Astronomy related careers
Age 25+ (For 1 to 3 years)
Newly qualified PhDs compete for short term research fellowships that last between one and three years. These appointments can be in the UK or abroad and there is significant competition. As many as half the applicants secure a fellowship.
Long term employment
About half of the research fellows mentioned above go on to secure long term posts in research. They are often employed as academic members of staff in university departments and have teaching duties. There are also posts at research laboratories such as the Astronomy Technology Centre, Edinburgh and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories. Pay is on the academic scale.
WHAT IS RESEARCH?
Astronomy, Geophysics and Planetary Science research covers both observational and theoretical work. Observations are made over a wide range of wavelengths and require a variety of techniques. The instruments may be on the ground or be in orbit above the obscuring atmosphere and weather. Researchers often become involved in developing new telescopes and detectors and in the design of space probes destined for the planets. Theoreticians specialize in developing 'models' to describe and explain the results of observations and to make predictions that can then tested by further observations. Computers feature prominently in almost all aspects of astrophysics and geophysics.
As well as the posts that combine research with, usually, teaching, there are demanding, satisfying and equally important career paths in maintaining and administering observatories, developing instruments, electronics, software engineering.
Although much data is now collected remotely, there are often opportunities to travel abroad to make observations and to participate in conferences. Perhaps it sounds obvious but, particularly at visible wavelengths, astronomy often involves working at night! However radio-astronomers, geophysicists and all those making use of satellite data can work round the clock!!
Finally, there are scientific papers to write, where you present your findings to the rest of the scientific community. It is a gratifying and thrilling achievement to explain, from the results of your own research, the workings of a distant galaxy or the internal structure of a planet. This is what being a researcher is all about!
IS THERE LIFE AFTER RESEARCH?
All along the way you will be given dire warnings (often laced with impressive statistics) to the effect that it is virtually impossible for anyone to become a professional researcher. If you are truly determined, ignore them! The competition for research jobs is no worse than in any other pure science like physics or chemistry and about a quarter of all PhD students go on to find permanent jobs in research. Moreover, the training helps you develop marketable skills that can lead to equally fulfilling careers in teaching, scientific journalism, computing, electronics or even accountancy. It is almost unheard of for an astronomy research student to be unemployed for more than a short period. Finally, working in research is simply great fun!-