CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become an astronomer.

Step 1

Is becoming an astronomer right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do astronomers do?
Career Satisfaction
Are astronomers happy with their careers?
What are astronomers like?

Still unsure if becoming an astronomer is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become an astronomer or another similar career!

Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.

Step 2

High School

If you're interested in pursuing a career in astronomy, there are several high school courses that can provide a strong foundation in relevant subjects. While specific course offerings may vary between schools, here are some recommended courses that can help prepare you for a future in astronomy:

  • Physics: Physics is fundamental to understanding the laws and principles governing the universe. Take courses in physics to learn about motion, forces, energy, electricity, magnetism, and optics. This will provide you with a solid understanding of the physical principles that underpin astronomical phenomena.
  • Mathematics: Mathematics is the language of science, and a strong mathematical background is crucial for astronomers. Take courses in algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. These subjects will help you develop analytical and problem-solving skills essential for studying and interpreting astronomical data.
  • Earth and Space Science: This course can provide a general overview of the Earth's geology, atmosphere, and solar system. It may cover topics like planetary science, the structure of the Earth, celestial mechanics, and basic astronomy concepts. This course can introduce you to key astronomical concepts and give you a broader perspective on the field.
  • Computer Science: Astronomy heavily relies on data analysis and computational modeling. Learning computer programming languages, such as Python or Java, can be immensely helpful for processing and analyzing astronomical data and developing simulations. Consider taking computer science courses or engaging in programming activities to build these skills.
  • Chemistry: While not directly related to astronomy, a solid foundation in chemistry can be beneficial. It helps in understanding the composition of celestial objects, spectroscopy, and chemical reactions occurring in space. Take chemistry courses to gain knowledge of chemical principles, atomic structure, and chemical reactions.
  • Advanced Placement (AP) Courses: If your high school offers Advanced Placement courses, consider taking AP Physics, AP Calculus, and AP Chemistry. These courses provide a more in-depth exploration of the subjects and can potentially earn you college credit if you pass the corresponding AP exams.

Additionally, it's valuable to engage in extracurricular activities related to astronomy, such as joining astronomy clubs, participating in science fairs, or attending astronomy camps or workshops. These activities can provide hands-on experience, exposure to astronomical equipment, and opportunities to interact with professionals in the field.

Step 3

Formal Education Steps

Becoming an astronomer typically requires a formal education path that includes several key steps. Here is a detailed breakdown of the educational journey to become an astronomer:

  • Bachelor's Degree: The first step is to earn a bachelor's degree in a relevant field such as physics, astronomy, astrophysics, or a closely related discipline. During your undergraduate studies, you will take courses in physics, mathematics, and astronomy to develop a strong foundation in the fundamental principles of the field. It is also beneficial to engage in research projects or internships to gain hands-on experience and explore different areas of astronomy.
  • Master's Degree (Optional): Some individuals choose to pursue a Master's degree in Astronomy or a related field before proceeding to a Ph.D. program. A master's degree can provide additional research experience, coursework, and a deeper understanding of a specific subfield of astronomy. It can also enhance your competitiveness when applying for Ph.D. programs.
  • Ph.D. Degree: A Ph.D. in Astronomy or Astrophysics is typically required for positions in research, academia, and advanced roles in the field. The Ph.D. program is focused on conducting original research and making significant contributions to the field. It involves coursework, comprehensive exams, and the completion of a doctoral dissertation based on independent research. The Ph.D. process can take several years to complete, during which you will work closely with faculty advisors and collaborate with other researchers in the field.
  • Postdoctoral Research: After obtaining a Ph.D., many astronomers pursue postdoctoral research positions to further develop their research expertise. Postdocs are temporary research positions typically lasting two to three years. They offer opportunities to work on cutting-edge research projects, collaborate with renowned scientists, and gain additional research experience before seeking permanent positions.
  • Career Advancement: Once you have completed your formal education and gained research experience, you can pursue various career paths as an astronomer. These include academic positions as professors or researchers at universities and research institutions, positions in government agencies or national observatories, or employment in the private sector, such as in the aerospace industry or science communication.

Throughout your career, it is important to stay engaged in the field by attending conferences, publishing research papers, and participating in collaborative projects. Continued learning and professional development are essential to stay up-to-date with advancements in the field of astronomy.

Step 4


There are several fellowships available for astronomers at different stages of their careers. Fellowships provide financial support, research opportunities, and professional development to astronomers, allowing them to pursue independent research and further their expertise in the field. Here are a few notable fellowships for astronomers:

