"Respondents were asked what the short-term future might look like
for their labs/units.  Although many were uncertain, the majority
of contacts indicated that the most they could hope for is to
maintain the status quo."  In assessing the future, some of the
respondents replied: "We foresee an inhibiting of
growth...optimistic is to hold even."  "Stable...due to budget
pressures there won't be any growth."  "Dismal...foresee a
continual slow attrition unless policy change occurs."

Early retirement programs resulted in a retirement rate of 4.3% in
1993 and 1994.  The report estimates the retirement rate will drop
to 3.7% in 1995 and 1996.  The estimated gross turnover rate of
permanent, PhD-level physicists in the national laboratories
increased from 4.3% in 1994 to 4.6% in 1995.  This translated to a
projected 160 openings in 1995.  The report estimated that in 1995
the labs had about 270 postdoctoral positions to fill.  The
turnover rate is approximately 45%.

The outlook for 1996 anticipates low growth in the estimated number
of employees with physics PhD's.  Permanent positions at the
centers will increase from 3,450 in 1995 to 3,490 in 1996.
Postdoctoral appointments will increase from 600 to 620.  Visiting
scientists and other temporary positions will increase from 430 to

Utilization of PhD physicists varies among employment sectors.
More than 70% of PhD physicists at the national laboratories work
in physics.  This compares to less than one-third of PhD physicists
similarly employed by industry.

The survey also looked at the number of PhD physicists working in
laboratories participating in Cooperative Research and Development
Agreements.  87% of the laboratories are involved in one or more

A free copy of the report may be obtained by contacting
jcurtin [at] or by calling 301-209-3071.

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