Early Career Professional salaries in optics and photonics: How much do they earn, and what inspires them?

Early Career Professionals (ECPs) earn a worldwide median salary of $54,197 working in optical engineering, electrical engineering, physics, and other light-focused fields.
09 July 2020
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 (ECPs) in optical engineering, electrical engineering, physics, and other light-focused fields. The average salary for ECPs was $62,244 worldwide in 2019, while the median was $54,198. This table, and all other data on this page, come from the 2020 Optics and Photonics Salary Report.

25th Percentile Median 75th Percentile
$28,999 $54,198 $81,877
2019 salaries, N=906


What types of organizations do ECPs work at, and how much are they paid?
Almost half of ECPs work at for-profit companies, where their median salaries are higher than their counterparts at academic or government/military organizations.

Type of Organization Percentage of Workers Median Salary
For-profit companies 47% $69,231
Academic institutions 37% $43,362
Government/Military 16% $47,321


What are the most popular roles for ECPs and how much are they paid?
One half of ECPs fill jobs in either applied research or engineering/design, with the engineering/design group receiving the highest median salary at $67,000. Basic researchers/scientists account for 17% or Early Career Professionals and are paid $44,568. ECPs entering the university or education sectors are paid the least, with a median salary of $29,012.

Job Role Percentage of Workers Median Salary
Applied research 25% $50,000
Engineering or design 25% $67,000
Basic research or science 17% $44,568
Application or product development 7% $58,969
College professor, teacher, or other educator 7% $29,012
Technical or lab 6% $51,500
Production, manufacturing, or quality assurance 5% $65,926
Sales 3% $52,500
Project or program management 3% $56,708
Consultant 1% $40,554
Marketing 1% $50,283


Are there gender differences in representation and pay?
Gender representation and pay for ECPs follows broader patterns in the optics and photonics community, where women make up 19 percent of the workforce and have lower median salaries. However, the gender pay gap is smaller for ECPs (4.5%) versus the broader community, where the gap is 21%. 

Gender Percentage of Workers Median Salary
Male 77% $54,595
Female 23% $52,200


Which countries have the highest ECP salaries in optics and photonics?
Early Career Professionals in the United States, Germany, and Japan enjoy the highest salaries. The large gap between the United States and other countries is largely driven by the high percentage of ECPs working at for-profit companies. 

Rank Country Median Salary
1 United States $84,000
2 Germany $58,495
3 Japan $53,675
4 Canada $51,573
5 United Kingdom $48,079
6 South Korea $38,943
7 Taiwan $36,809
8 Italy $29,861
9 Peoples Republic of China $21,759
10 Russia $11,271
11 India $9,192


What kinds of engineering degrees are most popular?
More than two-thirds of ECPs are engineers (68%). These engineers are trained in a variety of specialties, including:

   •  Optical engineering: 24%
   •  Electrical engineering: 22%
   •  Mechanical engineering: 12%
   •  Biomedical engineering: 10%
   •  Materials engineering: 6%

These results suggest that engineering students can look forward to graduating and entering a specialized field like optical engineering or choose a more general tracks of electrical, mechanical, or software engineering.

For more information on optics and photonics salaries, plus details on methods and sampling, visit the 2020 SPIE Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report.


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