Should an Aspiring Astronomer Consider Working in Other Countries?

Question: Hello! My name is Tyr. I’m 17 year old from Israel and in a few months I’m going to graduate from high school. I’ve been fascinated with physics, astronomy and mathematics since I was a little boy.  When I was 10, I realized Israel is not moving forward in those fields, so for the last 5 years I’ve been making my plans on moving to the U.S. where I could pursue this dream. With the coming elections, though, it would seem that NASA is going to remain very underfunded and the job pool may remain small or even shrink. I was thinking about learning German or Swedish so I can go get a job at ESA or the university in Uppsala. What are your thoughts? Do you think I should move to Europe or to the U.S., or stay in Israel altogether and hope for the best?  — Tyr

Answer: It is always useful to think beyond your country of origin when it comes to careers in the sciences.  Most sciences are an international endeavor, and astronomy is no exception.  Many astronomers originally from one country find employment, sometimes permanent, in other countries.  It is difficult to predict where one might end-up, so the best course of action is to remain open to possibilities for employment in other countries.

Jeff Mangum

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A Question About Pursuing a Career in Astronomy

Question: I’ve been interested in astronomy and all things space all my life and I’ve never taken the time to actually look into the job outlook until now. Everyone is telling me that if I become an astronomer then I won’t be able to support myself or pay off college. And that’s if I can even find a job. Everywhere I’m looking, I’m seeing that jobs available in the astronomy field and few and far between, a small pool of jobs for a larger pool of people and now all I can see is failure of I take this path. I’m a junior in high school and I can’t help but feel that I’m running out of time. I love astronomy and it hurts me that I might not be able to pursue that dream. Advice?  — Taylor

Answer: I often tell students who are interested in pursuing a career in astronomy to make sure that they develop skills that will make them capable of obtaining jobs in related fields, such as physics, engineering, or computing.  For example, most graduate students pursuing PhD degrees in astronomy develop marketable computing and data analysis skills which make them viable applicants to jobs in computing, software development, and even finance if they decide to pursue careers beyond astronomy.  So, I think that if you, as most students pursuing advanced degrees in astronomy do, acquire good computing and data analysis skills, you should be able to develop a “backup plan” in the event that jobs become more difficult to secure in your chosen field of astronomy.

Jeff Mangum

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Are Grades and Undergraduate Research Important for Graduate School Applicants?

Question: Hi, I am an undergraduate freshman at University of California, Berkeley. I am interested in astronomy and currently in the path of an Astrophysics major.  My question is, what is the most important advice you can give to a college undergraduate pursuing a suitable graduate school at the field of study he/she is in.  I find it difficult to keep my GPA up and I’ve been reading that your GPA does not matter however it does in terms of finding research early on and applying to graduate school. Right now, I believe the most important thing to do is to look for research and find connections.

Answer: You hit the nail on the head with your last sentence.  Grades are one piece to an undergraduate’s application to graduate school.  The other components are GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and research/publications that the undergraduate has participated in as an undergraduate.  It is best to treat all of these factors as equally important, as there is no formula which weights one factor more or less than the other when it comes to the evaluation of graduate school applications.  So, I would say that you have the right idea in that you should get involved in research early in your undergraduate career.  A demonstration that you are keenly interested in astrophysics research through a strong undergraduate research record would definitely make your graduate school application much more attractive.

Jeff Mangum

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What Graduate Degree is Right for Me?

Question: Hello! I am very interested in theoretical physics, planetary science, and engineering. What graduate degree is right for me?  — Cole

Answer: Most professional physicists and astronomers have doctorate (PhD) degrees.  As for which doctorate program to pursue with your interests in theoretical physics, planetary science, and engineering, I suspect that a graduate program that specializes in planetary science would cover all of them.  With a focus on planetary science you could pursue both theoretical and instrumentation (engineering) projects.

Jeff Mangum

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Interested in a Career as an Astronomer

Question: Hey! I’m Tina and I’m from Sri Lanka. I’m 16 years old. I want to be an astronomer. I’m really interested in the universe and how it started to be this wonderful. What kind of educational requirements should I have to become an astronomer?  — Tina

Answer: Great to hear that you are interested in pursuing a career in science!  For information on a career path to becoming an astronomer, take a look at the posts in our Careers in Astronomy section of this blog.  If you have further questions after looking over this information, let me know.

