Astrophysicists use principles of astronomy and physics to study our solar system, stars, galaxies and the universe.
Median: $110,000 per year
Mathematics, Physics, Computer Science
Minimum Educational Level
Master’s degree or PhD
Astrophysicists use principles of astronomy and physics to study our solar system, stars, galaxies and the universe at large. Astrophysicists deal with some of the most challenging scientific questions related to how the universe began and how it evolved. They develop various theories, analyze data and test their hypotheses.
Astrophysicists can be divided into two groups – theoretical and observational. Observational astrophysicists study physical processes in the universe, while the theoretical try to explain different phenomena using computer models and simulations. Both work with highly sophisticated equipment, including telescopes, spectrometers and powerful computers.
Most astrophysicists are employed by universities or government institutions. College astrophysicists make observations using ground- and space-based telescopes, use computer software to analyze the data. Finally, they report their findings to other scientists at conferences and publish their work in professional journals such as the Astrophysical journal. Astrophysicists employed by colleges are usually involved in teaching as well.
Future astrophysicists can expect regular working hours in indoors environment, that can range from a classroom/office to an observatory. Occasionally, research may require extended working hours especially in the beginning stage of the career, as the data collection tasks are often delegated to research assistants and less senior employees. Observations take place during evenings or nights, whenever data collection is required or when there is a special cosmic event that is worth recording.
In the later stage of the career, an astrophysicist can expect to be involved more in planning and data analysis rather than observation and data collection.
Travelling is required during the data collection stage of research, since many observatories are located in remote places. Conferences or other forms of cooperation between scientists might require travelling too.
Aspiring astrophysicists should take physics and mathematics classes in high school. They should also go beyond the standard curriculum and learn the basics of astronomy as early as possible. Try to find one in your school or within the community.
In high school you should aim at high grades, which will help you to get admitted to a high quality astrophysics program later on. Try to enroll to advanced courses as well, if they’re available.
Bachelor’s degree is most of the time just an intermediate step in the career of an astrophysicist. Bachelor’s holders work usually on entry level positions as research assistants, technicians or observatory assistants. Note that a bachelor’s degree in astrophysics might not be offered by many universities. In that case, pursuing a double major from physics and astronomy or a combination of major and a minor should be enough to be eligible for an astrophysics master’s.
Master’s degree gives astrophysicist more opportunities – some will stay working as research assistants while others may find jobs as consultants. Note that most graduate programs require candidates to specialize in subfields such as radio astronomy or cosmology.
Ultimately, the PhD degree gives you the opportunity to work on own research and advance much further. However, this can be a lengthy process – in the U.S. it can take more than 5 years to complete. Working and completing a PhD on the side might be one of the options.
Information about salaries and various job data: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Image Credits: NASA