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New member needs advice

  1. Jun 15, 2015 #1
    Hello! My name is Brenna Bruce and I am 15 years old. This past year I have discovered my thirst for knowledge about the universe. How it works and what makes it work (to my understanding is explained by mostly physics) are concepts I want to be able to grasp. My question for anyone reading this is how realistic is it for an average-at-math young human like me become an astrophysicist? To understand and comprehend advanced math classes required to work in this field? How do I reach my goals, or do I need to shrink them down a bit? Is it a matter of hard work or at that level, is it mostly natural talent? I guess I need some support on whether this dream of mine is reality based, and what it takes to get there.
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  3. Jun 15, 2015 #2


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    Well the odds of becoming an astrophysicist aren't great for anyone, but for all of those who eventually do get there, it starts with an interest in the subject.

    At your stage of the game dreaming big is fine. Study hard both in and outside of school and challenge yourself. Explore. Studying physics in high school can lead you to all sorts of lucrative paths. Astrophysics is one, but so are the various branches of engineering, material science, medicine, etc.

    You start by taking physics and mathematics . One key piece of advice is to see your aptitude as a function of the work you put in rather than some innate ability you have no control over. If you see yourself as "average-at-math" then you're giving yourself an excuse to fail. If you see yourself as someone who needs to put in the extra effort, you're a lot more likely to do that to get to where you want to be.
  4. Jun 15, 2015 #3


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    Hi Brenna, welcome to PF!
    So, the first question that comes to mind is that you said you want to able to understand how the universe works. That's really cool, and admirable. The trick is, is that there's a great deal of difference between learning astrophysics, and doing astrophysics. The trick is figuring out what you want. You can do the former without ever becoming an astrophysicist, but if you want to do astrophysics, you need to be an astrophysicist, obviously. For me, I went to university wanting to do astrophysics, but soon figured out that I liked learning the subject more than I enjoyed the process of astrophysics research. Fortunately, I figured out that experimental physics is much more my kind of career. But it's ok, you don't have to figure this out at 15.

    So, putting that aside, you absolutely will need a good knowledge of mathematics to be an astrophysicist. You don't need to be able to comprehend the most advanced mathematics (that's the job of a mathematician), but you have to be good. Physics/astro majors generally need several years of university level mathematics, and in high-school, this means that you need to be able to do well in the highest level mathematics your school offers. Another important skill set is programming, and being very comfortable with computers. Astro research rarely involves looking at nice pictures, and mostly involves programming and mathematics (and making those nice pictures in the first place requires not a small amount of both.)

    Becoming an astrophysicist is mostly about hard work. Intelligence is necessary, but not sufficient.
  5. Jun 15, 2015 #4
    This is extremely helpful! Marking the difference of "learning" and "doing" was something I never thought about before.
    Thanks so much,
    Brenna M. Bruce
  6. Jun 16, 2015 #5
    Sorry, one more question-what did you find your options were with the education you were receiving? If I found myself wanting to study astrophysics instead of being an astrophysicist, do you know what my options would be for a profession/career? Is it normal to figure it out along the way, as you did?
    Thanks again!
  7. Jun 16, 2015 #6


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    Yes, it's an important distinction, I think, and one I didn't realise until I was a senior undergrad and doing research projects. There are an awful lot of things I found really interesting to learn, but I'd never want to do for a living (General Relativity).

    It's not the best idea to do an astro undergrad degree if you don't want to be an astrophysicist, but it's not a horrible plan. Anecdotally, people I know who did astro/physics degrees with me have gone on to work for R&D startups, financial companies, defence, science policy, (and other policy areas), work as geophysicists, gone on to become secondary teachers, gone to med school, and many went on to do a PhD. Quantitatively, the American Institute of Physics has a breakdown of the first jobs that astro majors get: http://www.aip.org/sites/default/files/statistics/employment/initialempbsmsphd-a-12.pdf

    A good idea if you want to go down this route is to do a double major with something that lends itself to an obvious career - engineering is a good choice.

    I think that there are very few people who end up doing the job they thought they wanted to do when they were 15. I think most people actually do more "figuring it out along the way" than I did, to be honest. My biggest change after starting university was to go from wanting to be an astrophysicist to wanting to be an experimental physicist that does astro-adjacent research. :) I have a friend who changed from law and is now doing an astro PhD, even. The best you can do at 15 is set your sights on what you think you want to do now, and work hard for it. Doing lots of maths and science in high school will certainly not harm you too much, even if you decide to do english literature or computer science or art.
  8. Jun 16, 2015 #7
  9. Jun 16, 2015 #8
    Thank you so much for taking the time to give me such great advice and experience, very grateful I stumbled upon this website!
    Best Wishes,
    Brenna Bruce
  10. Jun 16, 2015 #9


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    No worries! I hope you stick around a bit, there's lots of interesting physics discussed. You'll probably like the astronomy and cosmology sub-forums.
  11. Jun 16, 2015 #10
    Awesome, I'll check those out!
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