Astrophysicists study the origin and evolution of the universe. They explore the basic properties and interactions of all matter and energy, including planets, stars, galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space. Astrophysicists also investigate the properties and processes that govern these objects and phenomena.
Astrophysicists work in many different areas of research. They may focus on a particular type of object such as planets, stars, or galaxies. Or they may study a specific process such as supernova explosions or interstellar clouds of gas and dust. Astrophysicists may also look at a wide range of issues, such as how black holes form or how dark matter behaves.
Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be an astrophysicist and what it takes to become one yourself.
Astrophysicist Job Duties
Astrophysicists are responsible for a wide range of duties, including the following:
- Collecting and analyzing data in order to assess stellar properties, planetary systems, or other astrophysical phenomena
- Designing and building new telescopes to be used in research projects
- Conducting research in theoretical physics to advance the understanding of the universe
- Collecting data on light emissions from stars, planets, nebulas, and other objects in space to help determine their composition
- Estimating the size, age, and origin of the universe
- Preparing reports on research findings to share with colleagues and other scientists
- Developing computer models to simulate a physical process in an attempt to identify underlying principles that may not be visible in experimental data alone
- Teaching university courses on related topics
Astrophysicist Salary & Outlook
The median annual wage for astrophysicists is $84,425. The highest earners make over $164,000 per year. Those earning higher wages tend to work in scientific research and development services.
Job opportunities for astrophysicists are expected to grow slowly over the next decade. This is due to the relatively small number of available positions each year, as well as the growing expertise needed for this field.
Astrophysicist Job Requirements
The requirements for an astrophysicist are as follows:
Education: Astrophysicists must have a bachelor’s degree in physics or a related field. They must also obtain a master’s degree in astrophysics or astronomy. Some employers require a doctoral degree obtained through original research about a specific sub-field.
Training: Astrophysicists receive training during their education and on the job. They may be asked to complete an internship which will allow them to develop their skills. New astrophysicists are expected to work closely with their supervisors and stay up to date about new trends and findings in their industry. They may attend conferences in order to do this.
Certifications & Licenses: Astrophysicists are not normally required to obtain a certification. Many become members of the American Astronomical Society and have access to classes and networking opportunities.
The following skills are required for this job:
Math and science skills: Astrophysicists must have a strong background in math and science.
Communication skills: Astrophysicists must be able to communicate complex scientific concepts to the general public.
Time management skills: Astrophysicists must be able to manage their time well, since they often work on multiple tasks at once.
Perseverance: Since astrophysics is such a long-term career, it requires perseverance and patience. Astrophysicists must be willing to put in many hours of hard work over several years without seeing immediate results.
Research skills: An astrophysicist needs to be able to research new topics or follow up on others’ research.
Problem-solving skills: Astrophysicists must be able to solve problems by analyzing data and creating solutions. They must also be able to find errors in their own work and those of others.
Astrophysicist Work Environment
Most astrophysicists work at universities, scientific research laboratories, or government agencies. They spend the majority of their time doing independent research in order to solve problems and answer questions related to space science. They often have significant responsibility for running projects, and they also collaborate with colleagues on large-scale endeavors.
Astrophysicists may do a considerable amount of reading and writing during the course of their day. They may also spend a great deal of time working in front of a computer, analyzing digital images and data. They also have to travel for their job, going on research trips to different parts of the world.
Astrophysicist Career Path
New graduates join post-doctoral research fellowships and join the astrophysics community. They learn how to balance the demands of their profession with the need to publish, and they begin to take short courses that will help them become experts in various fields. Some go on to earn advanced degrees or work as part-time teachers.
Five Years Out
A number of astronomers have advanced degrees, usually from a doctoral program. Five years out, those with advanced degrees are working as researchers at research institutions, universities, private industry, or NASA. A few have started their own businesses or have taken jobs as teachers or lecturers. The tenured professors have a good deal of freedom in their work schedules and a great deal of say-so in their field of study. They also have excellent salaries and benefits.
