I did astrophysics as my degree.
If you want to be an astronomer, you're looking at a PhD *minimum*.
Lots of people love space. It's tremendously competitive.
My friends, who were a lot smarter than I am, went on to do PhDs, and for postdoc work you've basically got to be willing to move anywhere that'll offer you a place. One got an offer in Germany, so that's it, he had to move to Germany for his postdoc. another had to go to Greece. If you want to go down the academic route you have to be insanely smart, extrememly hard working, able to work yourself with no-one pushing you, or often even guiding you. You've also got to be able to accept having pretty much no money, social life, or job security for at least a decade. I know people who went down the academic route who had to give up relationships, who couldn't get mortgages because their income was too little and too uncertain.
However, it is a perfectly fine STEM degree to launch you into a range of technical careers. I've had a fine career as an engineer, kicked off by my degree. And if you're passionate about the subject, you're more likely to get a better quality degree.
I'm a PhD astronomy student at a UK University so I may be able to answer some questions:
1) Honestly the job market is as good as you are. What I mean is, an astronomy student who actively takes part in classes, does side projects with supervisors, learns a great deal of programming/coding, has high maths/practical/data skills acquire a great deal of experience applicable to many areas of work. If you actively seek opportunities it sets you apart drastically. I can't speak for other countries, but in the UK software developing/coding/data analytics jobs are booming IF you are good at programming. And physicists have that special mindset that make them quite appealing.
2) Nearly all 'astronomy' or 'astrophysics' jobs need a PhD and maybe more. Although you could potentially find work with, for example a satellite company. It's important to note that most PhD students don't actually go into academia and instead use their skills for related work. Unfortunately astronomy is very competitive and most people in the field do hold PhDs.
3) Although I'm doing a PhD, I did apply for quite a few jobs ranging from start ups to working with the ESO and the only thing that held me back from other candidates was my lack of coding experience which I actively worked on after my interviews and then decided to do a PhD. As an astronomer/astrophysicist you NEED to have good programming skills eventually.
4) As a PhD student I sort of 'work' for the uni as I hold seminars. However many of my classmates have gone onto big tech firms/government data analytics jobs and even finance (recommended you take finance modules for this route)
5 and 6) Honestly depends what you use your astronomy skills for. If you pursue academia don't expect to be swimming in money. People go down this route because they love research and learning. If however, you use your skills for software/finance you could be earning quite a lot. As a PhD student with a scholarship, I don't get heaps, but enough so that I can focus on my studies and rent a small place.
All in all, I love astronomy and do not regret my decision at all, but to be successful in the field and outside don't just depend on classwork. Actively set out there and learning new things like programming and modelling maybe, these are the skills that will sell you.
1. There are no astronomy factories making tons of money that are in need of help and hiring everyone they can. Government funding is tight, jobs are sparse, and super competitive.
2. PhD. A bachelor's qualifies you to do basically nothing as a research scientist except to go on to grad school.
3. I sit at a desk, drink coffee, debug code, and send emails.
5. Typical public sector employee. I will say that the frequent conference travel is quite a unique perk. Though with my computational and technical skills I could afford to do all the same travel in absolute luxury if I went to work for literally any company.
6. See 5 for my opinion of my compensation.
1) How is the job market for astronomers?
To do actual astronomy permanently, the job market is insanely competitive and the majority of PhDs never find such a job. However, unemployment of PhD astrophysicists is effectively zero, as you have highly transferable skills. As an astronomer, you can make more by not being an astronomer.
2) Would a bachelor's degree in astronomy be enough to land a good job or would I need to get a master's / PhD?
You cannot get a true astronomy job with a bachelors. You will need a PhD at a minimum. Bachelor's degrees in the physical sciences do tend to be good at getting unrelated industry jobs, though. However, I'll point out that most astronomy bachelors degrees are actually watered down physics degrees. You will do better if you do a double major with something like physics/CS/math/etc.
3) What sort of work do you do?
Teaching/research. Extragalactic astronomy.
4) Do you work for the government, a college, a private institution?
University. People who are actually doing astronomy professionally almost exclusively work for universities or national labs.
5) How are the benefits?
6) Do you make a reasonable wage?
University salaries are perfectly fine to live on, but you will not get rich. Equivalently skilled astronomers will make more in the private sector as programmers/data scientists/etc than in academia.
I'm a researcher at a major US astronomy department, and I thought I'd also take a crack at your questions:
1) The job market is pretty rough to be honest, *if you want to get a job as a professor*. There are a limited number of open jobs each year ([take a look here](https://jobregister.aas.org/
), although this is not job season), and there are a lot of really amazing astronomers who vie for those limited positions. I know a bunch of incredible, brilliant astronomers who haven't been able to find anything after years of trying. That's only going to get worse as more and more departments take on grad students. THAT BEING SAID, the skills of an astronomer are helpful in a lot of other fields, like data science and economics, and astronomy is a great way to learn coding for large data sets. There are all kinds of companies that will pay PhD astronomers to apply their knowledge to their problems.
