Why Macs?

no more dual boot machines

Programming Languages

idl and Python
also, fortran, C, and shell scripting
general Unix administration

Job skills

Scientific Writing for writing up papers
Persuasive writing for telescope, grant, and job proposals and applications.
engaging speaker
research mentor
classroom teacher
self-motivation. independence. self-directed.
tolerance for uncertainty in career path.
tolerance for moving around every 3-5 years in your twenties and thirties
lack of desire to be rich. Astronomers do well, but not very well.
passion for Astronomy and the pursuit of Truth.  (too cheezy?)

Career Path


major in Physics.
REU or some other research experience.
prepare for Physics GRE.

Grad School

you get paid. 20-28k/year in the US.
most programs have rigorous course and written and/or oral qualification requirements. These are hoops you must jump through before being "advanced to PhD candidacy" that are usually based on course work topics.
for most, the Masters degree is either skipped, something you pick up along the way (after passing the qualifiers) or, a "going away prize" that is awarded to students who do not pass the quals. 
typical duration to PhD is 4-6 years in the US.
probably have to teach as teaching assistant (TA) while taking courses and doing research.
the PhD is (generally) very self-directed. Your PhD advisor is there to help guide you along a project, but you won't graduate until you "own" your project and know more on the topic than your advisor does.


Typical to do 1-2 3-year postdocs after grad school before landing a permanent position.
Prize fellowships (e.g, Hubble/Sagan/NSF) are the most prestigious and are self-directed. However most postdoc positions involve spending at least some of your time doing some task for someone else.

Permanent Job?

after the postdoc, the career path can take many different forks, the least likely of which is professor at a big research institution (so-called R1s).

Faculty at smaller institutions which span the full spectrum from mostly research to research+teaching to mostly teaching. 

Staff at a NASA lab like STScI or JPL.
Work in industry like Boeing.
Check out Non-Academic Network on AAS page.


Astronomy is small. There is probably not more than two degrees of separation between all of us, including internationally.  As a result, networking is extremely important. People expect to know you or someone who knows you.

There is somewhat of a division between instrumentalists, observers, and theorists.

Astronomy is both very diverse and not very diverse at the same time. There are very few women and underrepresented minorities. However, Astronomy is very culturally diverse with major astronomy centers all over the world, most notably including the UK, Western Europe, South America, East Asia, Australia, and India.

Page last modified on Tuesday 22 of March, 2016 14:54:27 EDT