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Thread: Chances for a career in astronomy?

  1. #1

    Chances for a career in astronomy?

    Hi,

    i'm an 18 year old student from Switzerland who will finish Gymnasium / High School next summer (main subj. : Mathematics and Physics, although it is mainly mathematics really).

    I have a question which I hope you guys might be able to answer

    My situation is that I'm coming closer to the point where I have to decide what to do with my life and what I want to study. My teachers always tell me that all doors are open for me, because I've really never had problems with school (I usually write A's, but of course that doesn't have to mean anything for the future..). My strongest subjects are languages, I like to read and write which of course might suggest studying something in that direction. I could also imagine studying Medicine or Chemistry (though Medicine has fallen behind a bit because then I would really have to almost give up my other "hobbies", it really takes that much time..). My "dream" though would be working in some way with Astronomy. Because of time issues I'm not really following astronomy actively (watching space at night etc), but I've always been very interested in this field of science - e.g. i've had to work on a physics project about how Hubble works (incl. light spectrums etc), and it was really great. I am good at Physics and Maths, but i'm not exactly "talented" or something like that. I also don't want to study Maths or Physics since I know that actual research in astronomy is too hard for me (our teacher told me that only the best of the best get a shot at it, and the others end up doing paperwork).

    But is there also room in astronomy for jobs like as an electrical engineer (which I could study at ETH Zurich, which you might know)? Or are the chances for such a career in astronomy rather small?
    For me the question is if it is worth taking the risk, or if I should just study one of the subjects I am relatively "sure" in doing well with and just do Astronomy as a hobby..

    thanks in advance

  2. #2
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    I'll pre-empt the BA:

    There's a website associated with this board, with career advice.

    It's also a question of what you mean by "working in astronomy as an electrical engineer." I'm a software engineer and have developed systems in support of astronomy research satellites including Hubble, Rossi XTE, Wind, and Polar (and have worked with EEs doing likewise), but I haven't needed any knowledge of astronomy to do that.
    Everything I need to know I learned through Googling.

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by ToSeek
    It's also a question of what you mean by "working in astronomy as an electrical engineer." I'm a software engineer and have developed systems in support of astronomy research satellites including Hubble, Rossi XTE, Wind, and Polar (and have worked with EEs doing likewise), but I haven't needed any knowledge of astronomy to do that.
    yes, i was thinking of something like that (of course, an electrical engineer's dream could be to even build one of the next research satellites, but i try to be realistic )

    I'll take a look at the website, thanks!

  4. #4
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    I've got a question or two to add (if you don't mind me tacking stuff on to your post reptile...)

    1) from what the BA wrote about getting a PhD, would it be a bad idea to maybe get a masters, take a year or two off, see if i can find a decent job, if so great, if not, go back and get a PhD??

    2) What level of education do you need to teach at the college/university level??

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by siriusastronomer
    I've got a question or two to add (if you don't mind me tacking stuff on to your post reptile...)

    1) from what the BA wrote about getting a PhD, would it be a bad idea to maybe get a masters, take a year or two off, see if i can find a decent job, if so great, if not, go back and get a PhD??

    2) What level of education do you need to teach at the college/university level??
    1) A lot of Astronomy/Physics graduate programs are PhD only, but there are plenty of schools that offer Masters degrees. Personally, I would get the masters, even if my eventual goal was a PhD. You get the option to do research, and you may well get an opportunity to take a few more courses that way. Plus after a couple years of grad school you can put the masters degree on your resume (rather than graduate study). Employers like to see people who can set and achieve goals, and the perception would naturally be that someone who has finished a masters degree is likely to be more successful than someone who didn't finish a PhD. I imagine that holding a masters degree would not hurt you in attempting a PhD later if you so choose.

    2) If you want to teach at a University, you need a PhD. Like anything there are some exceptions to this, but to be competetive you will need the PhD.If you want to teach at a community college, the minimum requirement is a Masters degree, but I have noticed that here in California, that many junior college physics teachers are people with PhDs (many of whom are retired from working in industry). My perception of junior college teaching is that it is actually a pretty hard job to get. I am finishing my masters right now in engineering and I looked into the idea of teaching at a local junior college and the dept. chair told me that he gets about 3-4 inquiries a month for teaching positions and that he hasn't needed a new teacher in two years!

