1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Ph.D Job Market Outlook?

  1. Sep 28, 2015 #1
    Hi I am an undergraduate freshman at university. I have a passion for Astronomy and would love to become a professional astronomer. The only problem is I've heard by many people including a Professor of Physics that the job market is tough and it's hard to find jobs in Astrophysics. Should I follow my passion and risk not having a job and not being able to provide for myself and family or should I choose a more lucrative job in finance?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 28, 2015 #2

    George Jones

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Do you mean "not having a job" or do you mean "not having a job as a professional astronomer"?

    Academic positions in astronomy are quite competitive.

    If you get a Ph.D. in astronomy, this is very unlikely.

    Or get a Ph.D. in astronomy and get a lucrative job in finance, as my friend did.

    If you get a Ph.D, in astronomy, the chances are much less than 50% that you will get an academic position in astronomy. However, if you do not get a Ph.D., the chances are zilch that you will get an academic position in astronomy (unless you have the talent of a Freeman Dyson), but there are few unemployed folks with Ph.D.s in astronomy.

    Only you can decide whether a passion is worth years of study and instability (e.g., temporary postdocs) versus switching earlier.

    There are lots of choices, for example : 1) choose a different major as an undergrad; 2) finish a physics/astronomy B.S, and don't go further; 3) finish a Ph.D., and don't go further; 3) pursue postdoc positions after a Ph.D.

    Different folks place different values on these situations.
  4. Sep 28, 2015 #3
    I would really love to do work in Radio Astronomy (work for SETI or other similar programs) or Theoretical Astrophysics. Are my chances of getting a job really that bad? I don't want to spend years getting a PhD in Astronomy to not use it and be in another sector. Less than 50% is pretty competitive and I am willing to work for it but sometimes how much work you put in doesn't mean you get the job. Do you see the job market getting any better over the next 10-20 years?
  5. Sep 28, 2015 #4

    Vanadium 50

    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor
    2017 Award

    The total number of full-time, permanent positions in the US doing this is approximately six. Not six per year. Six. That's the size of the target you are shooting for.
  6. Sep 28, 2015 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    However, if you miss the target, the unemployment rate for Astronomy PhDs is approximately zero, and the average pay is quite high. You might not end up as a professional astronomer, but you don't need to worry about getting a job.
  7. Sep 29, 2015 #6
    Can someone share other career positions that an Astrophysics Phd would be qualified for?
  8. Sep 29, 2015 #7
    There are two distinct concepts that I think often get mixed up, jobs people with a PhD in physics/astronomy are qualified for and jobs for which the skills aquired while getting the PhD makes them substantially more qualified. If you mean the former, that's quite a lot. Sure, people with PhDs in physics/astronomy have low unemployment rates and make decent money, but that doesn't imply that getting the PhD had anything to do with either.
  9. Sep 29, 2015 #8
    OK. Let's clarify, what career positions do those with degrees in astrophysics/physics/astronomy tend to apply for which would utilize the education they have earned? Disregard positions that anyone with a college degree is qualified for. We know about teaching positions and government research positions, but after that, where can you apply your degree to good use? Thanks.
  10. Oct 1, 2015 #9
    It depends. If they graduated without important skills needed to transition out of research (such as programming and large scale data analysis), teaching may be about it. I certainly knew a few astro phd's who had trouble finding jobs outside teaching (though the HEP theorists I knew had it much worse).

    On the other hand, there are lots of examples of astro phd's (even right here on these boards) going into medical work, finance, and other jobs. These jobs usually used their mathematical knowledge combined with a demonstrated ability to pick up programming quickly, but I know someone on this board once gave an example that's way outside that (wish I could remember who).

    So I agree with e.bar.goum that astro phd's shouldn't worry about getting a job, because worrying isn't very productive. But I do think a smart astro student should be thinking about it, and trying to maximize their options upon graduation, because there's a pretty wide range of employability.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook