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

Early Career Professionals (ECPs) earn a worldwide mean salary of $74,702 working in optical engineering, electrical engineering, physics, and other light-focused fields.
29 August 2022
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 $74,702 worldwide in 2021, while the median was $55,523. This table, and all other data on this page, come from the 2022 Optics and Photonics Salary Report.

25th Percentile Median 75th Percentile
$32,749 $55,523 $85,000
2021 salaries, N=643


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

Type of Organization Percentage of Workers Median Salary
For-profit companies 46% $70,000
Academic institutions 40% $47,750
Government/Military 14% $58,723


What types of roles are ECPs filling and how much are they paid?
Applied research and engineering/design are the most popular roles for ECPs, with the engineering/design group receiving the highest median salary at $75,000. Basic researchers/scientists account for 17% of Early Career Professionals and are paid a median salary of $53,000. ECPs entering the university or education sectors are paid the least, with a median salary of $45,600.

Job Role Percentage of Workers Median Salary
Applied research 27% $54,000
Engineering or design 26% $75,000
Basic research or science 17% $53,000
Application or product development 8% $54,206
College professor, teacher, or other educator 7% $45,600
Technical or lab 6% $47,430
Production, manufacturing, or quality assurance 5% $50,253
Project or program management 3% $70,016
Sales 2% $54,777


How did ECPs 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
Networking or referral through personal contact 35%
Online job advertisement 30%
They were recruited 16%
They contacted the employer directly (no job was advertised) 11%
University career office 5%
Professional association 3%


Are there gender differences in representation and pay?
Women represent a minority of ECPs, but their median earnings are two percent higher than their male counterparts. ECPs who prefer to self-describe their gender make up only one percent of respondents, but earn the highest median salary.

Gender Percentage of Workers Median Salary
Women 22% $56,232
Men 78% $55,000
Prefer to self-describe 1% $120,000


Which countries have the highest ECP salaries in optics and photonics?
Early Career Professionals in the United States, Germany, and Canada earn the highest median salaries.

Country Median Salary
United States $84,331
Germany $63,070
Canada $57,075
United Kingdom $51,461
Netherlands $46,865
Japan $46,498
France $41,671
Peoples Republic of China $37,710
South Korea $35,509
Spain $33,878
Italy $33,314
India $9,393
Turkey $9,027


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

Engineering Degree Median Salary Percentage of Workers
Electrical $60,866 25%
Optical $67,336 21%
Mechanical $55,000 13%
Engineering Physics $53,641 11%
Biomedical $60,500 8%
Other $24,229 6%
Materials $74,113 4%
Chemical $65,496 3%
Computer $34,504 3%


What inspired ECPs 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 25%
The opportunities, excitement, and challenges presented by a growing field 24%
Scientific curiosity about light 20%
A course at university 16%
Interest in solving particular problems with light 13%
A course at secondary school 2%


For more information on optics and photonics salaries, plus details on methods and sampling, visit the 2022 SPIE Optics and Photonics Salary Report.


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