2) It really depends on what type of job you're going for. For most professional astronomy positions, they're going to hope for some post-bachelors work, including getting a Masters or a PhD.
3) I work on the science team for a camera on a major space telescope. We're planning a giant survey with our guaranteed time (when you build an instrument on a telescope, you typically get a chunk of time to use the instrument), and I'm helping build tools that will help analyze these upcoming data. It's really exciting!
4) I work for a public university. I think you're going to find a lot of astronomers are in academia.
5) Pretty good, but this is department by department. I recently got married, and my wife is now on the university's health insurance, and it's been fantastic. But I've been to places where the health insurance hasn't been awesome (including mental health coverage, which is super vital, since academia is really rough).
6) When I was a graduate student (in a major city), I did not make enough money (~30k), but since getting a PhD, I've moved a few times and each time I've made more. I live in a mid-sized city right now, and I make enough to live well, but I don't have any children. There are people who work with me (and make the same amount) and do have children, but often it's necessary for both partners to work.
I think that the decision to become an astronomer is a wonderful one, and you're at an amazing part of your life. I would recommend:
- Learn as much coding as you can. Learn C! Learn python! Learn how to manipulate giant data sets! Learn awk! Learn shell scripting! Heck, learn unity. The more you code, the more options you will have on graduating.
- Learn about statistics. Learn about propogation of uncertainty. If your school offers an astronomy bachelors, take as much physics as you can. Take math up and through linear algebra, too.
- Don't waste your time in college. Take classics in history, take classics in social issues. Take classes where you write, and learn about the world, and the issues in the world. Learn how to listen, and learn how to admit you are wrong, and that you need help. So many people in academia operate from the position that they are Correct All The Time, and their job is to Prove Everyone Else is Wrong.
I'm wrong all the time. I make mistakes all the time. I fail all the time. And the quicker you learn that everyone does this, the happier you will be in any pursuit you embark on.
>1) How is the job market for astronomers?
For permanent positions, it’s very, very difficult. Especially if you care where you go. It’s not as hard to get postdoctoral positions (not if you’re flexible with the location) but they are short term (2 years, typically) and that usually means moving around to different institutions in different countries.
Outside of astronomy, it’s pretty good from what I can tell. You develop a lot of skills in coding and data analysis which are useful in many areas.
>2) Would a bachelor's degree in astronomy be enough to land a good job or would I need to get a master's / PhD?
You need a PhD for a job in astronomy.
>3) What sort of work do you do?
My area of research is mostly radio astronomy, where I study extremely distant galaxies. I study the interplay between supermassive black holes and their host galaxies, and how this impacts galaxy evolution. I also do stuff with gravitational lensing.
My typical day involves writing papers or proposals, reading papers, writing code, attending colloquia and seminars, meeting with colleagues to discuss research ideas. Part of the year this involves teaching duties, so I run tutorials for students, mark their lab reports, run lab sessions, write tutorials.
>4) Do you work for the government, a college, a private institution?
Both: half at an institute in a state university, and half at a government-funded independent institution.
>5) How are the benefits?
The general benefits are that you get to travel a lot, sometimes to cool places. You get to study really cool stuff. I feel grateful that I get paid to do what I do!
On the other hand, you have to constantly fight to get grants and data. Like any science field, grants and fellowships are very competitive. You probably have to move to different countries and institutions, which means most people end up in long-distance relationships: I have a lot of colleagues who live in different countries from their SOs. Until you get a tenured position, it’s not a career that is really suited to a stable family life.
>6) Do you make a reasonable wage?
I’m a PhD student in the Netherlands. I’m employed as staff, rather than a student, so I pay into a pension and get a decent salary that rises each year (€22-34K). I bought a house last year, so I can’t complain!
Not true everywhere, though: in the UK the salary is not great (about £14K I think).
1. Quite horrible
2. PhD is a minimum
5. Working in the field you're passionate about
6. More or less
I told my astronomer friend about this, and he sent me the following response to post (he doesn't have a Reddit account):
I'm a postdoctoral astronomer in the USA, so I'll try my best:
1) Overall the job market is good. Most astronomy PhDs get postdocs, but most also don't get permanent posts in astronomy. Of those that leave, positions in finance, in data science, in defense, and in government are most common.
2) Not as far as I know. A PhD in astronomy is pretty good, but if you're only doing a Bachelor's I recommend math, physics, computer science, and something that will improve your writing skills.
3) I analyze data from telescopes, mostly data from large surveys. I compare it to various models and write up about it. My own work focuses on the structure of the Milky Way, its assembly history, and the properties of the interstellar medium which is full of gas and dust.
4) I work for an educational institutional, but plenty of people work for the government (NASA offices, Space Telescope Science Institute) or a few private research institutes.
5) The benefits are great, you get flexibility in your schedule and you usually get great health insurance. You get to travel, and you get mostly good people in your work environment. The cost is that you most likely need to work a lot more than 40 hours a week.
6) Wages in astronomy, post PhD, are significantly above the national median of ~45,000/year. However, they are unlikely to ever go very high. So the wages are high to most people, but will appear as low to those from an upper-middle class background.