Career Definition of an Astrobiologist
As an astrobiologist, you will specialize in examining the existence of lifeforms in the universe. Astrobiology draws tenets from several disciplines, including astronomy, oceanography, and chemistry, so those in the field will need to have a diverse skill set. Astrobiologists can work in offices or laboratories and may work in observatories when needed. They can work alone conducting research or as part of a team, possibly as the team leader.
Astrobiologists are tasked with determining answers to questions, such as how life evolves or how would life look on another world. The work of astrobiologists is utilized by NASA during planning for space missions. Job responsibilities of astrobiologists may include utilizing telescopes to conduct research as to whether hospitable planets exist outside of the Milky Way, performing mathematical operations to analyze data related to the existence of other planets, and sharing their findings in scholarly journals or at conferences.
|Educational Requirements||Bachelor's degree|
|Job Skills||Analytical skills, self-discipline, critical-thinking skills, math skills, and technical skills|
|Median Salary (2016)*||$114,870 (physicists & astronomers)|
|Job Outlook (2014-2024)*||7% (physicists & astronomers)|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Prospective candidates in the field will need at least a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions. There are not many educational institutions that offer astrobiology degrees, so students will want to pursue degrees in astronomy, geology, chemistry, or related fields. More advanced positions require a master's or doctoral degree. Doctoral degrees are not available in astrobiology. Instead, prospective candidates will need to determine in what area of research, such as studying microbes in extreme environments, they want to specialize. The NASA Astrobiology Institute offers those in the field training, seminars, and relevant updates.
Astrobiologists will need strong analytical skills, as they must be precise during research experiments. They should also have self-discipline and be able to work independently. Critical-thinking skills are essential, since they must be objective in examining their work and their colleagues' work to determine if it is accurate. Astrobiologists must have strong math skills and be able to perform complex operations with the data they collect during research experiments. Strong technical skills are also essential when utilizing equipment like telescopes.
Career and Salary Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect employment information specific to astrobiologists; however, they report a 7% growth in employment opportunities for the category of physicists and astronomers between 2014 and 2024, which is about as fast as average for all occupations. The BLS reported a 2016 median annual wage of $114,870 for physicists and astronomers.
Those considering a career as an astrobiologist may be interested in one of the below related careers. They offer prospective candidates the opportunity to study and learn from the environment or Earth.