PhD in Astrophysics: Jobs & Salary

May 26, 2019

This article gives a brief description of some of the occupations open to graduates with a PhD in astrophysics. Also included are the median salaries and prospective job growth for each career field.

A PhD in astrophysics grants access to a vast and varied array of research and career opportunities in academia, government and the private sector. Below are some of the career paths and salaries available for those with a PhD in astrophysics.

Careers and Salaries for a PhD in Astrophysics

Job Title Median Salary (2018)* Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Postdoctoral Researcher $119,580 (physicists and astronomers) 14% (physicists and astronomers)
Science Software Developer $105,590 (software developers) 24% (software developers)
Astronomer $105,680 10%
Atmospheric Scientist $94,110 (atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists) 12% (atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists)
Aerospace Engineer $115,220 6%

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Postdoctoral Astrophysics Career Descriptions

Postdoctoral Researcher

Postdoctoral research positions might offer a wealth of experiences; calibrate a giant telescope in Hawaii or analyze exoplanetary data from space-based instruments. Postdoctoral researchers work in teams to design experiments, build instruments and analyze data for a broad range of projects. Scientific methodology is employed to find, collect, analyze, document and present findings.

Science Software Developer

Software development is essential for turning theoretical hypotheses into practical experimentation and noise into data. Science software developers may engineer software to give an instrument function or code algorithms to translate instrument language into readable data. Developers work closely with researchers and need a firm scientific grounding to understand what to look for and how the equipment needs to work. Developers bridge the gap between ideas and the instruments needed to test them; the ability to program equipment to find, accumulate and transform raw data into workable information is absolutely crucial to research projects.


Astronomers study stellar objects borne from the physical forces which shape our universe. Astronomers develop theories based on astronomical observations of particular areas of space using specialized telescopes; they then use scientific equations and principles to try and predict natural patterns or extrapolate information millions of years old. Astronomical observations lead to new understandings and technologies; they allowed us to find evidence of singularities and then design and build a camera capable of capturing the first image of a black hole.

Atmospheric Scientist

These scientists use specialized equipment to observe atmospheric conditions and computer modeling to determine how these forces interact with other planetary spheres. Atmospheric scientists use satellites, ground telescopes and radar to monitor Earth while space telescopes and detectors are used to observe the atmospheric properties of system planets and exoplanets. Physical principles such as electromagnetism and gas laws are employed to search out and analyze gas and debris. These findings can be used to understand and mitigate climate change or determine the habitability of another planet.

Aerospace Engineer

Aerospace engineers develop new designs for aeronautical and astronautical crafts and propulsion systems. Physical materials, thermodynamics and celestial mechanics are some of the areas in which engineers can specialize. Aerospace engineers may research new materials and design stress tests to ascertain viability or analyse damage to determine the cause and create reports and new methodology to avoid future problems. They may build, repair and/or launch satellites and spaceships.

Career prospects for individuals with a PhD in astrophysics are abundant and on the rise. Astrophysics postgraduates have training in a multitude of scientific disciplines which translates well into many different career paths in research, development and teaching.

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