By Nsim Team
If you want to become an astronomer, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for a career as an astronomer:
Those who become astronomers are individuals that have a keen interest in celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole; they tend to read over and above what is taught in the classroom.
They are quite passionate about astronomy, and are motivated by the prospect of expanding our understanding of energy, matter and natural processes throughout the universe.
Those who become astronomers are well educated in math, physics and astronomy, and they have the patience to pursue a career with low turnover and few vacancies.
Astronomers conduct theoretical and observational research of celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole, in order to expand our understanding of energy, matter and natural processes throughout the universe.
Astronomers cannot perform their experiments directly, as they can’t weigh, touch or smell their subject matter. Instead, they must rely on observing the radiation (visible light, radio, infra-red) that comes to earth.
The job description of an astronomer can vary, as most astronomers concentrate on a particular question or area of astronomy, such as planetary science, solar astronomy, the origin or evolution of stars, or the formation of galaxies. The job description of an astronomer can also vary depending on whether they work in observational or theoretical astronomy.
Observational astronomers are responsible for testing predictions or theories by designing and executing observational programs that use sophisticated digital cameras attached to telescopes, specialized computer programs and spacecraft to gather and analyze data.
Theoretical astronomers are responsible for working to understand the physical processes within our universe. For example, they may use complex computer models of a celestial body’s interior in order to determine the processes that are responsible for that body’s appearance.
Generally, astronomers spend the majority of their time using or creating computer programs to analyze data, writing research papers and attending meetings.
In order to qualify for entry-level jobs in astronomy, you typically need a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in astronomy, astrophysics or physics.
Having a bachelor’s degree in one of these areas will qualify you to work in technical positions in observatories, planetariums and science centres.
A Master of Science (M.Sc.) degree is required for most research assistant and consulting positions.
A doctoral (Ph.D.) degree is needed if you want to work for a college or university as a teacher or a researcher. You will also need a Ph.D. to work in most federal government research positions. Most astronomers who have doctoral degrees work as post-doctoral fellows for 3-6 years before finding permanent employment.
In order to be successful in a career as an astronomer, you need to posses a certain set of skills and personality traits. These skills and traits will not only allow you to perform your job duties with competence; they will allow you to endure the challenges of this career.
•A natural interest in observing the radiation that comes to earth
•Able to work in a science in which you can’t weigh, touch or smell your subject matter
•A natural aptitude for science and mathematics
•Well-versed in working with instrumentation, remote sensing and spectral observations
•Able to use specialized computer applications to solve unusual problems
•The ability to pay very close attention to detail
•The ability to work as a member of a team
•Curiosity, imagination and a capacity for reflection and contemplative study
Jobs for astronomers are very competitive, as there is much interest in them and relatively few positions available. For example, in North America there have only been around 150 job openings for astronomers in recent years.
Astronomers commonly spend 3-6 years in post-doctoral positions before finding a permanent job. Employers in the academic, aerospace, communications, computer program development and other industries hire astronomers. These employers include:
•Colleges and universities
•Public and private observatories
•Science centres and planetariums