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How to Become an Astronomer

A passion for stars, planets, galaxies, and the universe, and a thirst for knowledge of what's out there can lead you to consider astronomy as a career and not just as an amateur pursuit. It's a choice that can take you all over the world and possibly lead you to major and amazing discoveries about what's out there in space and what we can learn from it. Becoming an astronomer will take dedication, good study skills, and a focus on attending the right courses.


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    Consider the challenges first. Astronomy is a popular field and there is intense competition within it. Moreover, there are not a lot of jobs available, and many of them will be in academia.[1] This means that you'll need to be prepared to study very hard, to focus yourself early on the areas you're willing to work in, and to also consider work in related but not necessarily pure astronomical work. However, if you don't give it your best, you won't know your chances, so don't let the challenges stall you before you begin!
    • Be prepared to set aside the time and resources to become as qualified an astronomer as possible. This will usually mean getting postgraduate qualifications on top of your initial degree, adding more time to your overall studies.
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    Do well at school if you're starting at this point. This means top grades in your final year(s) examination results. Focus in particular on mathematics, physics, and other science subjects, as these are the bedrock of astronomy. In addition, knowing foreign languages, computer science and geography can be helpful. Other skills that it's important to have as an astronomer include:
    • Be analytical, logical, and have sound reasoning skills.[2]
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    Look for a suitable college or university course. Degrees focused only on astronomy as a first degree course are not common, so you may have to consider moving from where you live, or even applying to an overseas university. Alternatively, speak to the university about the astronomy options that it does offer and work out whether taking courses in mathematics and/or physics with some astronomy input will be sufficient to enable you to later pursue postgraduate studies in astronomy alone. Talk to the course advisers for more information.
    • Whatever your choice, it is important to aim for the best possible university or college that your school results enable.
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    Select suitable degree subjects. If you're able to get into a pure astronomy degree, then it's likely that the appropriate subjects will already have been sorted out by the course coordinators. If not, then do a mathematics or physics degree. If possible, add astronomy and/or astrophysics if offered but these can be picked up with higher degrees if need be. Whatever you end up studying, do very well in it.
    • By the time of your postgraduate work, be willing to challenge tradition and the status quo. A great astronomer (who sadly died young), Beatrice Tinsley, is known as one of the greatest creative theoreticians in astronomy and was renowned for her breadth and ability to synergize a great deal of information and see many linkages. Her thesis took 8 years before it was truly accepted because she was so forward thinking in what she discovered but she didn't let this deter her. Be strong in your convictions (and factual bases) about seeing connections and theories others can't.
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    Spend time polishing up your computing skills. This doesn't mean playing games; it means actual programming skills and understanding the mathematical principles that go into programming.
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    Make astronomy your passion. Even if you're not able to study astronomy as part of your first degree, this is no reason for neglecting to learn as much about it as possible. Read widely in the field, join a local astronomy society and involve yourself in its activities, and take trips to observatories and science museums. As well, try to meet with real astronomers to talk to them about their jobs. You never know, you might also be able to find vacation work doing mundane but crucial things to help astronomy projects in different parts of the world, so be sure to ask and to keep eye on online astronomy forums for any possibilities that might come up.
    • Look for part-time or vacation positions at university observatories during your semester breaks, even if you're working the till at the entrance. It's all a foot in the door for the keen astronomer.
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    Work out which area of astronomy you'd like to dedicate your career work to. As you become more and more specialized through your astronomy studies and experience, you'll need to choose the area of greatest interest to you. Generally, astronomers will specialize in such fields as planetary science, solar astronomy, the origin and evolution of stars, and the formation of galaxies.[3]
    • Even with specialization, there is no such thing as a "typical day" for an astronomer, as work can vary broadly including looking through telescopes, using computers to model theories, doing research, talking to other astronomers, educating the public, visiting other observatories, analyzing data, and attending meetings or conferences.[4]


  • Being a "night owl" is a benefit!
  • Maintain good physical fitness and optimal nutrition. Star-gazing is harder work than it might seem and staring into telescopes can bring about muscle aches you've never experienced before!
  • Learn early on how to write grant proposals. It's highly likely that this will be a fair proportion of your work!
  • It is thought that the best papers written by astronomers are in the age group 40-50.[5] This gives you much time to be evolving your theories and testing them.
  • Unlike other science subjects, it's a lot harder to interact with the objects you're studying. You can't touch a star, cannot visit a nebula, can't be close to a planet. You will need to learn a lot from observing the electromagnetic spectrum (hence the reason for physics), and from understanding the general principles of mathematics and science, especially physics. You will need to be very comfortable with research, computer modeling, and testing hypotheses endlessly.[6]
  • Check out the lists of national astronomy associations to find the names of the people who are important in the field, to see which college or university they went to, or to understand their career path.[7]


  • As with any degree, there is always a possibility of not finding the job you want at the end of it. You should be prepared to think laterally and to look for related jobs, even if they're not specifically about astronomy. Don't lose sight of your goal but don't give away good opportunities just because they're not focused specifically on your end goal; see each of these as stepping stones.
  • Be kind to people who call you an astrologer and simply set them straight on their commonplace misunderstanding. While irritating, it's impossible to say that you won't make the same mistake about someone else's career terminology.

Things You'll Need

  • Maths and physics background, ease of understanding
  • Determination to pursue a career in a competitive field
  • Suitable college or university degree
  • A passion for all things space

Article Info

Categories: Astronomy