Great Barred Spiral Galaxy

Why Study Astronomy?

A quote from the web site of the American Astronomical Society sums it up best, “… astronomers must apply equal measures of analytic thinking and imagination, logic and intuition, to answer the most fundamental questions about the cosmos …”.

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Student at Control Room

As an astronomer, your diverse set of skills will give you the edge you need when seeking career employment. The American Institute of Physics (AIP) collects excellent statistics with many detailed focus articles about the impact that an astronomy degree will have on you in terms of post-graduation employment status and starting salary. The AIP also provides a succinct representative illustration of the variety of employment sectors and career options that are available to an astronomy student. Beyond the AIP statistics and illustrations, the American Astronomical Society has made its own presentation about the career implications of an astronomy degree including example career profiles and why you should study astronomy to achieve your life goals.

Astronomy is a fundamental science because it has applicability to a wide range of length scales and because it is, at its core, about how things work. Astronomy is concerned with the chemical composition and physical properties of the universe from subatomic particles and the nucleosynthesis of atoms to the cosmic web of galaxies and dark matter. Thus, virtually any field of science can be touched directly from the backgroud that an astronomer has. Further, whether in observational astronomy or theoretical astrophysics, astronomers gain significant computer programming experience to deal with big data. Astronomers often find that they can take on a variety of roles relatively easily and thus they can communicate and coordinate activities that cross the traditional boundaries within and between science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. When you train as an astronomer, you develop a highly optimized combination of broad and deep knowledge that will let you take advantage of whatever opportunity life brings your way.

Prof. McIntosh and Student

An astronomer’s broad range of knowledge and intuition will give you the edge you need when applying for graduate or professional school. The American Institute of Physics collects excellent statistics with many detailed focus articles about student prospects for entering graduate school or professional school in terms of likely opportunities for support as a teaching assistant, research assistant, or through scholarships/fellowships, top ranked LSAT/MCAT exam scores, strong likelihood to actually follow through and pursue graduate/professional study, etc. While these statistics are not broken down to include astronomers explicitly, the impact that an undergraduate degree that incorporates astronomy can have on your prospects should be understood to be in line with that of a physics degree because of the similar emphasis on critical thinking, applied mathematics, and technological literacy.

Although astronomy majors are comparatively successful in achieving acceptance to graduate/professional schools, there is one further critical consideration that is not often mentioned by most academic advisors because of its “Tough Love” realism. That is: “What is your plan if your first plan doesn’t work out the way you think it will?”

With a physics degree that incorporates astronomy in hand your prospects are both strong and diverse. Astronomers investigate the chemical composition of stars, galaxies and interstellar gas bringing together knowledge from atomic and nuclear physics, quantum mechanics and chemistry. Astronomers study mechanics, thermodynamics and electromagnetism, which provide direct links to civil, electrical and mechanical engineering. Astronomers also employ model building and computer simulation methods, giving them the capabilities of mathematicians and computer scientists. What happens if your original professional school goal is diverted or needs to be delayed? You can count on the solid foundation of astronomy skills to provide you with diverse career opportunities in intellectually simulating environments where you can solve problems that will make our world into a better place.

Student at Telescope Site

Astronomy is about our place in the universe. Why are we here and where did we come from? Astronomy is also about the history of the universe. When did it begin, how did it happen, and how will it end (if it will end at all)?

Between these weighty questions there are a million little curiosities that are begging for answers: What are stars, planets, and galaxies? How did they evolve? Why does the night sky look the way it does? Does life exist among the stars? Is it intelligent life? How big is the Universe? What is its true structure?

As a student of Astronomy you will have the opportunity to learn about the answers that have been uncovered so far and where our boundaries of understanding are currently set. With persistence and dedication you will also learn to pose your own rational questions and then work toward their solutions to advance our understanding of the cosmos.