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For someone wanting to work in astronomy

  1. Feb 25, 2013 #1
    For someone wanting to work in astronomy....

    ....is an Astrophysics degree the way to go or should I go with Physics? I'm a first-year undergrad who sort of spent the past semester and a half thinking I'd be a History major. I have a strong interest in astronomy and would love to work in the field. After realizing that History wasn't "for me" (and lacking in career paths) I considered taking up a physics/astrophysics degree. Just as a note, I am aware that these programs are math-intensive, but I am willing to put in the effort. I have no aversion to math and performed well in my high school algebra and precalculus classes.

    From what I have heard, Astrophysics is not as flexible as Physics as far as getting non-scientific jobs goes (for instance, in case something goes wrong and I have to look for a job outside of physics).
    This of course ignores that the "Professional Physics" and "Astrophysics" programs at my university are almost identical in course load.

    I'm aware that in order to get into a serious position as a researcher I would need a MS and PhD, but I'd still like to know where to start.

    Thank you, and I'm sorry if you get a ton of these questions.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 25, 2013 #2
    Re: For someone wanting to work in astronomy....

    Well I'm not in college yet, but I would say start taking the base level math and physics required. Get your feet wet in a few areas, decide what feels right. And if latter on you decide to change you will have the option being as the court requirements are very similar.
     
  4. Feb 25, 2013 #3
    Re: For someone wanting to work in astronomy....

    course not court
     
  5. Feb 25, 2013 #4
    Re: For someone wanting to work in astronomy....

    Yeah, that's a good point since the courses don't even change until the 3rd year or so, and even then it's not that significant of a change.

    What about majoring in Physics and minoring in Astronomy?
     
  6. Feb 26, 2013 #5
    Re: For someone wanting to work in astronomy....

    I have mixed feelings about this. I think a basic degree in physics will give you a lot of good theory background for astrophysics research, like radiative transfer, hydrodynamics, and possibly gravitational physics/cosmology if you manage to take some GR and/or DG as an undergrad.

    However in my experience, in a physics degree its rare to get to do astronomy (observational work, photometry, spectroscopy, data reduction, the statistics astronomers use) and to get experience with that you'll probably have to be very very proactive in searching out summer/voluntary research opportunities to try it out.

    Having said this, most people I know in an "astrophysics" Bsc in the UK get tons of experience doing this, as they have entire courses dedicated to it, but from what I've seen don't get nearly enough math methods, statistical mechanics, fluid dynamics, GR, and analytical dynamics as I did, which I feel are really hard subjects to learn on one's own in a time efficient manner and are vital for astrophysics research that isn't exclusively observational.

    It's also possible that throughout a physics degree you may be turned on to other areas of science you never thought you'd like, I've seen it happen a lot and I think it's a good thing to get a broader exposure as I did in a straight physics Bsc.
     
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2013
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