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Medicine or Astronomy?

  1. Aug 26, 2011 #1
    Hi guys,

    I'm really interested in Astronomy related careers yet my parents want me to enter medicine due to its high pay. I'm a highly academic student and I am capable of entering medicine, however, I really want to do an astronomy/astrophysics course as I want to make a mark in the upper echelons of physics. I don't hate medicine, but I am eager to engulf myself in this area of physics which has an infinite of unsolved answers. I'm sorry and I am ashamed that I'm taking money into a higher degree, but could you please answer these questions - I really need to convince my parents that I can do an Astronomy career while still having a high pay.
    - Which astronomy related job receives the most pay? (Not like the CEO or anything, I want to do some real work in the field, not procrastinate)
    - What course studies big bang, black holes - things like that?
    - Do I need to work in the government to get a higher pay? Do people who have astronomy careers that work locally get a high pay?
    - Living in Australia, will there be a good pay? Is astronomy only worthwhile for people in the US as they have a greater technological boost?
    - Does anyone have a list of astronomy related careers and what each do?
    Sorry again for being money-hungry, but I really need to convince my parents that I can maintain myself while still getting a high pay. I have a little over a year before I enter University so I need to make these decisions soon.

    Thanks for your time :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 26, 2011 #2


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    Astronomy positions are being concentrated, and harder to get. Telescopes are getting much larger, and are growing exponentially more expensive to fund as aperture and siting considerations get more important. (Can anybody here imagine funding Palomar today in its current location?) Instrumentation is getting more specialized and expensive, too.

    If you are a fantastic individual and are willing to work your butt off, astronomy may be for you. If you want lots of money and are willing to put up with residency requirements, additional training, etc that your medical field might require, you'll probably make a whole lot of money in medicine, and by the time that your children are old enough to want to go fishing, bird-watching, hiking, etc, you will probably have the free time to enjoy them.

    I was the IT manager for a very large ophthalmic practice (in Maine terms) for a number of years. The doctors made a lot of sacrifices for their careers, and I got to know some pretty unhappy families in that position, including women who had deferred having children. Going into the medical field is not going to be a piece of cake, unless you plan and prepare to deal with the down-sides. Still, it's pretty lucrative (at least in the US). Good luck, whichever way you want to go.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2011
  4. Aug 26, 2011 #3


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    In my opinion if your only reason for getting into medicine is money then you are going to find it much, much harder. Without a passion for helping sick people you are either going to be neglectful at some point or go into something like plastic surgery. I've worked in hospitals and been surrounded by all different types of doctors, it's a frequent discussion regarding which doctors go way beyond the extra mile and which can't wait for it to be clocking off time. That filters through into patient care in a big way.
  5. Aug 26, 2011 #4
    Thanks for the replies.
    I never said I don't have a passion for medicine, whatever I end up doing, I'll perfect it and not neglect them - I'd just rather have a job doing astrophysics or something along the lines of that as it is something I find incredibly interesting. I'm not in it for money either, I just need to convince my parents that there are high earning jobs in the astronomy field.
    Don't worry about medicine, as soon as you get in, you're in a hospital earning handfuls of cash.
    So as I was mainly trying to emphasise, is there a way of securing a high pay in astronomy? And I was worried about technology improvements as well and since I live in Australia, I don't think it's up to where it should be. Although, it's not all about the technology, I don't necessarily want to stare into telescopes, I'm more into the theory behind things, so I was also wondering what type of career path that would be (cosmologist, astrophysicist, astronomer etc)

    Again, thanks for the replies! And don't worry, if I end up doing medicine, I ensure you, I will be just as dedicated.
  6. Aug 26, 2011 #5


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    Neither path will be easy and lucrative at the same time, IMO. Choose what you want to do, and just do it. If the money is not your driving concern, you should pursue the course that makes you happy and fulfilled.

