O.k. I changed my major a year ago to physics from mechanical engineering and I have never looked back. Like you I was concerned with just changing my major but I read a lot of articles, job descriptions, and information about the education needed. I have copied and pasted the one article that really helped me decide on whether or not to switch to a physics major. The article comes from a reliable source ( http://www.bls.gov
) and it is very detailed Yahoo said the whole article was too long. Also I have included the direct link to the article at the bottom of this answer.
Here is an excerpt of the article entitled Employment and Jobs (the jobs section is the part that I think you will be most interested in):
Employment [About this section] Back to Top
Physicists and astronomers held about 18,000 jobs in 2006. Physicists accounted for about 17,000 of these, while astronomers accounted for only about 1,700 jobs. Many physicists and astronomers held faculty positions in colleges and universities. Those classified as postsecondary teachers are not included in these employment numbers. (See the statement on teachers—postsecondary elsewhere in the Handbook.)
About 38 percent of physicists and astronomers worked for scientific research and development services firms. The Federal Government employed 21 percent, mostly in the U.S. Department of Defense, but also in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and in the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Energy. Other physicists and astronomers worked in colleges and universities in nonfaculty, usually research, positions, or for State governments, information technology companies, pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing companies, or electronic equipment manufacturers.
Although physicists and astronomers are employed in all parts of the country, most work in areas in which universities, large research laboratories, or observatories are located.
Job Outlook [About this section] Back to Top
Physicists and astronomers should experience average job growth but may face competition for basic research positions due to limited funding. However, those with a background in physics or astronomy may have good opportunities in related occupations.
Employment change. Employment of physicists and astronomers is expected to grow at 7 percent, about as fast as the average for all occupations during the 2006-16 decade. The need to replace physicists and astronomers who retire or otherwise leave the occupation permanently will account for many additional expected job openings.
Federal research expenditures are the major source of physics- and astronomy-related research funds, especially for basic research. Although these expenditures are expected to increase over the 2006-16 projection period, resulting in some growth in employment and opportunities, the limited science research funds available still will result in competition for basic research jobs among Ph.D. holders. However, research relating to biotechnology and nanotechnology should continue to see strong growth.
Although research and development expenditures in private industry will continue to grow, many research laboratories in private industry are expected to continue to reduce basic research, which includes much physics research, in favor of applied or manufacturing research and product and software development. Nevertheless, people with a physics background continue to be in demand in information technology, semiconductor technology, and other applied sciences. This trend is expected to continue; however, many of the new workers will have job titles such as computer software engineer, computer programmer, or systems analyst or developer, rather than physicist.
Job prospects. In recent years the number of doctorates granted in physics has been somewhat greater than the number of job openings for traditional physics research positions in colleges and universities and in research centers. Recent increases in undergraduate physics enrollments may also lead to growth in enrollments in graduate physics programs, so that there may be an increase in the number of doctoral degrees granted that could intensify the competition for basic research positions. However, demand has grown in other related occupations for those with advanced training in physics. Prospects should be favorable for physicists in applied research, development, and related technical fields.
Opportunities should also be numerous for those with a master’s degree, particularly graduates from programs preparing students for related work in applied research and development, product design, and manufacturing positions in private industry. Many of these positions, however, will have titles other than physicist, such as engineer or computer scientist.
People with only a bachelor’s degree in physics or astronomy are usually not qualified for physics or astronomy research jobs, but they may qualify for a wide range of positions related to engineering, mathematics, computer science, environmental science, and some nonscience fields, such as finance. Those who meet State certification requirements can become high school physics teachers, an occupation in strong demand in many school districts. Some States require new teachers to obtain a master’s degree in education within a certain time. (See the statement on teachers—preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary elsewhere in the Handbook.) Despite competition for traditional physics and astronomy research jobs, graduates with a physics or astronomy degree at any level will find their knowledge of science and mathematics useful for entry into many other occupations.
Despite their small numbers, astronomers can expect good job prospects in government and academia over the projection period. Since astronomers are particularly dependent upon government funding, Federal budgetary decisions will have a sizable influence on job prospects for astronomers.