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I want to become an astrophysicist. But no one cares about what I do

  1. Jun 15, 2010 #1


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    If I went into, say, biology or computer science, plenty of people would be interested in what I do (by people, I usually mean curious educated people). After all, biology permeates many topics in daily life, as does computer science (since so many subjects now depend on various CS topics).

    But with astrophysics, most people (even curious educated people) don't even care very much about it. They might have skimmed through the "Brief History of Time", or find curiosity in topics like astrobiology and the big bang. But most astronomy research isn't about those things. Most astronomy research is about things like stars and galaxies. They may ask you "hey, what's the significance of, say, studying the metallicity content of a certain group of M-dwarf flare stars that are in this bubble in the Milky Way?" And of course these is a significance to studying this, but this significance is really only appreciated by astrophysicists. Sure I could say a few things about astrobiological implications, but that's really an extremely minor part of the significance of studying those stars.

    That being said though, maybe there are people in other groups who have a remarkable curiosity about astronomy (since astronomy, is after all, the best example of what's extreme and what's possible). After all, we see a lot more amateur astronomers than amateurs in a lot of other fields of science.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 15, 2010 #2
    What is your point? Why should anybody care? Are you looking for a branch that has good odds to become rich&famous or is it about the passion to find out and understand what is going on out there?
  4. Jun 15, 2010 #3


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    Well, my fundamental goal is to understand, really. It's just easier to make friends when people actually care about what I'm doing.
  5. Jun 15, 2010 #4


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    Do you plan to base your career on whether you can make a lot of friends?

    Do what you love. Others who love the same thing will find you and you will find them.
  6. Jun 15, 2010 #5


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    Part of the problem here seems in how you're presenting your own research. When you state that you're "studying the metallicity content of a certain group of M-dwarf flare stars that are in this bubble in the Milky Way," you're being way too specific. You need to back up a bit and talk about the broader issues motivating your research. For example, are you studying the metallicity content of these stars to test certain models of star formation? Then tell people your research is looking at how stars form. Many more people will be able to grasp what you're doing if you start from that perspective.

    For example, in my research, I use spectroscopic techniques to investigate the thermodynamics and kinetics of protein-DNA interactions. Not particularly interesting if I present it that way. However, what I tell people is that I study how HIV evolves. If people are interested, I then explain what we know about how HIV evolves, what questions are still unclear, and how my own research seeks to answer those questions. That way, even if they don't have a science background and can't completely grasp what you work on, at least they'll have some better idea about what you study and why you study it. Of course, not everyone will be interested in what you do.

    Note that this is also useful for talking to other scientists, especially those judging your fellowship/grant applications.
  7. Jun 15, 2010 #6
    If you are interested in astrophysics, become an astrophysicist.

    If you are interested in money, become an investment banker.

    If you want other people to be interested in what you are doing, become a stripper.
  8. Jun 15, 2010 #7


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  9. Jun 15, 2010 #8
    ...the big picture...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=<object width="480" height="385"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/Sds7hTlaNaM&hl=en_US&fs=1&"></param><param [Broken] name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/Sds7hTlaNaM&hl=en_US&fs=1&" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true" width="480" height="385"></embed></object>
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  10. Jun 15, 2010 #9


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    Don't define yourself to other people completely by your work. If you have other interests and hobbies, use them to give yourself opportunities to meet people. When I was a grad student in physics, my main outside activity was bicycling. I rode with the local bicycie touring club at least once a week (usually twice or more), and met more people that way than through the physics department. We usually found out eventually what we all did for a living, but it wasn't a big topic of discussion. We focused on more important things like, "how far down the road is the next town with a bakery where we can get something to eat?" :tongue2:
  11. Jun 16, 2010 #10
    Speak like Carl Sagan. If you feel passionate enough then it will reach out infectiously.

    Your presentation of Astrophysics didn't sound very charismatic- and yet that is my major too.
  12. Jun 16, 2010 #11
    Speaking as someone who runs a music venue, it would be lovely if people didn't care what I did.
  13. Jun 16, 2010 #12


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    If you are interested in money and you want other people to be interested in what you are doing, become an investment banker and loose their money, then they will be interested in what you are doing!

  14. Jun 16, 2010 #13
    Same here, when I tell people that I finally started on my thesis, barely anyone asks what I do. Not even my classmates.

    Not that I have a clue yet of what I am going to be doing exactly, but yeah. They don't know that.
  15. Jun 16, 2010 #14
    Become an astrophysicist and tell everyone you're a stripper.
  16. Jun 16, 2010 #15


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    Or you can say you're an astrostrippercist and really raise their eyebrows.
  17. Jun 16, 2010 #16


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    As someone stated, its how you're presenting what you do. You're being extremely specific. In CS and biology and what have you, not everyone is researching .... quantum computing or *insert cool biology trend here*. I can almost guarantee that if you talk to the average person really studying biology or CS and you ask them what they're doing at the detail you're talking about, 9 times out of 10 you'll probably yawn yourself to sleep. They probably have a far more interesting "big picture" description, but at the amount of detail as "studying the metallicity content of a certain group of M-dwarf flare stars that are in this bubble in the Milky Way?", you're going to hear something quite boring most of the time.

    Also, as people say.... are you really going to base what you do 40+ hours every week for 30-50 years on what conversation you might have with friends for a few minutes every who knows how often?
  18. Jun 16, 2010 #17
    Colonising Mars
    Terraforming Mars
    Simple life in our solar system
    Peeking at extrasolar planets
    Finding earth-like worlds with complex life

    These powerful philosophical items are dangled above our nursery, tantalising us. But we will grow taller and one day snatch the lower fruits before we have outgrown our playpen. Moving on with new goals and aspirations.

    Astrophysics is thinking about our world on the grandest scale imaginable. We are the smallest point on a minor ripple in a huge cosmological ocean.

    Humans on Mars? Alien civilisations? We have only read the introduction to the cosmic book of wonders.
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