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To be or not to be [An astrophysicist]

  1. Sep 15, 2014 #1
    I'm looking for some academic guidance since I have to apply for a university in 5 months time. I have considered being an astrophysicist, as this field was my first great love. I was an avid stargazer years back, but then I stopped observing and thinking about astronomy for some time. I thought I was going to be a writer, then a philosopher, then a biologist and then finally a geologist. I have realized now that working trying to understand the universe probably would bring me the greatest amount of satisfaction.
    (I stumbled across Neil deGrasse Tyson on Youtube some time ago and he refueled my once so extreme passion for the cosmos - so thanks, Neil.)

    I have read threads from this and other forums where people ask about working as astrophysicists, and they often get told that all you do is numerical analysis, data crunching, programming and lots of lots of computer work. That doesn't really sound like it's worth getting a degree in, but what do you think? I live in Sweden and will be going into university at a late age (21), and I don't want to make a mistake and apply for the wrong course...

    Will I be able to do research? Can I expect to contribute anything signficant to science, perhaps help manage a Mars rover? Win a nobel prize? Or will I end up as a statistician a bank? (My nightmare).

    Tell me if you need more information about me. Thanks for any answers I get.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 15, 2014 #2


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    Disclaimer: I'm a second year undergrad so everything below may be BS.

    Unfortunately even physicists can't predict the future. :) If you enjoy doing it, go for it. The chances of getting a research position are fairly slim. However, that percentage is calculated from physics graduates/faculty positions, not physics graduates interested in faculty position/faculty positions, AFAIK. There are lots of jobs available with an astrophysics graduate degree and not all involve data crunching.

    Making a major contribution to physics is a misinterpreted idea. In the 1900s, there were a few people very intelligent who made large contributions to physics. Nowadays it is more collaborative and everyone makes smaller contributions. That shouldn't be a source for discouragement. No matter what career you go into, if you work pretty hard, you should be able to get some job involving physics (i.e. no banking).
  4. Sep 15, 2014 #3


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    I found this to be a pretty baffling question. I won't say it's not possible, but no, I wouldn't expect that you will win a Nobel prize as an astrophysicist. And if that's where you draw the line in terms of significant contributions to science then you're going to be in for a shock.

    I will say with certainty that you will be able to do research, hehe. You won't be doing much else on your way to the degree and you won't be doing much else after if you plan to stay in academia.
  5. Sep 16, 2014 #4
    Thanks for the replies. I'm a bit confused now though, as Rocket said "chances of getting a research position are fairly slim" while esuna replied that I WOULD be doing research, no matter what. Can you two elaborate on that? Also, can you tell me what that research typically look like? And Rocket, which jobs did you refer to that does NOT involve a lot of data crunching? As far as I know most modern astrophysicists almost never observe through telescopes themselves.

    Thanks for helping :)
  6. Sep 16, 2014 #5

    You have the good fortune in living in a country where you have access to a physics programme which is highly sought after, both in academia and in basically every part of the industry. I'm talking about Applied Physics, or 'Teknisk Fysik' as we call it. If you decide that an academic carreer isn't feasible after a few years, you still have an engineering degree which, thanks to how tough the programme is, is highly sought after. If you're living in Sweden, Applied Physics is just a no-brainer. The quality of the education and the drive of the other students is likely to be miles above what you'd get in a 'standard' physics curriculum. Sweden seems to be rather unique here, so don't waste your opportunity.
  7. Sep 16, 2014 #6
    Also don't forget that lots of things change in five years. People tend to have a rather naive picture about what their passions are, which is constantly changing and maturing. You should NOT decide what to do with your life based on youtube videos. I constantly bump into people who chose a very niched education early on, only to discover they didn't want to do research after all. But research is basically all these programmes are good for, which puts you into the uncomfortable spot of being underqualified for the actually interesting industry jobs and utterly overqualified for everything else. With applied physics in Sweden, there is no such problem.
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