    And never forget what my old friend used to tell me: "You work to live. You don't live to work." He was the president of my union and the father-in-law of my favorite cousin. Old-school French-Canadian immigrant with a life's worth of experience and common sense.
  7. Aug 26, 2011 #6


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    Seconded, very good advice.
  8. Aug 26, 2011 #7


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    I would double check this one.

    Perhaps once you become hospital staff you start earning "handfuls of cash" but there's a big gap between getting into medical school and getting on staff at a hospital. Most medical students have huge student loans to pay off and work through residencies for five years or so that don't pay much better than post-docs. And then of course, there's the risk of not passing your licensing exams, or entering into a specialty where after 5 years and a fellowship the jobs have dried up.

    And then of course, there's having time to enjoy the money you've made.

    Not to the same extent as entering a professional field. Astronomy is an academic field. If you can get a job as a professor, you'll likely be happy, but the odds aren't great, even if you are super-intelligent and a hard worker. You could also get a staff position at one of the larger telescopes which will be as permanent as long as the project has funding.

    One of the great things about astronomy though is that if it's really your passion, you can pursue it at the amateur level (ie have a day-job) and still make worthy contributions to the field. Of course - that's the 'staring into telescopes' astronomy. If you really want to be doing astrophysics, the odds of making significant contributions as an amateur go way down.
  9. Aug 26, 2011 #8
    The majority of astrophysicists spend a decade on schooling (4 year of college+6 phd) for a career that lasts less than 6 years of international moves (a few postdocs) and never pays more than managing a mid-sized fast food franchise. They then bounce into other fields, (IT, finance, business, etc) where they make a solid living, but less than if they had started their career straight out of college.

    The majority of doctors spend 8 years on schooling + 3-5 on residency. Those training years are widely considered to be terrible. Almost all of them will practice medicine for at least two decades after. Depending on your specialty you can have a 9-5 type schedule (dermatologists, pathologists, etc) or shift work (emergency medicine). You will graduate with a lot of debt (think 150k+), but you will also make a substantial amount (200k) and its a high growth field with almost no chance of being outsourced. Most importantly- there are jobs all over the country.

    Basically if you care about
    1. choosing the city you live in/region of the country
    2. job security
    3. good salary
    4. life/hobbies outside of work

    then medicine is the much, much better career choice.

    If you care about a decade to focus on astrophysics to the exclusion of all else in your life, followed by a career in finance, insurance, etc then astrophysics is the way to go.
  10. Aug 26, 2011 #9


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    If you are really good at sales, you can easily beat that $200K/year with no school-debt. You just have to find your niche and work hard at it. Investing a decade or more into a field in which you have no experience or comfort-zone is a bit much, IMO. I used to work for a bunch of ophthalmologists in IT. I think that at least 80-90% of them were divorced at least once. Not a bad field in medicine, but a whole lot more destructive to family cohesion than normal most work-environments that I was exposed to.
  11. Aug 31, 2011 #10
    Sorry for the late reply!
    What I was worried about being an astrophysicist is that not many get a well paid income as they either become a lecturer or have someone but their ideas. Not to mention a decade of studying. Is there not a way of being an astrophysicist where they pay you for just researching?
    And don't worry about loans or anything for medicine - in Australia, the government has a lot of tax cuts on these things and it is a very secure course. I just want to know whether I can this type of deal with astronomy as it is something I am very keen in.
    I'm thinking that I should just keep astronomy as a side hobby for now =/
  12. Sep 1, 2011 #11
    If you become a physician then your work becomes your life. If you don't find a lot of personal and professional fulfillment from the long hours you will put into your clinic then you may find yourself quite unhappy with your career choice, regardless of the high pay.

    Also I don't know how Australia's system works, but here in the states an aspiring physician will work through 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 5 years of residency training and then potentially work through another several years of fellowship training (if they want to enter the big bucks specialties, which seems to be what interests you). Put some serious thought into your choice, because that is a long road to start down.
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