How Many Years in College to be an Astronomer?

Question: I am a 14 year old girl and want to be a astronomer when I get older. I was wondering how long you would have to be in college.  – Elena

Answer: Most astronomers have doctorate (PhD) degrees in astronomy or physics.  A quick tally of the number of years that it takes to get a PhD degree can be accounted as follows:

  • 4 years for your undergraduate (bachelors) degree.
  • At least 5 years, but likely not more than 7 years, to complete your graduate studies to earn your PhD degree.

You might also be interested in visiting my Careers in Astronomy section for further information on topics relevant to those interested in pursuing careers in science, and especially astronomy.

Jeff Mangum

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A Career in Astronomy?

Question: Hi, would you recommend someone to study astronomy from your current work experience? and why.  – Lindokuhle

Answer: I suggest that you look over the “Careers in Astronomy” posts elsewhere in this blog for some information regarding careers in astronomy.  There are many reasons to pursue a career in the sciences, and the decision to do so really rests on your personal desires and interests.

Jeff Mangum

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Questions About a Career in Astronomy

Question:  Hi, I am a freshman and am currently enrolled in an Earth Science course at my high school. We are required to interview someone involved in a field which uses knowledge of Earth Science for our final project portfolio. If you could answer these questions for me that would be great!

1. Where do you work and what is your job title?
2. What are your degree(s)?
3. How long have you been a professional in your field?
4. In your own words, what is astronomy?
5. How does the field of astronomy incorporate knowledge of earth science?
6. Describe what a career in astronomy entails — what an astronomer does.
7. Where might someone in this career be employed? (types of industry, branches of government, etc.)
8. What would be the appropriate education or training required for this career? Please include possible electives for high school as well if possible.
9. What are the advantages of becoming an astronomer? Disadvantages?
10. What are some personality traits that would be helpful in pursuing a career in astronomy? (drive, patience, etc.)
11. What’s the best tip you could give to an aspiring astronomy student?

– Sadie

 

Answer(s):

  1. I am an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville Virginia.
  2. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Astronomy from the University of California at Berkeley and Masters of Arts and PhD degrees in Astronomy from the University of Virginia.
  3. I have been a professional astronomer since earning my PhD in 1990.
  4. The description that I can think of to describe “astronomy” is to say that astronomy is the study of how the universe works.  To be more specific, it is the study of the physical characteristics and evolution of all of the material that comprises our universe; from galaxies to dust particles.
  5. One area of astronomy that incorporates what has historically been the study of earth science is the characterization of the properties of extrasolar planets.  As we study the properties of extrasolar planets we are starting to be able to study their atmospheres and composition, which involves many of the skills involved in earth science.
  6. A career in astronomy can be quite varied in its tasks and duties.  Some astronomers work at universities or colleges and spent most of their time teaching courses and conducting research.  Others work at research facilities supporting telescope facilities and conducting research.  In general, though, the vast majority of astronomers conduct their own research and participate in education and public outreach activities.
  7. Employment in astronomy is generally either at universities or colleges or at federally-funded research facilities.  A smaller fraction of astronomers pursue careers in industry in a variety of roles that allow them to use their knowledge of physics and mathematics in support of various industrial activities.
  8. Essentially all professional astronomers have PhD degrees in astronomy, physics, or chemistry.  It is also sometimes useful for astronomers to have an understanding of the instrumentation used in our profession, so a knowledge of electronics is often useful.
  9. The main advantage of a career in astronomy is that, for the most part, we are allowed to pursue interesting scientific questions of our own design.  Most astronomers also have a fair amount of freedom to set their own work schedules.  A slight downside to a career in astronomy, and in the sciences in general, is that salaries are not commensurate with the amount of time that we spend working.
  10. Most astronomers are personally driven and inquisitive individuals.  We don’t need to be told to do most tasks as we know that tasks need to be completed in order to make progress.  I think that most astronomers take pride in the work that they do, so are highly motivated to complete their work, whether it be research, observatory support, or teaching, in the most efficient manner possible.
  11. The best tip that I could give to an aspiring high school student who is interested in astronomy is to learn as much math and science as possible.  Astronomers are basically physicists, and math is the language of physics.  A good background in physics and math is essential for a productive career in astronomy.

Jeff Mangum

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What High School Courses are Required to be an Astronomer?

Question:  What high school/college fields are required to be an astronomer? – Scotti

Answer: You should check out the Careers in Astronomy section of this blog for information on the career path(s) for astronomers.  You might also want to look at my Student Resources page for further information.

Jeff Mangum

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Astronomer Career Path

Question:  Hi, I’m currently considering exactly what career path I should take, and astronomy is one that I’m looking into.  I know that there’s not many openings in this area, and I just  want an honest opinion as to what the chances are that I’d ultimately end up in my desired position.  Obviously I would work hard and am in advanced math and all that, but it appears to me as if very few make it.  – Kevin

Answer:  Let me point you to my blog section on “Careers in Astronomy”.  You can also check-out my “Student Resources” page which points to several places with information on careers in the sciences.  As for your prospects for success at finding a permanent job in astronomy, there are many factors which make this hard to predict.  I always tell students interested in pursuing a career in the sciences that if that is really what they want to do, then they should just do it and everything will work itself out.  It is always best to be optimistic!

Jeff Mangum

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Benefits of a Career in Astronomy

Question:  Hi , I’m in high school and was asked what are the benefits of your career that you have chosen and as a resolute I chose astronomy.  What kind and how are the benefits to this career?  – Alonso

Answer:  You should take a look at some of the other posts in this “careers in astronomy” thread for further information.  If you are interested in a career as a scientist, or specifically an astronomer, many of the questions and answers elsewhere in this category will likely answer your question.  Most astronomers enjoy the freedom to study a variety of interesting astrophysical problems, while at the same time also enjoy the challenge of trying to figure out how the universe works.

Jeff Mangum

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What is an Astrogeologist?

Question:  I am a sophomore and I have been fascinated with anything about space for as long as I can remember. I’m am currently researching about the astronomy careers. I plan to be an astro geologist and I’m still not sure what this job really involves or what it takes to pursue in this career. So can anyone tell me?  – Racheal

Answer:  Astrogeologists, as you might expect, combine the fields of astronomy and geology to study the terrain, composition, formation, and evolution of planets, asteroids, and comets.  Note that this study includes not just the planets in our solar system, but also those planets being discovered in increasing number beyond our solar system (exoplanets).  As with any field that combines aspects of two different scientific disciplines, you will need to become proficient in both astronomy and geology.  Many university astronomy and geology programs have researchers who work as astrogeologists, so you should have no problems pursuing this field in college.  For general information about careers in astronomy see the related postings in the archives of this blog.

Jeff Mangum

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Pros and Cons of Being An Astronomer

Question:  What are the pros and Cons of the job as an astronomer?  – Johny

Answer:  The Careers in Astronomy section of this blog contains quite a bit of information that would answer this question.  In general, a career in astronomy is just like a career in any other profession.  It has its positives and negatives.  I think that the biggest positive that a career in astronomy has is the flexibility one has to work on a variety of interesting projects on a daily basis.  You should check out the blog posts within the Careers in Astronomy section for further details.

Jeff Mangum

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Interview Questions on Your Career as an Astronomer

Question:  I have an Interview to ask!! Is for a school project!! – Melarie

Q: What is your name?
A: Jeff Mangum

Q: What is your job title?
A: Scientist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory

Q: What is your upcoming salary?
A: The best answer I can give to this question is that astronomers don’t make high salaries, but generally make enough to get by.

Q: How many years it took you to finish your university [education]?
A: I spent 4 years studying physics and astronomy at the University of California Berkeley as an undergraduate, then 5 years studying astronomy at the University of Virginia as a graduate student.

Q: Do you like or dislike your job?
A: I like the freedom to work on a variety of interesting astrophysical problems.

Q: Was it hard to get your job?
A: Permanent positions in astronomy are very competitive, so I would say yes, it is hard to get a permanent job in astronomy.

Q: What university did you study in?
A: As I mentioned above, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Virginia.

Q: How many years you have been working on this job?
A: 20.

Q: Do you enjoy your job? Why?
A: Most of the time.  I enjoy doing research, working with students, and interacting with the general public through media such as this blog!

Q: How many hours do you spend working?
A: Most of my days are quite long.  10-12 hours each day.

Q: When do you have free time?
A: I do find time to relax on occasion.  Weekends tend to be days when I do some other things besides work.

I hope that my answers have sufficiently addressed your questions.  If you have further questions about careers in the sciences, or my career as an astronomer, please do let me know.

Jeff Mangum

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What Skills Are Needed to be an Astronomer?

Question:  What basic training is needed to become an astronomer?  – Adeshina

Answer: I have assembled pointers to several sources for this information on my Student Resources page.  You might also want to consult my previous posts on this subject.  In general, you need to obtain the skills associated with a bachelor’s degree in physics, astronomy, or a related physical science discipline.  This should give you a very deep understanding of the physical universe.  Along the way you should also become proficient in the use of computers to perform computational physics calculations.

Jeff Mangum

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