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I have a question for everyone here

  1. Mar 25, 2007 #1
    My son is interested in astronomy and is looking to major in it at college. I was just wondering, what kind of jobs could you get with a degree in astronomy? I don't want him to go to school for such an odd major, compared to something like business or economics, and just have to go work at a job where his degree doesn't help him. Thank you.
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  3. Mar 25, 2007 #2


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    Here is a good place to start.
    http://www.aas.org/education/careers.html [Broken]

    Quoted from the site above:
    "In recent years, there have been about 150 job openings for astronomers in North America"
    Last edited by a moderator: May 2, 2017
  4. Mar 25, 2007 #3


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    To be honest, if money and job security are the main concern, astronomy is a very poor choice of career. If a rewarding, if at times precarious, career and a job that feels more like a hobby than work are high priorities then astronomy is a very good choice. It basically comes down to that.
  5. Mar 26, 2007 #4
    For many types of jobs, pretty much any college degree is useful. Also, certain types of graduate and professional schools like to see students coming from unusual majors. It can make a candidate stand out. A law professor I once took an undergrad course with regularly points out that Law schools love getting applications from Physics majors, because it's something they don't see often and requires good critical thinking.
  6. Mar 26, 2007 #5
    I think you should encourage the kid to do engineering: it's another meal ticket, er, applied degree, but it's also likely to involve some study of physics. Many of its specific fields are likely to interest the kind of person who also likes physics, and I'd also suggest the kid may find something more tangible like that (over "pure" sciences) to be satisfying.

    But you should let the kid follow their own interests. Much better to be a passionate expert of some astrophysics topic, than to be a bored/uninterested doctor or accountant. Success isn't all about money either, but incidentally, most of the theoretical/gravitational physicists postdoc's I've known have managed at some point to have banks find positions specifically for them.
  7. Mar 26, 2007 #6


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    Professional astronomers are physics majors who specialize in astrophyics in graduate school. Having a dual major in physics and engineering would be a nice position for your son to find himself in when he applies to grad school.
  8. Mar 26, 2007 #7


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    I can confirm this in the case of UC Berkeley. the Astronomy major is really just a TYPE of physics major. You do a regular physics undergrad major with some electives in astrophysics.

    What Chronos says is extremely savy. dual major physics+engineering sets you up for a lot of options.

    a lot of space engineering these days is motivated by astronomy. Better space telescopes, GRB observation, CMB observation, space interferometry, extrasolar planet search---it's become very exciting.

    astronomy is very good motivation for learning both physics and engineering and excelling as a student (plus both physics and engineering can lead to rewarding careers in many directions)
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2007
  9. Mar 26, 2007 #8
    Watching the situation

    I studied at astronomy for 13 yrs and finished my second PhD of astronomy two yrs ago and still jobless. You need know the situation:
    1. Astrophysics is at big crisis right now: either continue to accept the assumption of curved spacetime (consequently, black holes, big bang) or reject it and study flat spacetime.
    2. Two practises can not coexist. I have to say I am jobless because of my flat spacetime pursue.

    I am sure your son chooses astronomy because he loves it and follows truth. That may lead to the same difficult position as mine! Be careful. You can read the article:
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2017
  10. Mar 26, 2007 #9
    So, what you guys are saying is that he should take engineering and physics? But what kind of engineering and physics classes should he take, just general, or a certain one.
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2007
  11. Mar 26, 2007 #10


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    Most schools don't have such a thing as "general engineering", but electrical engineering has a lot of crossover with what a lot of astronomers do. It depends, though - building a space telescope requires all kinds.
  12. Mar 26, 2007 #11


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    the big ground-based telescopes are mosaics of mirrors each on constantly being adjusted to maintain sharpest focus
    mechanical engineering has a role.

    adaptive optical systems

    biggest optical telescope in the world to be built in Chile
    maybe I can find the url.

    from a mechanical engineering viewpoint the eyes of mankind are very beautiful complex systems, and also the microwave ears (some use liquid helium-temperature highly sensitive electronics)

    I think the question is, what can he visualize best working on. What kind of project can he find out about and picture being part of.

    some astronomy is done almost purely by software---robot observatories and massive data-crunching surveys. Like Russ says----place in astronomy for several different kinds of engineering----mechanical, electronic, optical-electronic, computer/IT, aerospace.

    If you luck out you can use engineering in astronomy, and if not it can still make you a living in some other possibly very interesting line of technology.

    I remember when one of the most popular teachers at UCBerkeley, who taught the General Astro course for non-majors (which even the majors took because it was a great course) organized a field trip to a local observatory and I was surprised to discover that there were two telescopes of which one was PURELY A ROBOT it was doing a programmed scan of thousands of galaxies to discover changes signifying a supernova and it was in touch with dozens of other similar telescopes, and when it found a supernova it would notify everybody including humans--even if it meant waking them up at 3 AM.

    the other telescope was being controlled by graduate students 50 miles away who could see on their WORKSTATIONS whatever the telescope was seeing.
    So there was this busy observatory with nobody in it except maintenance guys with two telescopes working away.

    Another one we visited. Lick Observatory. has people working at it hands on, doing the spectrographics needed to detect WOBBLE of stars for the extrasolar PLANET SEARCH. that work is (was at the time) very delicate and could not be automated or operated remotely. A large fraction of the known extrasolar planets have been found by Geoff Marcy's team at Lick.
    I've met him and talked several times with him and Butler. those guys are heros in my eyes.

    Astronomy is very varied. It uses some of the most interesting and dynamically evolving technology on the planet.
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2007
  13. Mar 26, 2007 #12
    He's been raving about planet searching recently, so maybe that's what he's interested in doing. I was watching a show with him about it; it seemed quite interesting. It's amazing that there are just so many things that you can do under one study.
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2007
  14. Mar 26, 2007 #13
    How old is your son?
  15. Mar 26, 2007 #14
    He'll be 16 friday, so he still has a while to decide what he wants to do.
  16. Mar 28, 2007 #15
    From the information I've read here and on the websites provided, it does not seem that there is much chance of one becoming an astronomer?
  17. Mar 28, 2007 #16


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    I'd love to be an astronaut, but I'm content to be an engineer (in a field unrelated to astronomy) and keeping my astronomy as a hobby....

    V :biggrin:
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2007
  18. Mar 28, 2007 #17


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    You become a gifted astrophysicist by mastering math, then science. Why math first? Because it is the language of science. Math is the background upon which science is superimposed.
  19. Mar 29, 2007 #18
    You can't learn to be gifted, you either are or you are not, and you can lose it when you get older.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2007
  20. Mar 29, 2007 #19


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    A precocious 12-year old, who is self-conscious (perhaps a bit stuck-up) about being identified as precocious, will, when they hear the word "gifted"

    invariably and immediately think of only one thing---relating it to themselves.
    for them, "gifted" means being identified as gifted by the school's GAT (gifted and talented) program.

    and there is a whole bunch of developmental psychology literature about that, what it is supposed to mean, can you lose it etc etc.

    and to listen to them you would think they know all about it:smile:

    but there are other ways of being gifted

    the luck of having a wonderful teacher at the right time, or a great mentor, the luck of finding a great research area at the right time, like microwave radar right at its infancy, like superconductivity, like semiconductors.
    and there are things like courage, and honesty, and modesty, which are gifts of character. the luck of being put in a situation where you had to learn something. really had to. because an important project depended on it. and having to explain it to others.

    a lot of gifts are handed out. gifts are luck and there are kinds of luck.

    but we know about "gifted" individuals too. A lot of us here I expect have been tested and found to be "gifted" in the ed-psych sense at some point in their lives. A lot of us, I would imagine, have either been gifted adolescents or have raised gifted children.

    So I can see the sense of both Chronos post and Jennifer post. both posts make sense although with different nuance meaning on the word.
  21. Mar 30, 2007 #20
    Astronomy is a huge subject. I´m currently on one of the few undergrad astronomy (joint with physics) courses in the UK and in my honors class there´s only 12 students. I feel that the skills i´m learning on this course very much include everything one would expect a physics undergrad to be able to do, only our applications are different.

    I should think it reasonable for anyone graduating from a combined/joint undergraduate degree with astronomy to be qualified to enter any physics related profession or at least entry to a training course - and physicists who would be willing to try careers in many sectors are welcomed are it seems common here for undergraduate physicists to be sponsored by banking/accountancy firms since we pick up desired skillsets.

    In saying that, whilst I do hope to be able to continue in academia eventually to a research position, I notice that most of the Doctors in the department graduated with either single hons physics or pure mathematics then specialized via a graduate astrophysics course.
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