How To Become An Astrophysicist
Career Video: Astrophysicist
Do you have endless enthusiasm for space and its celestial bodies? Are you curious about the origins of the universe, this planet, and the elements that foster life? Does your high aptitude for science and mathematics help you solve complex problems? Do you enjoy testing theories and hypotheses, fine-tuning the scientific process? If you are interested in physics, astronomy, and academic research, then a career as an astrophysicist could be perfect for you.
Why Become An Astrophysicist
Astrophysicists use their knowledge of physics (physical properties) and astronomy (celestial bodies and space) to make conjectures regarding formations, origins, and destruction of the many celestial entities existing in the universe. They are concerned with discovering and connecting events, such as the birth of the universe, galaxies, planets, stars, and life. One of the main interests of astrophysicists is finding environments that are conducive to sustaining life. The objectives of their research and explorations hope to determine how the universe works, how humans came to be on Earth, and whether other living creatures exist in the universe.
This occupation is research-oriented and astrophysicists use many types of equipment, including computers, lasers, telescopes, and other instruments/equipment. Their knowledge also helps them to create and design such equipment and the computer software programs they use. Astrophysicists may be responsible for research, writing, and teaching, but much of their work also involves conducting experiments.
To do their jobs, they must have mathematical and scientific aptitude, especially in regards to astronomy and physics. Additionally, they must have the following qualities and traits:
- Critical thinking
- Communication skills
- Active learning
- Evolving knowledge
- Analytical (systems and operations)
- Problem solving complex issues
Astrophysicist Work Environment
Astrophysicists work for institutions that research and provide the public with information regarding astronomy and its relation to life. Astrophysicists work for colleges and universities; government agencies (especially NASA); public and private research organizations; and science centers, observatories, and planetariums.
The majority of their work is completed indoors, in offices and research laboratories. Many are employed as teachers and academic researchers, working in classrooms and offices. Some may work directly in observatories; however, much of the work of an astrophysicist can occur remotely, via the internet. Astrophysicists typically work full-time, during normal business hours, unless their work involves physical research in the darkness.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salaries for astronomers and physicists were $105,410 and $109,600, respectively. Those who work for the federal government tend to earn more money, with a median salary of $141,660 for astronomers. Astronomers employed by colleges and universities can expect to earn a median salary of $71,760.
Astrophysicist Career Outlook
The career outlook for occupations involving physics and astronomy is average with a 7-percent job growth. The federal government is the largest investor in research for these fields, and in recent years, the funding for many programs has diminished.
Positions in this occupation are extremely competitive, mostly because of the limited positions due to high numbers of research projects with inadequate funding resources. Astrophysicists with doctoral degrees and considerable post-doctoral experience will have the most opportunities in higher-paid positions. However, individuals with mathematic and scientific competence have many opportunities beyond astrophysics.
Entry-level positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Research assistants and consultants usually have a master’s degree, while academic researchers and professors must have a doctoral degree.
Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree. An undergraduate degree in physics, astronomy, or astrophysics can help individuals gain employment in many civil service occupations. Such occupations include technicians, pilots, observatory assistants, and other positions applicable in the field. For those wishing to become an academic astrophysicist, a degree in physics may be most beneficial.
Step 2: Obtain a graduate degree. Employment is possible in research and development for those with a Master of Science in Astrophysics. Earning a master’s degree is one way of obtaining a doctoral degree; however, some students may enroll directly into a Ph.D. program after completing their undergraduate degrees. A Ph.D. in astrophysics will allow an individual to conduct academic research for any employer. Government research agencies require a Ph.D., and for those looking to teach at the academic level, 3 to 6 years’ post-doctoral experience may be required.