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Physics My future as an Astrophysicst

  1. Oct 1, 2011 #1
    Hello everyone right now im studying in Middle school and next year im going to Highschool, i've been into this whole Astro"Physics, Nomy, cosmology" thing and seriously i've been planing to study this as my career. I've search many universities around the world and i've seen as Waterloo in Canada as an option. But i'm not quite sure because when im done with university were am i gonna work? MIT? or maybe a research place. Im not to sure for this career and on my school Physics and Maths are my best courses cause im good at. But i need deep answers about this career and what chances i've got as an Astrophysicst in the future. Thanks
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 1, 2011 #2
    Hello >Astro's<,

    I'm from the U.S. and in my country, while it will definitely be possible for you (given that you are able to deal the academic rigor required of those in these fields) to eventually work as a post-doc researcher, if you want to become a tenured professor in any of these fields the road is very hard, narrow, and long.

    I recently spoke with Dr. Manoj Kaplinghat who is a cosmologist at my University, and he estimated that there were about 10 openings annually in academic faculty positions of his specific field in the U.S. per year. That's in a country of 310 million people, with the largest and best-funded research universities in the world. He further speculated that there were approximately 50 openings annually in fields related to his, such as astronomy, condensed matter physics, and particle physics. Again, these are <i>tenured</i> academic positions.

    I guess that I'm trying to say your chances for doing research are good so long as you fight the good fight, but you shouldn't expect to become a professor with the same certainty.

    P.S. As for your questions about where you should work after University:

    I know that in my country, research on the level of serious scientific papers is not truly done until the graduate level, after the traditional undergraduate degree. Usually any true researcher in these fields will complete a PhD and then continue research as a post-doctoral scholar wherever there is funding to be had. Places you might work would be at large research Universities, National Labs like Los Alamos, or sometimes private companies where the research is profit oriented rather than purely scientific.

    As for the "chances" you have of becoming an Astrophysicist, that's something that can only be evaluated by your grades, your drive, and peer review of your work at the higher levels (:
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2011
  4. Oct 1, 2011 #3
    Thank you so much il have that in focus
  5. Oct 2, 2011 #4
    Be wary of advice from a self-proclaimed cynic! Though to be fair, a joyful one :smile:. But all joking aside, joyfulcynic made some good points. Though as I understand it, the large majority of researchers out there are not tenured (have a full professorship), as tenureship is becoming ever rarer. Most are research professors or associate professors...pretty much the same job but less job security.

    Your chances of doing some kind of research in astronomy/astrophysics is much better than 50 in 310 million, and are of course largely up to you. You'll have to bust your butt and be at the top of your game to have a decent shot. Keep in mind that astrophysics has much more competition that other areas of physics because (a), it's sexier, everyone wants to do it, and (b) it's not a field that generates money for industry like solid state physics, for example, so funding is harder to come by.

    If you do obtain a Ph.D. in astrophysics, you may not end up with the research position you always wanted, but you'll definitely be able to get a well paying job doing something. And you'll have a deep understanding of what you are most fascinated by. What is that worth to you?

    Edit: You should do some searching in the https://www.physicsforums.com/forumdisplay.php?f=193" of this forum. There are lots of threads about astrophysics careers with lots of good advice.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  6. Oct 2, 2011 #5
    My advice, from someone who once - many years ago - was thinking similar thoughts, is not to worry about what you're going to be when you grow up right now. You have lots and lots of time to sort it out, and your plans will change over that time, so there's really no need to worry about where you might work after you finish a Ph.D. program in a particular field in 15 years or so. If you like physics and math and think you'd like to go to college, then take those classes and enjoy them and learn.

    I myself have always, well since I was 8 or so at least, been interested in astronomy and astrophysics, and I still was in high-school, so I wanted to go into astrophysics. I changed my mind in college and went with straight physics, thinking I was going to find an interesting job right out of college. Nope, so I went to graduate school, and almost went into an astrophysics program but decided to go into applied physics and wound up specializing in x-ray diagnosis of plasmas. I'm still interested in astronomy and astrophysics as a very knowledgeable amateur, but no one pays me to think about that stuff. Life has lots of turns ahead, no matter where in life you are.
  7. Nov 22, 2011 #6
    Does anyone know the salary for astrophysicists?
  8. Nov 22, 2011 #7
    Varies, here in U.K the basic salary starts from 26-25k for a year. I presume you can make more if you make terrific progress and as a result of which gain experience.