Ten Years Out
The majority of astronomers head up research programs at universities or government agencies. A significant number teach at universities or run their own research facilities or private businesses. Salaries increase for those with large staffs under them; some make upward of $150,000 a year. Publication is very important for career advancement at this stage; the most successful members of the community publish a great deal and remain active in academic journals and professional organizations. Those who do not publish much must justify that fact to colleagues and superiors by demonstrating significant contributions to the field through other means such as mentoring younger colleagues, training students, developing software tools, etc.
Here are three trends influencing how astrophysicists work. Astrophysicists will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.
Big data is changing the way astrophysicists collect and analyze information, making it easier to share data with colleagues while also improving productivity in the field. Big data can improve research on topics like black holes, neutron stars, and even dark matter.
These are areas that are traditionally more difficult to study because of the sheer amount of information that needs to be collected. Thanks to modern technology, astrophysicists can collect larger amounts of data than ever before while also analyzing this information at a faster rate than ever before, which will lead to new discoveries about space.
Discovery of Earth-Like Planets
In recent years, there has been a significant increase in the number of planets discovered outside our solar system. As astronomers become more adept at locating these distant planets, researchers are beginning to ask the question of whether or not these planets are habitable for humans.
While this trend is likely to continue in coming years, it is unlikely that any time soon humans will travel to other worlds. Even so, some projects are underway to develop robots capable of exploring distant planets for signs of life.
The Rise of the Citizen Scientist
Astrophysicists are becoming increasingly dependent on their counterparts in the “citizen scientist” movement. Citizen scientists typically focus on projects related to astronomical observation, where they use amateur equipment and instruments to capture images of stars, planets, or other celestial bodies.
While this type of work is often tedious and repetitive, it allows people with limited access to sophisticated research facilities to contribute valuable data that can help improve our understanding of outer space.
How to Become an Astrophysicist
1. Planning Your Career
The field of astrophysics is fascinating and wide-ranging, with job opportunities in research and teaching as well as in private industry. If you’re interested in a career as an astrophysicist, it’s important to think about the area of astronomy that interests you most. You should also be aware of how long it takes to become a fully qualified professional. Most people spend many years working as postdoctoral researchers before getting hired for their first permanent position.
This field has the potential to affect the lives of millions of people, so if you’re looking for a career that will have real world implications, consider solar physics. Alternatively, if you want to work in an academic setting, consider an interest in stellar astrophysics or galactic astrophysics. Whatever your interests are, it’s important to gain some hands-on experience with relevant technologies before applying for a position at a university or other organization.
2. Writing a Resume
The best resumes for astrophysicists should be tailored to the job description. If the position requires public speaking, you are expected to have experience presenting at conferences or giving lectures to groups of students. If the position involves lab work, detail your lab skills and list any certifications you have attained.
Include additional details about your education if it is relevant to this position–such as publications that you wrote while pursuing your degree which could demonstrate your interest in or knowledge of this field.
3. Applying for Jobs
An aspiring astrophysicist should start with a search for astronomical organizations and societies. Find out if there are any local or national groups that might be a good fit for you. You may also want to look into working with a mentor who has a lot of experience in the field.
Check online to see if there are any programs that could help you gain the skills you need to get a job in the industry. It’s always a good idea to get involved with other people who are interested in the same field, whether they are professionals or students. In the end, it is important to remember that you have to make yourself stand out from the crowd.
4. Ace the Interview
For astrophysicist jobs, it’s important to prepare for questions about your educational background, research experience, and experience working with other people.
You need to be able to explain your specific area of expertise as well as the kinds of research you have done. You should also be prepared for questions about why you want to work at this particular company, which can help you demonstrate an interest in the firm’s work.
Once you understand the position, you can use practice interviews to refine your answers and make sure that everything you say sounds professional.
For every interview question you are asked, have at least two prepared answers ready—one that is short and to the point, and another that is longer and more detailed. Think about how to present yourself in an honest but positive way during the interview.