  • NASA Hubble Fellowship Program (NHFP): The NHFP is a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship that supports outstanding early-career researchers in astrophysics. It offers a three-year research fellowship with an annual stipend, research and travel funds, and opportunities for collaboration with NASA scientists. The NHFP allows fellows to conduct cutting-edge research using data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and other space-based observatories.
  • Einstein Fellowship: The Einstein Fellowship is a competitive postdoctoral program funded by NASA. It provides support to recent Ph.D. recipients in astrophysics and related fields. Fellows have the freedom to pursue independent research at a host institution of their choice for up to three years. The fellowship includes a stipend, research funds, and access to resources and collaborations within the astrophysics community.
  • Carnegie-Princeton Fellowship: The Carnegie-Princeton Fellowship is a joint program offered by the Carnegie Institution for Science and Princeton University. It provides postdoctoral opportunities for researchers in observational, theoretical, and instrumentational astrophysics. Fellows have access to state-of-the-art facilities and mentorship from renowned scientists at both institutions. The program offers a competitive salary, research funds, and the chance to engage in collaborative research projects.
  • Humboldt Research Fellowship for Postdoctoral Researchers: This fellowship, offered by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany, supports postdoctoral researchers from around the world in various disciplines, including astronomy. It provides researchers with the opportunity to conduct research at a host institution in Germany for up to two years. Fellows receive a monthly stipend, research expenses, and additional benefits to support their work.
  • Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) Fellowship: The CfA Fellowship is a highly regarded postdoctoral program that supports early-career astronomers and astrophysicists. Fellows have the opportunity to conduct research at the CfA, collaborate with leading scientists, and access world-class observational and computational facilities. The fellowship offers a competitive salary, research funds, and access to resources and seminars to enhance professional development.

These are just a few examples of the many fellowships available to astronomers. Additionally, various research institutions, universities, and observatories offer their own fellowship programs. It is important to regularly check astronomy societies, research organizations, and job boards to stay updated on the latest fellowship opportunities in the field.

Step 5

Employment Opportunities

Astronomers have diverse employment opportunities in both academic and non-academic settings. Here are some common employment avenues for astronomers:

  • Universities and Research Institutions: Many astronomers pursue careers in academia and research, working as professors, researchers, and postdoctoral fellows at universities and research institutions. They conduct research, teach courses, mentor students, and publish scientific papers. Employment in academia often offers the opportunity to lead research projects, collaborate with other scientists, and secure research grants.
  • Observatories and Space Agencies: Astronomers can work at observatories, both ground-based and space-based, where they use telescopes and other instruments to observe celestial objects. Observatories may be operated by universities, government agencies, or international organizations. Employment at observatories involves conducting observational research, data analysis, and instrument development.
  • Government and National Laboratories: Government agencies, such as NASA in the United States, employ astronomers to conduct research, analyze data from space missions, and contribute to the development of space exploration programs. National laboratories also offer employment opportunities for astronomers, particularly in areas like astrophysics, cosmology, and space science.
  • Private Industry: Astronomers can find employment in the private sector, particularly in companies that specialize in aerospace, defense, satellite technology, and scientific instrumentation. In these roles, astronomers may contribute to the development of space-based technologies, satellite communications, or the design and manufacture of astronomical instruments.
  • Science Communication and Outreach: Some astronomers choose careers in science communication and outreach, where they engage with the public, communicate scientific concepts, and promote astronomy education. They may work as science writers, museum curators, planetarium educators, or public outreach coordinators for research institutions or science centers.
  • Data Science and Analytics: With the increasing availability of large astronomical datasets, there is a growing demand for astronomers with expertise in data analysis and machine learning. Astronomers can find employment in industries that require data scientists and analysts, such as finance, healthcare, and technology.

The job market for astronomers is competitive, and advanced degrees, such as a Ph.D., are typically required for research and academic positions. Networking, gaining research experience, and building a strong publication record are crucial for securing employment opportunities in the field. Additionally, astronomers may need to be flexible and open to opportunities worldwide, as research positions and projects may be located in different countries or institutions.

Step 6

Professional Associations

The following associations offer various benefits, including access to scientific publications, networking opportunities, grants and awards, and career resources. They also organize conferences, workshops, and symposia where astronomers can present their research, exchange ideas, and collaborate with colleagues. Joining these associations can help astronomers stay updated on the latest developments in the field and connect with a broader community of professionals who share their passion for astronomy.

  • International Astronomical Union (IAU): The IAU is the largest and most prestigious organization for professional astronomers worldwide. It promotes and safeguards the science of astronomy, coordinates international collaboration, and organizes scientific meetings and conferences. The IAU also plays a significant role in naming celestial objects and defining astronomical standards and nomenclature.
  • American Astronomical Society (AAS): The AAS is one of the leading organizations for astronomers in the United States. It serves professional astronomers, educators, and students by promoting research, organizing conferences, publishing journals, and providing career resources. The AAS also advocates for funding and policy support for astronomy research and education.
  • Royal Astronomical Society (RAS): The RAS is a prestigious society based in the United Kingdom that promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, and geophysics. It organizes scientific meetings, publishes journals, and awards prizes and grants to outstanding researchers. The RAS also engages in public outreach and education initiatives to promote the understanding and appreciation of astronomy.
  • Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP): The ASP is a professional society that focuses on science education and outreach in astronomy. It aims to enhance the understanding and appreciation of astronomy through publications, conferences, workshops, and educational resources. The ASP also provides support and professional development opportunities for educators and astronomy communicators.
  • International Dark-Sky Association (IDA): While not specifically for astronomers, the IDA is an organization dedicated to preserving dark skies and reducing light pollution. Astronomers greatly benefit from their efforts to protect and promote optimal observing conditions. The IDA works with communities, organizations, and governments to raise awareness about light pollution and advocate for responsible outdoor lighting practices.