    OP I personally believe that although it's good to have an ambition, (aspirations who lacks it anyway ? ) but to also have a back up plan. Since you're only in middle school , for now try to grasp basic understanding of simple algebra , read science journals ( don't just isolate yourself to a sub-branch of physics. Science is beauty, physics is the pinnacle).
  9. Nov 22, 2011 #8
    Thanks Iby, i'm in australia, and yes 'middle' or High school as we call it in australia, i'm a year 10 doing phys,chem and bio.

    But i panicked when i found out the max salary for astrophysicists is 150K WITH a Ph.D.

    I've wanted to do it since i was 5, my father bought me a science book and i was taken away lol..
  10. Nov 22, 2011 #9

    D H

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    I'm going to be blunt, so bear with me.

    Panicked? It's time for a reality check. And perhaps a check on your greed as well.

    The latter issue first. There's nothing wrong per se with being greedy. Our modern world full of conveniences like the computer on which I'm typing this post depends on people who wanted to get rich. However, very, very few who do get rich do so by being an academician.

    If you want to get rich you need to make that your one and only goal. You need to be prepared to work 80 to 120 (or more!) hours per week and you need to pretty much forego doing intellectually challenging work. Even those who take the route of a high-tech startup often end up turning the intellectually challenging work over to others. You need to focus on one thing, which is growing and leading the business. Taking time out to do the intellectually challenging work yourself is a big mistake. If your path to wealth is a high tech startup, you will need to keep tabs on that work, but it is someone else who is having all the fun.

    As for the reality check, come on! You have false expectations regarding what people typically make, even of what an exceptional person typically makes. Panicking at a measly salary of $150K? That's close to the top 1% in salaries in Australia. (1.5%, to be precise, as of 2006-2007). Even $100K puts you in the top 5%. The median salary in Australia is a lot less than that.

    You also have false expectations about academia. It is not the place to get fantastically rich. It is a place to have a very comfortable salary, a very comfortable job (not even close to 80+ hour weeks), and very interesting work. It is by all accounts a fairly cushy job.

    One final note: Because it is a cushy job, the competition is a bit fierce. Academia churns out a lot more astrophysicists than are needed in academia. Academia churns out a whole lot more PhDs in general than are needed in academia. Some PhDs (e.g., those in most branches of engineering), find it fairly easy to find a job in their field outside of academia. Others don't. It's a bit tough to find a job outside of academia if your PhD is in the classics (Greek and Latin) or English literature. And astrophysics. Keep that in mind when it comes to planning your future.
  11. Nov 22, 2011 #10
    Although it happens from time to time..... I know of a Nobel winner whose salary is $500K (professor salaries for public universities are public records). On the other hand, the football coach at the same school makes $1M.

    Disagree. To live a balanced life, you have to balance several competing goals. Also, I don't think that the ideal of the "starving academic" is going to do you any good. Personally I've found that *thinking* has been very useful in making money. If you think you can understand the big bang, you can apply the same skills to figure out the world economy and your role in it.

    There are lots of different types of intellectual challenges. I've found that the people that tend to make the most money and power in a business are the people that are good at convincing people to give them money and power. Personally, I find that part of business interesting, but I also find the geeky math bits interesting, and trying to get everything in balance is why I find things in general interesting.

    $150K/year is also starting salary for a first year Ph.D. quant on Wall Street.

    Once you get tenure yes. It can be hell to be junior faculty.

    This is incorrect. It's not particularly difficult for a theoretical astrophysicist to find a job in industry. You just have to look at the right industries.
  12. Nov 22, 2011 #11
    Thanks guys, really reinforced my willingness to become a astrophysicist. In new south wales i need 75 percent on my HSC (higher school certificate) to do science in university and 80 to do it in Sydney University (i really want to go there, it's amazing, edwardian architecture for one of the buildings makes it look like something from harry potter *i hate that movie*)
  13. Nov 22, 2011 #12


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    I'm an astrophysicist. Most of my friends and I who went into academia (postdocs, professorships) are making 40k - 60k a year. We'll be lucky to reach 80k mid-career at the schools we work at (some public, some private). I only know a couple of astrophysicists making 150k a year, and one of them has a Nobel Prize - and they all have to earn that money through grants, it's not a salary. 150k a year as a scientist in academia is a very unreasonable expectation.
  14. Nov 22, 2011 #13
    And since the majority of astrophysics careers end at the postdoc level, the median astrophysicist probably makes something like 35-40k for his/her entire (short) career. Science isn't something you get into if you want money or a career. Its something you do for a short time out of love/naivety before being forced to move on by the realities of life.
  15. Nov 23, 2011 #14


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    This is not true for science as a whole. There are other fields of science outside physics and astrophysics
  16. Nov 23, 2011 #15
    Disagree with this statement. As far as getting money, science isn't that much worse than anything else, and depending on how you play your cards, it could be better.

