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Is an astronomy major necessary?

  1. Aug 18, 2008 #1
    I just got accepted into BYU's undergrad astronomy program, but there is more I want to do in life. They offer a physics degree and an astronomy degree. I would like to take a language or two though for more skills. So the question I have is, is it necessary to have an astronomy degree to go to grad school for astronomy? If not would it help to have that degree when applying to astronomy grad schools? I don't really want to do a double major in physics/astronomy, but if it will help my chances of getting accepted then I will do it. I would like to learn German though and I want to apply to some foreign universities also. If for some reason I can't get accepted into an American university, I'm willing to travel. So in a nutshell, Can I get a physics degree and take a couple languages and still be able to get into an astronomy grad school?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 18, 2008 #2


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    Not at all, I was the only person in the astronomy dept to have ugrad astronomy!
    It was slightly usefull to know about coord systems and instruments (I did a very observation/instrumentation based phd) but mostly I did astronomy because it was more interestign than the straight physics course.

    Especially in an american university where you have to take classes as a grad student it is even less important.
  4. Aug 19, 2008 #3
    As a total tangent,

    Does going to a religous university harm your prospects as a scientist?

    Just interested that's all. I can't think of many religious univerisities where I live (UK) that teach anything other than theology. Just wondering if there is a stigma in the US (it would be seen as a bit of an oddity over here)
  5. Aug 19, 2008 #4
    What's their attitude towards the Big Bang? If they're hardcore creationists then I can't see how any of the content of an astronomy degree could be in line with mainstream astronomy, and I can't see how you'd get accepted onto any astronomy PhD with that. Physics would be less of an issue if that's the case.
  6. Aug 25, 2008 #5
    I'm not sure metalgirl, but I'm confident that they are a little of both. Yes they believe in creation, but they also are open to scientific proofs. So I'm sure they would teach what mainstream astronomy teaches.
  7. Aug 25, 2008 #6
    I don't know their attitude toward the Big Bang. They do believe in creation. Our religion is open to all truths though, so I'm sure they are open to a lot of mainstream astronomy. It's nice at our university. Yes we teach religion and require religion courses, but it teaches numerous other subjects also. If they have an astronomy program you can know that they have multiple subjects of study. The religious part is to help members stay strong in their religious and spiritual life. Other than that, they teach everything else that other universities teach.
  8. Aug 25, 2008 #7


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    There's a guy from BYU in my graduate physics program doing astronomy. I agree that while an astronomy major is interesting, physics is the essential part - for physics or astronomy grad school. You can always take a few courses in it without majoring.

    German is a useful language for physics and astronomy. But keep in mind that European grad programs usually expect their students to have picked up more physics in college than the US ones do, so they'll have higher expectations - if you don't get into a grad school in the US, Europe is most likely out of the question.
  9. Sep 5, 2008 #8
    You don't need an astronomy undergrad degree at all, as a matter of fact is not expected and from personal experience I can tell you that some advisors will actually advice against it. Why? At this stage you are not really sure if you will go to more traditional areas of astronomy like star structure and evolution or interstellar medium(in that case the astro undergrad is a good idea) or more recent ones like astroparticle physics, early universe cosmology (where a physics degree with optatives like QFT or GR is a better idea). In both cases your decision will hardly affect your chances of admission, again depending on what you want to do it might be a better idea to apply to a physics department.

    Regarding the lenguages issue, I don't see any reason why you can't study german and physics while having social life. Unlike some accounts of student's life, it is far from slave labor. Yes, you should work hard but is quite manageable if you are an organized person.

    And as far as grad school in Europe goes, I am right now "on the hunt", as far as I can tell you the real good places for astro in Europe (Cambridge, Durham, LMU, Imperial, Oxford, Edinburgh, Heidelberg, Bonn, Potsdam, Padova, Kapteyn, IAC... if anyone knows other ones please tell me!) are as competitive as american schools. Beware of the fees, it can be a real problem if you don't have a financing source. And also note that under the diploma system that is widely spread in continental europe you should finish a masters first. Right now, many countries are adopting the bachelor-master-phd system so it might not apply to you.

    Finally I seriously recommend you the mexican option, why? If you are interested in some "traditional" topics like star formation, interstellar medium or observational astronomy (particularly radioastronomy, where Mexican institutes have access to all major facilities and own the biggest millimeter wavelength radiotelescope in the world) the three big mexican institutes (IA and CRyA from UNAM and INAOE) are real powerhouses, admission follows strict admission criteria but is nowhere as hard as other topnotch places, and it's also quite inexpensive to live there.
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