How to Become an Astrophysicist

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Astrophysics is a field of astronomy that focuses on the physics of the universe such as the physical properties and interactions of celestial objects. Astrophysicists are highly trained scientists that study the nature of the universe and conduct a variety of research tasks.

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What kind of training does an astrophysicist need?

Astrophysicists typically need a doctorate degree in astrophysics or related field. Prospective astrophysicists complete courses in physics, astronomy, chemistry, and mathematics. They also complete laboratory and planetarium coursework to gain hands-on experience. Many aspiring astrophysicists complete internships and conduct research with experienced astrophysicists to gain practical experience in the field. After completion of their doctorate degree, most astrophysicists complete fellowship programs. Some astrophysicists focus on a specialty in the field such as radio astronomy. Astrophysicists must complete regular continuing education to keep their skills up to date and stay abreast with the constant changes in the field. They often participate in lectures, seminars, and conferences.

What are the prospects for a career as an astrophysicist?

Employment of astrophysicists is expected to grow faster than average for all professions, increasing 16% from 2008 to 2018 (1). The increased demand for research in the field of astrophysics will drive job growth.

Job prospects should be good with some competition. Astrophysicists with advanced education and extensive experience will have the best job opportunities. Some job openings will result from the need to replace astrophysicists that retire, transfer, or leave the field for other reasons.

How much do astrophysicists make?

As of March 2010, the average annual salary for astrophysicists is $95,000; average annual astrophysicist salaries vary greatly on location, employer, education, experience, and benefits (2).

A career as an astrophysicist is an excellent choice for people with a strong interest in astrophysics and discovering new information about the physical properties of the universe. Astrophysicists must have a solid understanding of the concepts, policies, and procedures of astrophysics and a variety of research methods. Patience, determination, detail orientation, critical thinking, and good problem solving skills are essential characteristics. Astrophysicists must have good communication and interpersonal skills to be able to present their research findings. They must be able to effectively work independently without direct supervision.

What does an astrophysicist do?

Astrophysicists perform many different types of applied and theoretical research tasks to gain a better understanding of the universe. They use their widespread knowledge of physical and mathematical properties with observable data to create modern theories and explanations. They often use telescopes, satellites, and other sophisticated equipment to study celestial objects. They note their observations and compare and contrast data with mathematical formulas and physical models. Astrophysicists often present their research findings to a wide variety of other professionals and students. They typically present their data in formal scientific papers and presentations. Many astrophysicists focus on a specific theory or phenomenon, including the formation and extinction of stars, relativity and motion, black holes, and origin of the universe.

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