Why major in Astronomy or Astrophysics?
Every astronomer would give a different answer to this question, but three common threads show up in their responses: the joy of discovery, lifestyle, and the employment prospects. On this page, we briefly address each of these, and include testimonials from UH astronomers.
What other career might take you to Iceland, Chile, La Palma, Australia, China, and Europe all in one year? Astronomy also finds its way into interdisciplinary topics which let us combine sciences to answer big picture questions such as ‘How did Earth get its water?’ The tools needed to answer these questions involve telescopes, geology, and space missions….. It does not get more exciting!
It’s a great big universe, and the act of uncovering its mysteries is itself an enjoyable task. Do you like solving puzzles? Do you enjoy feeling like a detective every day? Do you want to add to humanity’s understanding of the universe, and our place in it? Then astronomy is a good fit for you.
With nothing more than light collected by state-of-the-art telescopes, we can measure temperatures, compositions, velocities, and sizes. Combining this scant information with our knowledge of physics and chemistry we can then figure out what powers the sun, discover thousands of worlds around other stars, and even decipher the birth of the universe itself.
Astronomy is interesting. It tells you about the limitations of the planet you live in. It demands from you an honest mind, inquisitive and unprejudiced. It works as an antidote against all kinds of superstitions, it offers a fertile and attractive field for the practice of rationalism. You learn to think inspired by the great thinkers of scientific history.
Astronomy is an international endeavor – astronomers often work on teams involving people from multiple continents, and have opportunities to work in multiple countries. This gives them the chance to meet and become friends with people around the world. It is not uncommon for astronomers to attend research meetings or professional conferences, giving them the chance to travel to remote locales and add stamps to their passports.
Many jobs in astronomy offer flexibility in one’s day-to-day schedule – a punch clock can’t regulate one’s brain! What matters is steady progress, in whatever daily schedule best suits you. Do you work best in one-hour bursts interspersed with reading? Do you think best while sipping tea at a cafe? While there are always some scheduled events – classes to teach, meetings to attend – an astronomer is, to a large degree, left to work in whatever manner works best for her. And of course, night owls fit right in!
Nothing beats that moment of discovery when you sit back and think, ‘I’m the only person on Earth who knows this.’ Well, nothing except sharing that discovery with your friends and colleagues.
The process of earning an Astronomy or Astrophysics degree equips one with analysis, reasoning, programming, and communications skills that are in high demand in the workforce. Astronomers have the skills to move into fields as varied as “big data,” medical imaging, medicine, electronics engineering, and development of defense technologies. A sampling of accessible fields can be found at the Jobs for Astronomers website.
As discussed on the popular fivethirtyeight.com website, surveys have placed Astronomy and Astrophysics degree holders among the top-ten wage-earners in the years after graduation. Furthermore, studies by the Bureau of Labor Statistics have indicated that the unemployment rate for astronomy degree holders is one of the lowest in the United States, as reported by CNN.