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Space Companies/Agencies that hire astronomers, physicists & aerospace engineers

  1. Oct 5, 2014 #1
    I'm only a freshman in college, but I am always thinking about the future. I plan to earn my Bachelor's in Physics or Astrophysics, and then continue onto graduate school. I'm at Penn State University, so I plan to stay here for all of my degrees unless a better, more valuable opportunity arises.

    I know that a large portion of astronomers, astrophysicists, and physicists work at colleges and universities. But I am not really interested in that. I don't want teaching to be my main job. Some people may like it, but I don't want to study for a number of years in college only to repeat everything I have learned in classrooms all over again.

    I want my main, daily job to be constant research and advancement, working on space projects. Things like studying the sun and its evolution, working to learn more about black holes, and coming up with plans for space travel and colonization. I will teach occasionally if those situations arise (lectures, presentations, etc.) but I don't want to work at a college or university teaching every day.

    I am looking to compile a list of agencies/companies that work on space topics (because I love space, astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology). Obviously there is NASA, which I would always accept a job at, but I'm a bit concerned with the poor funding it is currently receiving and its ability to work on things in the future.

    So please help me compile a list of space agencies/companies/institutions that hire astronomers, astrophysicists, physicists, and aerospace engineers.

    So far I've got:

  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 6, 2014 #2
    Lockheed Martin
    Northrup Grumman

    You should note though the companies doing aerospace engineering aren't necessarily the same guys doing astrophysics/astronomy/cosmology (they might collaborate where the former are suppliers of technology though).
  4. Oct 6, 2014 #3
    I am aware of this. Most of the companies that we will list hire almost all aerospace engineers. I see that Lockheed Martin does have some physics jobs open, but the other space companies are almost entirely made up of engineers.

    So are there any companies/agencies that hire a lot of astronomers/astrophysicists/physicists? NASA hires a good portion, but beyond that, is there really anything?

    If I truly want to be an astrophysicist, is there a way to work for a university without having to teach on a regular basis? I just don't love the idea of teaching as my main job. As I said earlier, I will accept it occasionally, but being a professor is not my goal. My goal is to do study and make new discoveries about the universe.

    For example:
    When you read online that a new planet has been discovered by astronomers several hundred light years away from us that could potentially have liquid water to support life, I want to be on that "team" of astronomers who make that discovery.

    When you read online that a somewhat large asteroid is heading towards the area of Earth, I want to be one of those people who monitors it to ensure Earth's safety.

    I want to work on building asteroid deflection techniques and methods.

    What does Neil deGrasse Tyson do on a daily basis? Currently, he is not a professor at any university. He is the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. So obviously he runs that planetarium, but does he do regular research of his own?

    You don't ever hear of Neil deGrasse Tyson making a discovery or coming up with a new theory. He seems to just be a bridge between the field of astrophysics and the general public. A science communicator.
  5. Oct 6, 2014 #4
    Yes, there are research scientists and engineers that are hired by universities to be part of their research teams but they are not teaching faculty. You can also work at National Labs, where academia and industry is sort of bridged and there's basically a purely research component to the job.
  6. Oct 6, 2014 #5


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    These teams are usually comprised of University Professors, graduate students, postdocs, and Staff Scientists at National Labs. It is a completely achievable goal for you to work on these kinds of teams as a Graduate Student and Postdoc. It is much harder to be able to continue on after you time out of your postdocs. This is a simple matter of supply and demand. The field is not growing, and once in a National Lab someone might work 30 or 35 years before they retire. So, there simply aren't a lot of career openings and there is brutal competition for them.

    As long as you have a Plan B, and you're really excited about doing this kind of work for around 6 to 10 years (if you keep going as a postdoc) then the odds are decent (if you're really good).
  7. Oct 10, 2014 #6
    If I really love the topic of space, but I'm worried about how difficult it is to find a good position as an astronomer/astrophysicist, what is the plan B? It's not that I don't believe in myself, it's just that I probably don't have the work ethic that some people in that field do, and it would probably hurt my chances.

    Is the plan B aerospace engineering? The point is that I want to be involved in space in some way, but I'd also like a pretty good chance that I'll be comfortable financially, which is the result of finding a good job without too much effort.
  8. Oct 10, 2014 #7
    My concern is this:
    It seems that, based on what some people have told me, that even if you graduate with a Ph.D. in astrophysics, that is no guarantee that you will find a job.

    Is that really true? If it is, I don't know if it's a chance I want to take. I hope that it's not true. If you have a Ph.D. in astrophysics, it would seem to me that you would be an expert and would be able to find a job doing astrophysics SOMEWHERE, whether it's a university, government agency, or private industry.
  9. Oct 10, 2014 #8


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    I think it is pretty likely you'll find a postdoc. After that it becomes much harder. It's simply a matter of supply and demand. I think most astrophysics Ph.Ds do find a job after they run out of postdocs (the unemployment rate for Ph.Ds is very low) but only a relatively small percentage of them get to do astrophysics for the rest of their careers. Most end up doing something different like software development or finance.

    From my personal experience a lot of the actual day to day work of an astrophysics Ph.D. student or postdoc isn't that much different from a software developer so the transition isn't that hard.

    I think aerospace engineering is quite a bit different from astrophysics. Hopefully you'll enjoy it (it is worth taking a class or two).

    Space companies and agencies also hire a lot of electrical and software engineers. It is actually easier in some ways to get into NASA as an EE. That's because you have to take a significant pay cut to work at NASA (or a similar place). Therefore the competition is less.

    I guess the bottom line is do something you really enjoy. The work should be the focus more than the application. Then you will do better at it.
  10. Oct 10, 2014 #9
    They're basically correct, simply having a PhD in astrophysics (or in anything for that matter) doesn't guarantee you a job doing astrophysics. That might suck but you have to understand there is only so much funding for astrophysical research. That doesn't mean it definitely won't happen mind you but it's best to be prepared to have a plan B if those 3 routes don't pan out for astrophysics specifically.
  11. Oct 10, 2014 #10


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    Keep in mind that aerospace engineering is sufficiently different from a PhD in astrophysics (or just physics, for that matter) that one cannot make the jump without effort. However, a solid grounding in physics (not so much the astro side) can set one up to, with some effort, transition to a masters in aerospace engineering (or most engineering disciplines). This makes a plausible 'plan B', although it does mean going back to school after perhaps having gone through the long road of an astrophysics PhD.

    Consider that if you want to guarantee your employment somewhere in the 'astro' industry, your best bet is likely as analogdesign suggests, to go the engineering route and simply focus your efforts towards working at an aerospace company, or government agency like NASA.
  12. Oct 11, 2014 #11

    Vanadium 50

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    Why do you think that?

    There are about 1500 astrophysicist positions in the US. (My estimate by taking the DAP membership, and guessing how many of those people are retired, or (like me) on the rolls but not primarily an astrophysicist). That means, with a 30 year career, there are about 50 retirements per year. About 150 people graduate with astrophysics PhDs. So there you go.
  13. Oct 11, 2014 #12
    I understand the math there, but I think that also sort of reveals that the chances are pretty good that you would eventually get a job in astrophysics. Maybe not right away. You might have to wait years and apply and apply again and again to places before landing a job.

    But to obtain a Ph.D. in astrophysics, which basically signifies that you are an expert in that field, and to fail to ever get a job doing astrophysics in your entire LIFE just seems too absurd.
  14. Oct 11, 2014 #13

    Vanadium 50

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    And what do you do in the twenty years you are waiting for a position to open? And after twenty years of not doing astrophysics, why would you be in good shape to get a position?
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