  6. #6
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    Reptile, I can't say this loud enough: IF YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING, AT LEAST GIVE IT A TRY. My son was informed at ages 12-15 that he didn't have the mental tools to excel at math or the sciences. Based on some stupid standaridized tests. Today, he's a Phd candidate in astrophysics at one of the major universities in the U.S., and he loves every minute of it. Wanting something is a powerful tool. Don't sell yourself short.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by gethen
    Reptile, I can't say this loud enough: IF YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING, AT LEAST GIVE IT A TRY. My son was informed at ages 12-15 that he didn't have the mental tools to excel at math or the sciences. Based on some stupid standaridized tests. Today, he's a Phd candidate in astrophysics at one of the major universities in the U.S., and he loves every minute of it. Wanting something is a powerful tool. Don't sell yourself short.
    I don't think that I have seen a post on this board, or any other, that I agree with more. I barely graduated fro high school, but after spending some time in the military I realized that I wanted to study engineering. Even though I never got any further than geometry in HS I eventually earned a degree in Aerospace Engineering and now work for NASA. I work in a field that is widely considered hard to find employment in, but I am here because I really wanted it. To be fair, I got a little lucky and my veteran status certainly helped me to get a government job, but if you do some research and plan things out you will find that there are all kinds of possibilities out there.

    Quote Originally Posted by reptile
    <snip>My strongest subjects are languages, I like to read and write which of course might suggest studying something in that direction.<snip>
    Never underestimate the value of being able to communicate. "Something in that direction" is EVERY JOB. An old adage in engineering is that a competent engineer who can communicate well will be more successful than an extremely proficient engineer who lacks communication skills-I have no doubt that this is true of any profession. Being good at languages will certainly help you in graduate school, since many PhD programs have a foreign language requirement.

    It sounds to me like you have all of the elements to help make your dreams a reality. Set lofty goals for yourself and enjoy the journey. If your life takes you to somewhere unexpected, that can be good too. Just try to avoid a situation where you sit around wondering what might have happened if you had done what you really wanted to do in life. [/quote]

  8. #8
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    Re: Chances for a career in astronomy?

    Quote Originally Posted by reptile
    My strongest subjects are languages, I like to read and write which of course might suggest studying something in that direction.
    In addition to what beck said, I've been told by several people who have successful careers in astronomy that you MUST be able to write well. You could be a brilliant scientist and be able to conduct all sorts of fantastic observations, but if you can't write well, you're not going to get published. I was speaking with someone at Villanova in the Astronomy and Astrophysics deptartment and she told me that, with respect to SAT scores (in which students are scored in Math and Verbal sections) they actually prefer that students have higher verbal scores than math scores if it comes to that. They can teach you the math if they need to, but if you're not fluent by the time you're 18 or 19, you might have a bit of a problem.
    I'd say just give it your all and see what happens!

    Good luck!!

  9. #9
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    Try the UK, you can do a 4 or 5 year masters in Astronomy followed by a 3 year PhD (with funding, yippeeeee) if you get at least a 2:1.

    One cautionary note, an ex of mine went into astronomy not being great at physics and she struggled a bit. Be prepared to work damn hard.

  10. #10
    thank you all so much, that really gave me some confidence

  11. #11
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    My parents and relatives have always told me that there is no job market for astronomy in my country...which is true. They are continuously telling me to go into medicine because that's where the money is. I tell them I really love astronomy and physics but they think it is just a phase I am going through.
    In a small island country like mine, astronomy isn't a good field to get into. I was wondering what other jobs there are that involve astronomy.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by §rv
    My parents and relatives have always told me that there is no job market for astronomy in my country...which is true. They are continuously telling me to go into medicine because that's where the money is. I tell them I really love astronomy and physics but they think it is just a phase I am going through.
    In a small island country like mine, astronomy isn't a good field to get into. I was wondering what other jobs there are that involve astronomy.
    Is there any possibility of you going to school in another country that would increase your chances of working in astronomy? I know it's a lot to ask, but you never know...

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by gethen
    Reptile, I can't say this loud enough: IF YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING, AT LEAST GIVE IT A TRY. My son was informed at ages 12-15 that he didn't have the mental tools to excel at math or the sciences. Based on some stupid standaridized tests. Today, he's a Phd candidate in astrophysics at one of the major universities in the U.S., and he loves every minute of it. Wanting something is a powerful tool. Don't sell yourself short.
    Oh gawd, do I hear that! When I was in school I was told by a stupid teacher that I didn't have the mental smarts to do science. I spent several years believing that tripe until I actually took some science in high school and ended up doing advanced placement! When I think of the time I wasted buying what this teacher wanted me to believe (her statement was followed by: "little girls don't need science to be good wives and mothers."), I still get angry, 40 years later.

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