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Astrophysics, Physics, or Astronomy

  1. Aug 29, 2009 #1
    If one's interests lie in Astrophysics, what would be the best courses to achieve a BA, MA, and then PhD in given the following circumstances:

    The highest level degree offered at this college/graduate school in Astrophysics is a BA, while both MA and PhD degrees are offered in both Physics and Astronomy.

    With this said, after achieving the BA in astrophysics, should one work towards a MA/PhD in Physics or Astronomy?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 29, 2009 #2


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    I think you're best off staying general in the beginning. At the undergraduate level it's best to stay in 'regular' physics. This keeps more doors open as you go along. Not everyone ends up in the field they thought they would pursue in the beginning. I started off thinking that I would go into astrophysics and ended up chosing medical physics for a career.

    That being said, you might also want to spend time thinking about the specific courses each path will offer you. Sometimes the difference between 'physics' and 'astrophysics' is only a title on the parchment as a student could go through each path with the exact same courses.

    It's also worth keeping in mind that you won't necessarily do your graduate work at the same school you do your undergraduate work at.
  4. Aug 29, 2009 #3
    Thanks for the advice and information :)
  5. Aug 30, 2009 #4
    In addition to what Choppy said, there are other reasons to do your BS in physics even if you're interested in doing astrophysics (or astronomy, for that matter) for your PhD work. When you go to grad school, you'll likely go to a combined physics and astronomy department, and they'll probably have one set of core courses for all PhD students, as well as one PhD qualifying exam. The courses and the qual will be geared towards physics, and usually include a backbone of quantum mechanics, E&M, classical mechanics, and stat mech. It's a lot easier to tackle these subjects if you've got a rigorous physics education. I do particle astrophysics (an overlap between high energy physics and astrophysics), and my advisor always says that while you can learn astronomy through self-study, you need to sit in a classroom to learn quantum. At my department, it's been shown that students with a physics BS tend to do better in the astrophysics program than students with an astronomy BS. Doing physics for your BS doesn't put you at any disadvantage in terms of going to grad school in astronomy or astrophysics, so it's your best bet.

    Long story short: you'll have an easier time doing astronomy with a rigorous physics education.
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