Do you love studying solar systems and learning everything you can about stars, planets, and the universe?
If so, you may have a future career as an astronomer. While being an astronomer may seem like one of those careers that people only have in movies, becoming an astronomer is actually completely doable.
If you’re looking to become an astronomer but aren’t sure where to get started, check out this guide to discover everything you need to know about becoming an astronomer.
What Does an Astronomer Do?
Before we dive into how to become an astronomer, let’s first talk about what an astronomer does.
As an astronomer, you’ll apply the principles of mathematics and physics to learn more about the universe. You’ll gather data on the characteristics of moons, planets, stars, and other objects in the universe through the use of computer programs and telescopes.
As an astronomer, you will use astronomy optics to locate and research planets.
Most astronomers specialize in a particular type of celestial body or event, such as planetary systems or black holes. Typical duties of an astronomer include analyzing data, testing scientific theory, and writing research proposals.
As an astronomer, you’ll also compose scientific papers and present your findings at conferences around the world. Most astronomers work for scientific and research development services, while others work for universities and colleges.
How to Become an Astronomer
Now that you know what an astronomer does, let’s talk about how to become an astronomer. Here are the steps you need to take:
Meet the Educational Requirements
First things first, you need to make sure you meet the right educational requirements to become an astronomer. Here’s what you need to do:
Earn a High School Diploma
The path to becoming an astronomer all starts in high school. While astronomy classes aren’t typically offered in high school, you should take as many science classes as you can.
Focus on getting good grades and taking advanced level courses in physics, chemistry, and mathematics if possible.
Earn a Bachelor’s of Science Degree
After you earn your high school diploma, it’s time to move onto your bachelor’s of science degree.
Again, not all universities offer astronomy degrees. If the university you’re attending doesn’t offer an astronomy degree, you can major in physics or another related scientific field.
If you can, try to speak to your high school advisor to pick the right university for aspiring astronomers.
In addition to earning your bachelor’s degree, you should also join any astronomy or science-related clubs your university has to offer.
Earn a Master’s Degree
While earning a bachelor’s degree can get you a career in the field of astronomy, it doesn’t actually make you an astronomer.
To become a bona fide astronomer, you’ll need to continue your education after university. First, you’ll need to earn a master’s degree in which you’ll be able to take specialized courses in physics, astronomy, and math.
You’ll also get a chance to do some research in the field. As a part of your master’s degree, you’ll write a master’s thesis in which you deeper explore a specific astronomy topic.
Typically, a master’s degree takes two to three years to complete.
Pursue Your Ph.D
After you finish your master’s degree, it’s time to pursue your Ph.D.
During your Ph.D. studies, you’ll study a particular area of astronomy. Some areas of astronomy to look into include:
- Astrophysics: This involves looking at the physics and properties of celestial bodies
- Solar Astrophysics: This branch of astrophysics focuses on the sun, studying its properties and behaviors and how these affect the Earth
- Cosmology: This is the study of the origin, basic structure, evolution, and eventual fate of the universe
- Astrobiology: This branch focuses on living organisms on Earth and their origins, evolution, and possible outcomes, as well as whether or not extraterrestrial life exists
- Planetary Geology: This branch combines astronomy with geology, and involves learning more about the structures and behaviors of celestial bodies
While you don’t need to know what area of astronomy you want to study when you begin university, it can help to look into each of these branches so you can eventually have a better idea of what you want to study.
As a part of your Ph.D. studies, you’ll typically be offered research fellowship and internship opportunities in your particular area of study. During your Ph.D., program, you’ll write an 80 to 100-page dissertation on your particular area of study.
Getting a Job as an Astronomer
After you’ve completed your Ph.D. program, it’s time to start your job hunt. Post-graduation, you have a few different routes you can take for employment. These include:
A postdoctoral fellowship is a research position through a university. These positions allow you to focus on your area of expertise while gaining work experience.
Sometimes, you may even be able to turn your research position into a full-time job. Taking on a postdoctoral fellowship is a great option if you eventually want a career in academia.
Get a Teaching Position
After earning your Ph.D. or master’s, you can also opt for a teaching position. In order to be able to teach at a university, you’ll need a Ph.D.
Community colleges will sometimes hire those who only have a master’s, although a Ph.D. is always preferable.
Apply for a Position at an Observatory
Another option is to apply for a position as a resident astronomer at an observatory.
In this position, you’ll be able to curate exhibits, interact with the public, and write books about specific astronomy topics.
Becoming an Astronomer: Are You Ready to Start Your Career?
Now that you’ve read this guide to becoming an astronomer, it’s time to get started on your new career. Before you know it, you’ll be studying the stars and living your dream.
Be sure to check back in with our blog for more career guides and tips.