Early career salaries in optics and photonics: How much do these young engineers and scientists earn?

Early career professionals earn a worldwide mean salary of $66,569 working in optical engineering, electrical engineering, physics, and other light-focused fields.
21 September 2023
by Adam Resnick

Early Career Professional Salary Infographic


Early career professional salaries in optics and photonics
Excitement and curiosity inspire research and innovation from early career professionals in optical engineering, electrical engineering, physics, and other light-focused fields. The average salary for early career professionals (ECPs) was $62,244* worldwide in 2022, while the median was $54,198. This table, and all other data on this page, come from the 2023 Optics and Photonics Salary Report.

*All salaries are in US dollars.

25th Percentile Median 75th Percentile
$33,067 $55,631 $91,811
2022 salaries, N=1020


What sectors do early career professionals work in, and how much are they paid?
Almost half of early career professionals work at for-profit companies, where their median salaries are highest compared to other types of organizations. Government/military early career professionals earn more than their academic counterparts, but represent the smallest segment or workers.

Type of Organization Percentage of Workers Median Salary
For-profit companies 47% $74,563
Academic institutions 38% $47,967
Government/Military 15% $53,259


What types of roles are early career professionals filling and how much are they paid?
Applied research and engineering/design are the most popular roles for early career professionals, with the engineering/design group receiving the highest median salary at $74,255. Basic researchers/scientists account for 15 percent or early career professionals and are paid a median salary of $51,518. ECPs entering the university or education sectors are paid the least, with a median salary of $38,621.

Job Role Percentage of Workers Median Salary
Applied research 28% $53,510
Engineering or design 27% $74,255
Basic research or science 15% $51,518
Application or product development 7% $74,563
College professor, teacher, or other educator 6% $38,621
Technical or lab 5% $45,588
Production, manufacturing, or quality assurance 4% $61,781
Project or program management 2% $63,220
Sales 2% $83,000


How did early career professionals find their current jobs?
ECPs found their current positions primarily through personal networking or online job advertisements.

How the job was found Percentage of Workers
Online job advertisement 31%
Networking or referral through personal contact 30%
They were recruited 14%
They contacted the employer directly (no job was advertised) 9%
University career office 5%
In-person job fair 2%
Professional association 2%
Alumni network 2%


Are there gender differences in representation and pay?
Men represent a majority of early career professionals, with median earnings five percent higher than their female colleagues. Early career professional who prefer to self-describe their gender make up only one percent of respondents and earn three percent more than their male counterparts.

Gender Percentage of Workers Median Salary
Men 72% $56,872
Women 27% $54,000
Prefer to self-describe 1% $58,585


Which countries have the highest early career professional salaries in optics and photonics?
Early career professionals in the United States, Germany, and the Netherlands earn the highest median salaries.

Country Median Salary
United States $98,000
Germany $62,846
Netherlands $57,520
Canada $53,551
United Kingdom $45,956
Japan $41,613
France $40,477
Spain $36,003
Taiwan $35,869
South Korea $35,114
Italy $29,825
Peoples Republic of China $29,216
Brazil $16,412
Turkey $9,060
India $8,502


What are the most popular engineering degrees for ECPs?
More than two-thirds of early career professionals are engineers (68 percent). These engineers are trained in a variety of specialties, including:

Engineering Degree Median Salary Percentage of Workers
Optical $74,563 21%
Electrical $63,937 20%
Mechanical $74,376 13%
Engineering Physics $52,179 11%
Biomedical $58,500 9%
Materials $61,781 6%
Other $55,433 6%
Computer $37,160 5%
Aerospace or Aeronautical $43,825 3%


What inspired early career professionals to pursue careers in optics and photonics?
Early career professionals cite a variety of inspirations for their careers studying and applying light, including mentors, the opportunities of a growing field, and scientific curiosity about light.

Inspiration Percentage of Workers
Professors, teachers, or mentors 26%
The opportunities, excitement, and challenges presented by a growing field 26%
Scientific curiosity about light 19%
A course at university 18%
Interest in solving particular problems with light 10%
A course at secondary school 2%


For more information on optics and photonics salaries, plus details on methods and sampling, visit the 2023 SPIE Optics and Photonics Salary Report.


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