The popularity of the show, The Big Bang Theory has given nerds and their careers a boost with the five main characters earning a living as physicists, an aerospace engineer, an astrophysicist …and a waitress.
Of course these people are actors, but if characters Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter were really two physicists working at CalTech — The California Institute of Technology, a private research university located in Pasadena — how much money would they make and what the heck do they really do?
The US Department of Labor describes this scholarly gig as someone who conducts research into physical phenomena, develops theories on the basis of observation and experiments, and devises methods to apply physical law.
Not everyone understands the job description, but the paycheck is something everyone wants to see. In real life, how much would these research scientists make to pay for all of their comic books, action figures and Thai food?
According to Glassdoor and Indeed, the average staff scientist salaries at Caltech is $74,920. Research scientists at Caltech pull in an average of $89,981. Salaries for research scientists in Pasadena are in the $50,000 to $115,000 range. Cooper is described in the series as ‘Senior Theoretical Physicist’ at Caltech this position pulls in about $100,000 a year or more.
Astrophysicist Rajesh Koothrappali gazes at stars for a living which is more lucrative than it sounds.
In 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics put the median annual salary of astronomers at $87,260. For those working at universities, the median annual salary for astronomers working in research and development was $92,040 and $64,070.
Koothrappali’s BFF is aerospace engineer Howard Wolowitz, (Aerospace engineers design aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. Also, some, like Wolowitz, go into space.) The average salary for this specialty is about $103,000, but there is probably a big bonus for putting on a flight suit and floating through space for weeks on end in the name of research.
The show has inspired many to go into these fields once reserved only for the awkwardly smart.
Corinne DaMore, a 2010 graduate of Torrey Pines High School is studying to be an engineer and attends UC Irvine and admits to watching the show.
“I love science, and the show makes me laugh, but in reality the money and job prospects looked to be very encouraging,” she said. “I also wanted to be a paramedic but my parents convinced me that this would be a more fulfilling career. Besides, I received some very nice big scholarship money so it’s working out great so far.”
DaMore plans on earning her Master’s degree and eventually attending grad school.
“The more schooling the more money,” she added.
Engineering and computer science are the two majors that offer bachelor’s-degree earners the most lucrative returns over the course of their careers, according to date put out by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2012. The data estimated 40-year earnings for people who maintain full-time employment, broken down by choice of college major and occupation.
Engineering majors who enter management earn the most—$4.1-million, said the report.. Education majors make the least, at $1.8-million, and those education majors who work in service jobs “earn less than people whose highest attainment is a high-school diploma,” the report said. Across all majors, the data showed that earning a bachelor’s degree is worth roughly $1-million more than earning a high-school diploma, and earning a doctoral degree is worth an additional $1-million. An accompanying report also examined the employment characteristics and median annual income of adults who earned degrees in different fields.
The main female character on the show is Penny — her last name is a secret — and she is a waitress and aspiring actress. She works at the upscale chain restaurant, The Cheesecake Factory. Glassdoor estimates that Cheesecake Factory server salaries range including tips is from $27,000-$33,000.
And then there are the real-life actors who portray these hard-working characters on the show, which, according to TV Week, has an audience around the 18 million mark.
The actors, at $350,000 an episode (there are 25 episodes in a season), make more money than any of the well-educated characters they play on TV.
This is great news for Penny if she ever gets her big break.