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SPIE Professional October 2012

Optics and photonics professionals highly satisfied, new SPIE survey shows


More than 80% of respondents in a major new SPIE salary survey of the optics and photonics community say they enjoy their work and find it meaningful.

The survey, the largest such international study of the industry, found that the median salary of $73,000 worldwide was about the same as last year when SPIE published the first annual survey.

Although salaries vary widely from region to region, rocket scientists continue to be the most highly paid, with a median income of $108,500, down slightly from the 2011 median of $110,000.

The SPIE 2012 Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report is being mailed to all SPIE members with the print issue of SPIE Professional.

“Results showed that 82% of respondents say they enjoy their work, 87% find their work meaningful, and 89% respect the work of their peers,” according to SPIE executive director Eugene Arthurs. “Majorities are also satisfied with their pay, their supervisors, and the positive recognition they receive.”

2012 SPIE Salary ReportThe section on job satisfaction is new to the survey this year, along with additional data exploring differences between men’s and women’s perspectives.

Median salaries for women trail those of men in every region, with the greatest gap in higher-income Asia and the lowest in the Middle East.

Arthurs noted that the data points to the need for the photonics industry to look more closely at pay equity between men and women. “It is disappointing that such a forward-looking and innovative sector mimics the historical injustice in this,” he said. “We hope to see more women quickly realize the leadership positions in the field that their work and capabilities deserve.”

Salaries vary widely between regions

As in last year’s survey, specific job opportunities vary between regions, with the highest median salaries in North America and Oceania and the lowest in Asia and Africa. Broken down by country, median salaries are highest in Switzerland, the United States, Japan, and Australia.

Aerospace and semiconductor disciplines enjoy the highest median earnings, exceeding $100,000, and civil/environmental disciplines peg the lower end of the scale with a median of $35,896.

Salaries also differ widely by employer type. Within non-academic organizations, the range of median salaries is $62,861 to $111,004. For academic organizations, the range is $21,537 to $75,000.

“We hear from our academic members in many industrialized regions that their graduates often have several job offers awaiting them on graduation, and we hear from industry that some regions have trouble finding qualified new employees,” Arthurs said. “So there clearly is opportunity in many areas for jobs that not only pay well but also yield quality-of-life satisfaction and the ability to make a difference.”

Although the wide gaps are consistent with other surveys of workers in scientific fields, Arthurs says, “We look forward to the day when this level of opportunity will be there for optics and photonics graduates everywhere.”

He added, “The stability evidenced by similarities in year-over-year results and the strong salary levels as compared to levels across all jobs reflect the strength of the optics and photonics sector and the high value that these jobs contribute to the economy.” 

More information or to download the report: spie.org/salary

SPIE salary report key findings
  • Median salary is $73,000, with a wide distribution driven by geographic region and employer type.
  • Factors most associated with higher salaries are North American location and non-university employment.
  • Survey respondents are highly satisfied with their jobs overall: 82% enjoy their work, while 87% find it meaningful.
  • Median salaries are 37% higher for men than for women, with the largest gap at private labs and the smallest gap at civilian government employers.
  • The highest-paid discipline is aerospace, with a median income of $108,500.

Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.

To receive a print copy of SPIE Professional, the SPIE member magazine, become an SPIE member.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201210.04

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