Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Astrophysicist - destined for academia?

  1. Sep 24, 2010 #1
    Hate to be the leech who asks a question as his first post, but it has bedeviled me for too long:
    By earning a Ph.D in astronomy/astrophysics, is one guaranteeing themselves a one-way ticket to academia? What are the chances you could be anything but a professor or the like? I've heard that the chance of earning a research position as either of the two is very slim... true? False?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 24, 2010 #2
    This is so sad... I'll leave the explanation to someone else, as I have class in 10 minutes.
  4. Sep 24, 2010 #3
    A PhD in anything is hardly a guarantee of a professorship. There are many more PhDs than open tenure-track professorships. In the past few years (where few is very loosely defined), it is not uncommon for even small, 3rd rate, non-research universities/colleges to have over 200 applicants for a single tenure-track position in physics. I know nothing about the other sciences or their graduation rates, so this only pertains to physics.
  5. Sep 24, 2010 #4


    User Avatar

    Astronomers work for colleges and universities (teaching and doing research), national labs and observatories and NASA (doing research). There aren't a lot of other jobs for astronomers. Most people getting a PhD want to be a professor, but the fact is most won't become one - there are far more people with PhDs who want to teach than there are jobs for them. So no, a PhD isn't guaranteeing you a spot in academia - it's not even guaranteeing you a job in the field. The lucky people get a job in academia (if that's what they want), others get a job elsewhere although many of them wanted to be in academia, and some leave the field entirely, either right away, or after a postdoc or two without getting a more permanent offer anywhere, or later after not earning tenure. My (large state) university advertised a single position in the physics/astronomy department a couple of years ago and got over 800 qualified applicants.

    I'd suggest getting a PhD in physics. You can do astronomy or astrophysics with that degree, even study it for your PhD, but the physics PhD is more versatile than an astronomy PhD. It can be applied to any industry or defense type jobs as well as astronomy.
  6. Sep 24, 2010 #5
    Basically, most research jobs are going to be in academia. For most, a job in academia is something of a dream job. The market is very low compared to the number of PhD's so if you could even get a job in academia, it would be an achievement.
  7. Sep 24, 2010 #6

    Solid advice.
  8. Sep 25, 2010 #7

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    I would also suggest a search of this forum, since this comes up again and again. (One might even argue that this is a skill that will serve you well in grad school)
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook