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I want to be an Astronomer

  1. Jun 1, 2010 #1
    Hey, Im in grade 11 and I would like to become an astronomer. I just need a little guidance. What classes do I need in high school? I have chemistry 11 and 12 and have good marks in both of them. I am taking both gr. 11 and 12 physics in my grade 12 year. I live in New Brunswick, Canada and I believe that the only university with a full astronomy program is in Toronto. And im not even sure what to do once I get to university. Do I just tell them I want to be an astronomer and they will give me all the classes I need? I need some help.
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  3. Jun 1, 2010 #2


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    For high school: Just get all the science and math classes you can.

    For university: So you would apply to, say, University of Toronto for the astronomy department. They tell you the classes you need to take, and you will also probably have some electives. Basically these will be all physics, astronomy and math courses. However, you don't necessarily have to go to a school with an astronomy department. You could just as well do a degree in physics somewhere and then do astronomy in grad school.
  4. Jun 6, 2010 #3
    Which do you think would be the easiest way? Doing a full astronomy program or going with the grad school route?
  5. Jun 19, 2010 #4
    You need to attend grad school and get a PhD in either case. If you are already focused on astronomy, then get into an astronomy program. If you want to leave your options open to other physics-related areas, then do a physics degree first, and you can still pick up astronomy in grad school if you later decide to do astronomy. Besides, I think many physics programs offer courses in astrophysics.
  6. Jun 19, 2010 #5


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    Math is key. Almost all modern astrophysicists are superb mathematicians. Most have not used a telescope for decades [that's what grad students do].
  7. Jun 20, 2010 #6


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    And computer programming. You're going to need to be very very friendly with computers if you want to be an astronomer. Learning a few programming languages early will definitely help when someone suddenly wants you to program in some language you've never seen before (IDL??).
  8. Jun 21, 2010 #7


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    Unfortunately, astrophysics is still plagued by primitive programming languages - like fortran. I hate fortran because fortran hates me.
  9. Jun 21, 2010 #8
    Alright, thanks a bunch for your help guys
  10. Jun 21, 2010 #9
    Also just so that you don't get scared off. There is "decent with math" and there is "super-duper hyper-genius". Most astrophysicists are good with math, but very few astrophysicists are Fields award level mathematicians. What you'll need for most astrophysics is to be able to deal with partial differential equations.
  11. Jun 21, 2010 #10
    I can't emphasise learning a computer programming language enough. I'd recommend IDL, python, fortran, perl or C, all of which I have utilised for various things (however, I've mainly used fortran 77 and IDL). Furthermore, I can support twofish-quant's comment regarding maths: you don't need to be a genius, but work hard on your maths because it will help you to develop your problem solving skills.

    I'm not so sure about Chronos' comment RE: most modern astrophysicists not using telescopes. The majority of the Professors and higher level astronomers at my place of work have been to a telescope in the last year.

    My road to astronomy started with a physics undergraduate degree, and then a PhD in astrophysics. As I understand it, in Canada you will require an undergrad degree and possibly a masters (I'm not sure on this) before starting a PhD. You will be in graduate school for ~6 years which will include coursework components for the first two, and primarily research the last four (though you will do some research for the first two, too). It is a long road and it doesn't stop at the PhD. You will generally have to take two to three postdoctoral positions (which have ~3 year durations and will probably not be in Canada, let alone your hometown) before finding anything resembling a permanent position. Let me also state that, due to the funding system in place, it is very difficult to get a postdoc position in Canada. All is not lost, and twofish-quant is the best person to talk to regarding this, because you will leave grad school with a very good set of problem solving and computer skills which will allow you to be employed in other areas aside from astronomy.

    To sum up: it is a long road, but an enjoyable one where you get to travel the world and work on some really intriguing subjects. So good luck!
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2010
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