Jeff Mangum

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Requirements for a Career in Astronomy

Question: hi there. My name is Calvin, And I’m a twelve year old boy. I’d love to join the astronomers. I just have 1 question. What is required to get a job there and is this job a challenge?  — Calvin

Answer: Great to hear that you are interested in pursuing a career in astronomy Calvin.  You can find quite a bit of information about what is required to pursue a career in astronomy by reading the questions and answers posted to the Careers in Astronomy section of this blog.  If you have further questions after looking over this information let me know.

Jeff Mangum

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A Question About Changing Careers to Astronomy

Question: I am Viraj Mulay,24 from India. I am very passionate about astronomy and the related topics like stars,planets,milkyway,blackholes,etc since childhood. Unfortunately i could not pursuing career in astronomy. I am currently working in finance department and not satisfied with my current work profile. Kindly guide me shall i pursue astronomy as hobby or still i can switch it as my profession.  — Viraj

Answer: You should take a look at the Careers in Astronomy section of this blog for past questions and answers regarding a career in astronomy.  Your situation is not unusual, so I believe that you can find some useful information in our careers section.

Jeff Mangum

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What are the Requirements for Being an Astronomer?

Question: Hey! I’m 14 years old and I’m really into astronomy, it’s my passion, I really love it. So I want to have a career as an astronomer and I want to know what are the requirements because I’m in grade 10 currently and I want to work on my self more to get better grades for entering a good college that can help me pursue my dream. Thank you.  — Duha

Answer: Great to hear that you are interested in pursuing a career in astronomy.  You will find a lot of advice on what you should study in high school and college in order to pursue a career in astronomy on the Careers in Astronomy section of this blog.  The recipe for what to do while in high school is not really very complicated.  Take as many math and science classes that you can so that you can gain a good background in those subjects.  That solid background in math and science will help you a lot when you enter college to study astronomy.  Good luck!

Jeff Mangum

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Is a Doctorate Degree Required to Work as an Astronomer?

Question: Hi my name is Susie, I’m 15 years old and I’m really interested in astronomy. I’ve been reading many articles about astronomy from sources like NASA, and National Geographic. Reading these articles were fascinating and very interesting to me to know how much technology has advanced throughout the years for scientists to gain more knowledge in what was once unknown before. Since I want to become an astronomer and study in the field of cosmology or planetary science, I want to know what are the basic steps to become an astronomer and do I need to have doctoral degree in order to work anywhere as an astronomer?  — Susie

Answer: Great to hear that you are interested in becoming an Astronomer!  There are quite a few responses to questions very similar to yours on my Careers in Astronomy section of this blog which you should check out.  The basic steps are to first take as many math and science classes that you can in high school so that you can gain a good foundation in these subjects for college.  In college, major in astronomy, physics, or chemistry.  Also while in college it is very useful to try to participate in research with one of your professors.  This research can give you an idea as to what it is like to actually work as a scientist.  Toward the end of your undergraduate studies you will need to research graduate schools and ultimately decide on a graduate school to attend.  In graduate school, you will work on what will become your doctorate research, which when finished will result in your having been awarded a shiney new PhD in astronomy!  Congratulations!

To answer your main question, most professional astronomers do have PhD degrees in astronomy, physics, or chemistry, so it is best to set your sights on that goal.  There are jobs in astronomy which require only a bachelors or masters degree, but there are many fewer of those kinds of jobs than those that require doctorate degrees.  Good luck!

Jeff Mangum

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Following a Career in Astronomy Later in Life

Question: Since my childhood I have been fascinated by astronomy and the unknown objects lurking in the darkness of our outer Solar system. I did different things before going to college in Switzerland in my mid-twenties to study physics. But after several increasingly difficult years I dropped out. I had already written a thesis about observing asteroids and was excellent in conducting experiments, but non-applied maths and advanced theoretical lectures (statistical thermodynamics, advanced quantum theory, field theory…) were particularly hard for me. Now I have the pressure of getting a non-academic certificate to be able to work – we have the dual educational system. But I still want to go abroad one day – where a university degree is usually required, even for work where an academic degree would not be required in Switerland (but an equally qualified vocational degree being awarded by non-classical, but applied sciences universities) – and to end up being involved in Solar system research. Getting older does not facilitate this lifetime goal. But it would help to at least be able to follow a path. How could such a path look like? Thank you!  — Lucius

Answer: Many people change careers mid-life to follow a passion to pursue scientific research.  Ultimately it is that passion that determines the success or failure of any individual to succeed at their chosen career.  My suggestion is that you look over the Careers in Astronomy section of this blog, where I have provided information and answered many questions similar to yours regarding how to pursue scientific research as a profession.  Good luck!

Jeff Mangum

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