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Careers for Astronomy

Astronomy / February 21, 2016

Because most jobs are in basic research and development, a doctoral degree is the usual educational requirement for astronomers. Master's degree holders qualify for some jobs in applied research and development, whereas bachelor's degree holders often qualify as research assistants or for other occupations related to astronomers.

Education and Training

A PhD degree in physics or closely related fields is typically required for basic research positions, independent research in industry, faculty positions, and advancement to managerial positions. This prepares students for a career in research through rigorous training in theory, methodology, and mathematics.

Additional experience and training in a postdoctoral research appointment, although not required, is important for astronomers aspiring to permanent positions in basic research in universities and government laboratories. Many astronomy PhD holders ultimately teach at the college or university level.

Holders of a bachelor's or a master's degree in astronomy often enter an unrelated field. However, they are also qualified to work in planetariums running science shows, to assist astronomers doing research, and to operate space-based and ground-based telescopes and other astronomical instrumentation.

Other Qualifications

Mathematical ability, problem-solving and analytical skills, an inquisitive mind, imagination, and initiative are important traits for anyone planning a career in astronomy.

Work Environment

Most astronomers do not encounter unusual hazards in their work. Astronomers who make observations with ground-based telescopes may spend many hours working in observatories; this work usually involves travel to remote locations and may require working at night. Astronomers whose work depends on grant money often are under pressure to write grant proposals to keep their work funded.

Astronomers may need to work at odd hours to observe celestial phenomena, particularly those working with ground-based telescopes.