There are a number of disciplines within the study of xenobiology, including physics and astronomy. Most xenobiologists have a master's or Ph.D degree, although some positions in the field require only a bachelor's degree. The typical work environment for xenobiologists is in academics or at a space center, where they often serve in a researching capacity.
Xenobiology, or astrobiology, is the study of how life began on Earth and whether there is extraterrestrial life in the rest of the universe. Encompassing multiple science disciplines, xenobiologists typically work in research for a space center or in academics. These professionals can get into positions with a bachelor's degree; however, a graduate degree is standard for most positions.
|Required Education||Variable according to career aspirations; a bachelor's, master's or Ph.D degree in physics or astronomy|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||7% for physicists and astronomers|
|Median Annual Salary (2015)*||$111,580 for physicists & $104,100 for astronomers|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Education Requirements to Become a Xenobiologist
Xenobiologists typically pursue a graduate degree program for most positions within this field; however, positions are available with a bachelor's degree. Undergraduate programs are available in a broad scientific discipline such as astronomy, biology, physics or geology, which will provide students with the science foundation to pursue graduate study in astrobiology. Students may also choose to focus their studies early on through undergraduate degrees or minors in astrobiology. Undergraduate programs typically include coursework in evolution, astrophysics and microbiology. Additionally, undergraduate students can also participate in summer internships through such organizations as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Astrobiology Institute (www.astrobiology.nasa.gov).
Universities offer doctoral programs that culminate in a dual-degree in astrobiology and another field, such as biology, astronomy or geosciences. Graduate certificates in astrobiology or an astrobiology graduate minor are also available. Upon completion of a graduate astrobiology program, students can participate in postdoctoral fellowship and other programs sponsored by NASA that provide valuable experience that may ultimately lead to future research positions.
Xenobiology Career Information
Xenobiologists who choose not to pursue a graduate education may go on to work in research and development jobs in the aerospace, aeronautical and other high-tech industries. Space scientists who are interested in academia must have a graduate degree; usually a doctoral degree is required. Holders of graduate degrees may teach at universities or perform academic research in a chosen interest area.
Although they are in a scientific field of their own, xenobiologists can perhaps be classified most closely with astronomers and physicists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), astronomers had a median annual wage of $104,100, and physicists had a median annual wage of $111,580 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). Jobs in these fields were expected to increase about as fast as average from 2014-2024, according to the BLS.
Undergraduate students aspiring to become xenobiologists may be able to get their foot in the door by enrolling in a summer internship program with an organization like NASA. Once students reach the graduate level of study, there are a few options they might consider. Doctoral programs with dual-degrees are available, as are graduate certificates; upon graduation, sponsored postdoctoral fellowship programs are offered as well.