CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become an astronomer.
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:
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Take standard and advanced high school courses in physics, mathematics, and chemistry. This first step is the foundation for the study of astronomy.
Earn a master’s degree in the physics/astronomy field. This two-year step in the process to becoming an astronomer is focused on specialized courses, research opportunities, and the writing of a master’s thesis that explores a specific topic or idea in astronomy.
Doctorate Degree & Ph.D. Dissertation
Complete a Ph.D. in a specific area of astronomy, such as radio, solar, cosmos, or galactic astronomy. Before committing to a particular sub-discipline, take time to determine which area is of greatest interest to you. The Ph.D. portion of your studies will include internships and fellowships that will provide invaluable experience in the field.
To earn your Ph.D. you will need to write a dissertation proposal. The dissertation, which can range from eighty to a hundred pages in length, is an in-depth study of a particular topic in astronomy. Some examples of dissertation topics are exploration of star formations, examination of mass planets, and analysis of radio pulsars. Following the writing of your dissertation, you will need to pass qualifying exams to graduate with a Ph.D.
A postdoctoral fellowship will make you a competitive job candidate. Once you earn your Ph.D. you can qualify for university research positions. These positions allow you to gain experience in the profession and focus on your area of expertise. Such fellowships may sometimes lead to fulltime positions, often in academia as a professor of astronomy.
In addition to the option of entering academia as an astronomy professor and researcher, there are other routes to applying your expertise:
Apply for positons at an observatory
Observatories offer the opportunity to interact with the public in the role of resident astronomer. The job generally also entails curating astronomy exhibits and writing books or papers on specific areas in the field.
Apply for positions in the aerospace or computer science industry
These positions offer the option to work in an area other than academia. They may be ideal for individuals who prefer to work directly with other astronomers and scientists.
Apply for positions at a space agency
Working for a space agency will allow you to collaborate with other astronomers and scientists on the study of the universe. The largest space agency in the United States is NASA.
The American Astronomical Society (AAS) is the foremost professional association for astronomers in North America. The society holds annual meetings, publishes scholarly journals, maintains a job board, and advocates for the astronomical sciences.
The International Astronomical Union facilitates international cooperation to promote and advance the profession. The organization arranges nine international symposia each year. It also defines astronomical nomenclature, and serves as the authority for naming celestial bodies and their features. The society offers networking opportunities through divisions covering areas of specialization, commissions, and working groups.