Astronomy is the study of the universe – everything from the sun, moon and stars to the planets and galaxies. Astronomers are researchers, primarily with one eye glued to a telescope and a knack for working the graveyard shift. You can forget about finding a fast track to a career in this field – you need a doctorate degree to do much of anything in the field. With a master’s degree you could add a little onto someone else’s research, and with a bachelor’s degree you could assist another Astronomer. With an associate’s degree you can keep going to school or find a career in another field, ‘cause it’s not going to help you here.
Astronomers are curious. They love staring at the night sky. It’s not necessary, but for the most part Astronomer majors were the kid on the block who got a giant telescope for Christmas one year and actually liked it. Astronomy majors had better like math and physics, ‘cause they’ll eat, sleep and breathe it during most of their education.
Poor Astronomers – they belong to the group of professionals that need a strong background in science and math AND need to write well. Because so much hangs on their ability to write grant proposals and publish their research, Astronomers practically have to be Heminways. In addition, they have to be good with a budget, since they’ll be working under a tight one, and they have to be good at managing their time, since they normally have a limited amount of time to observe whatever they’re looking at.
If you thought you were getting into horoscopes and alignment of stars, save yourself a decade of expensive tuition and killer physics classes and instead take a course on Astrology, since that’s what you really want. Astrology and Astronomy are very different.
Astronomers are basically specified Physicists. That means a whole lot of Physics classes. You won’t just learn the names of all the planets and lots of Trivial Pursuit facts – you’ll dive into what makes the universe tick, what’s really going on in those black hole things, and if it’s true that in space no one can hear you scream. Well, maybe not that. But you’ll need a huge background in science to prepare you for your research as an Astronomer.
If you’re an actual Astronomer, you’re a researcher. Whether that means you’re searching for a new comet or analyzing the many rings of Saturn, you’re job is to come up with something to research, find a way to fund it, slave away for months or years, then publish your findings. If that proves too stressful or unsuccessful, trained Astronomers also can often find work as Physicists or other scientists.
You can’t possibly take too much Physics if you want to be an Astronomy major. Actually, many Astronomy graduate students get their undergraduate degree in Physics, partly because it’s useful and partly because more colleges offer an undergraduate degree in Physics than in Astronomy.
No one expects you to discover a new planet during your freshman year. But you can certainly get a head start on research by assisting a professor. You can also get some experience and use the information you gain in class by working or volunteering at the local planetarium.