    As far as being realistic. One reason that I ended up working at a high paying job is so that I can put money in the bank, so that at some point in my life, I'll retire and then spend the rest of my life doing computational astrophysics until they bury me.

    One other reality is that you may be screwed whatever you do, so you might as well do something that you like since you are doomed either way. I can imagine a scenario in which Italy and Spain blow up in the next six months, the world economy gets wrecked, and next year, I'll be selling apples in between organizing protests.

    One thing that astrophysics has given me is a little arrogance, which can come in useful. After all, if I can figure out flux limited diffusion of neutrinos, then figuring out the job market and how the pieces of the world economy work, shouldn't be beyond my capacity.

    Also I've found that "thinking big thoughts" and "asking big questions" turns out to be useful. You do what you are told for X years with the promise that there is a reward at the end (and it doesn't matter if the reward is a pot of gold or a tenured faculty position). It's not there, so at that point your skills at figuring out the big bang should come in handy to figure out what happens next.
  17. Nov 23, 2011 #16

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    Starving academic? Please. $90K - $150K is not starving. Far, far from it. There's nothing wrong with being in only the top 5% or so of all wage earners.
  18. Nov 23, 2011 #17

    Andy Resnick

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    I have to jump in here, because other than the first two sentences, this is basically false- at least, that I have a 'cushy' job. I work hard, get thoroughly frustrated like at any other job I've had, and can't imagine doing anything else.

    Increasingly, academia is requiring tenure-track (and tenured) researchers to pay for their own research- I mean pay for their *time*- the term is 'salary recovery'. The days of someone sitting at their desk/blackboard/computer and doing nothing but thinking have been over for decades.

    My salary is public information, and is less than what I earned working in industry. Even so, I agree it's higher than the (US) national average. So what? Shouldn't there be an incentive to spend their productive years becoming an expert in something?
  19. Nov 23, 2011 #18

    D H

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    So it is. Your job title is qualified with the derogatory "assistant". You also appear to work at one of the second tier schools in your area's higher education system; even the chair of your department doesn't make all that much. The physics department in the top tier school in the same system has several professors (even some associates) who make over 100K. Quite a few make over 150K, and a handful make more than 200K. And that doesn't count consultancies.

    The academic world is a bit upside down compared to industry. Fresh outs who go to industry are not expected to wrangle new work. That's something the older guys do. We older guys have to create work that pays our own salary many times over. Fresh outs who take the academic route are very much expected to wrangle new work. How well one does that is the key to getting rid of that derogatory "assistant" qualifier. Get rid of that qualifier and the job is cushy, particularly compared to a comparably aged/educated/compensated person in industry. The work load in industry increases rather dramatically over time.
  20. Nov 23, 2011 #19
    I was thinking more about the attitude than the money. The idea that science should be this pure intellectual quest and thinking about how you are going to support yourself and your family is somehow a bad thing. We'd be a lot better if people thought of science less as a calling and at least saw it as a job.

    If you get a professorship then the salaries are decent. The problem is that you are not likely to get the job, and you are likely to make $40K as a post-doc and $20K as a graduate student. The other problem which people don't like to talk about is that in order to allow professors to have $90K-$150K positions, you need a huge stream of graduate students and post-docs making a lot less. Some of this is unavoidable economic reality, but I'd prefer if people face up to the situation, and acknowledge that there are elements of a Ponzi scheme going on here.
  21. Nov 23, 2011 #20


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    First, I don't see what is so derogatory about "Assistant".
    As for the wrangling of new work, you may have to do that even in industry if you happen to be in sales, i.e. if your job description calls for it. As I understand it, the reason for the existence of academic positions is the creation of knowledge so it is not strange at all that you would be expected to wrangle new work. That's what you got hired for
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