Photonics salary survey from SPIE shows high job satisfaction

Sept. 6, 2012
Bellingham, WA--The SPIE 2012 Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report found that more than 80% of the survey respondents enjoy their work and find it meaningful.

Bellingham, WA--Updating a similar effort from last year, the SPIE 2012 Optics and Photonics Global Salary Report ( found that morethan 80% of the survey respondents enjoy their work and find it meaningful (providing more incentive for students to begin a career in photonics). SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, says that the survey—which was conducted this spring--is the largest such international study of the optics and photonics industry.

"Results showed that 82% of respondents say they enjoy their work, 87% find their work meaningful, and 89% respect the work of their peers," said SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs. "Majorities are also satisfied with their pay, their supervisors, and the positive recognition they receive, with 67% agreeing with the statement 'I love my work and I feel fortunate to get paid for doing it'." The section on job satisfaction was new this year, as were additional questions aimed at exploring differences between men's and women's perspectives.

The survey found that median salaries—at $73,000 worldwide—were about the same as last year although varying widely from region to region. 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. The survey summary notes that the wide gaps are consistent with other surveys of workers in scientific fields, including Nature magazine's global study of scientists.

As in last year's survey, the highest median salaries are in North America and Oceania, and the lowest in Asia and Africa. 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-$111,004. For academic organizations, the range is $21,537-$75,000.

"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," Arthurs said. Specific job opportunities vary between regions, but the trends are positive. "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," he said. "So there clearly is opportunity in many areas for jobs that not only pay well but also yield quality-of-life satisfactions and the ability to make a difference. We look forward to the day—and it will come—when this level of opportunity will be there for optics and photonics graduates everywhere, as the Century of the Photon goes global."

Regarding gender salary differences, Arthurs noted that the data point up the need for the industry to look more closely at pay equity. "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." The salary results can be viewed at

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, a not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies, serving nearly 225,000 constituents from approximately 150 countries and offering conferences, continuing education, books, journals, and a digital library in support of interdisciplinary information exchange, professional growth, and patent precedent. In 2011, SPIE provided more than $2.7 million in support of education and outreach programs.


About the Author

Gail Overton | Senior Editor (2004-2020)

Gail has more than 30 years of engineering, marketing, product management, and editorial experience in the photonics and optical communications industry. Before joining the staff at Laser Focus World in 2004, she held many product management and product marketing roles in the fiber-optics industry, most notably at Hughes (El Segundo, CA), GTE Labs (Waltham, MA), Corning (Corning, NY), Photon Kinetics (Beaverton, OR), and Newport Corporation (Irvine, CA). During her marketing career, Gail published articles in WDM Solutions and Sensors magazine and traveled internationally to conduct product and sales training. Gail received her BS degree in physics, with an emphasis in optics, from San Diego State University in San Diego, CA in May 1986.

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