A bachelor's degree in astronomy or physics doesn't adequately prepare students for most careers in astronomy research or development. In fact, most students will want to go on to finish a Ph.D., although some research positions might be available to those with master's degrees. Prospective astronomers must practice strong observation and research skills, which can be developed through hands-on experience in laboratories and observatories during their university studies or through professional internships.
Bachelor of Science in Astronomy
A 4-year Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Astronomy program introduces students to topics involving the solar system, electromagnetic radiation, the Big Bang Theory and stellar evolution. Through their coursework, undergraduate students learn to use infrared, X-ray and other observational techniques. Courses cover topics including:
- Computational physics
- Radio astronomy
- Observational astronomy
Master of Science in Astronomy
A Master of Science (M.S.) in Astronomy program is typically available to students who already have a bachelor's degree in this field and usually takes two years to complete. Most M.S. programs require students to complete research projects and pass comprehensive exams. These programs allow students to explore advanced scientific topics in astronomy. This might include courses in subjects such as:
- Neutron stars
- Black holes
- Stellar structure
Doctor of Philosophy in Astronomy
A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Astronomy program will usually takes four years to complete. Ph.D. students in astronomy typically are required to complete and defend an original dissertation before graduating. Despite the research-based nature of most doctoral programs in the field, students might take some seminar-style courses in advanced topics like:
- High energy astrophysics
- Active galaxies
- Physical cosmology
Astronomy departments at many universities offer workshops and seminars on a variety of topics, including black holes, cosmic dark matter and cosmic cartography. Special programs, webinars and forums also are offered through professional organizations, including the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, the American Institute of Physics and the American Astronomical Society.
Professional astronomers can keep up with their colleagues' work, as well as that of amateur astronomers, though a number of websites. These include general astronomy sites, such as the Astronomical League (www.astroleague.org); niche offerings, like Woman Astronomer (www.womanastronomer.com); and regional pages, such as San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers (www.sfsidewalkastronomers.org), in addition to websites for individual planetariums and observatories. A number of publications exist that are geared toward astronomers, including Astronomy and Sky & Telescope magazines.
Those who are interested in the workings of the universe may be drawn to a degree in astronomy. Degree programs are offered at both undergraduate and graduate levels, with most students choosing to complete a PhD.