Many graduates of astronomy degrees go on to pursue specialized astronomy careers. Mainly research-based roles, these usually require completion of a PhD or at least a master’s degree – but then, if you’ve truly got a passion for the subject, the idea of spending an extra three or four years studying astronomy should appear more as a welcoming nebula than a scary black hole.
Astronomy careers in universities
Astronomy careers based in universities include jobs as a research associate or as a lecturer in astronomy. You will have various laboratories, libraries and other university facilities at your disposal to carry out research in your field of interest. Often, research-based astronomy roles are combined with teaching responsibilities, so you’re also likely to spend time delivering lectures and supporting students. This means astronomy careers at universities are also a great chance to share your knowledge of astronomy topics with the next generation of enthusiasts.
Astronomy careers in observatories
Astronomy jobs in observatories will typically be research-based. As an observational astronomer, you’ll spend some of your time collecting data from equipment at the observatory, and the rest analyzing and interpreting the data. You could also be an astronomer partner, working in collaboration with school and university teachers to bring the subject to life for to new audiences. Alternatively, you can work as a telescope operator and be responsible for all the telescopes and any other equipment in the observatory. To qualify for this job, you need to have mechanical and optical skills.
Astronomy careers in planetariums and museums
A planetarium astronomer will be mainly responsible for the development and delivery of planetarium shows, the coordination and communication of planetarium programming and the maintenance of planetarium technology and content. This job will give you the opportunity to engage with a wide range of audiences in a range of settings. In some planetariums and museums, you will be expected to also deliver school workshops, planetarium shows, special events and to support the wider activity of the organization, including the development and planning of exhibitions and digital resources both on- and off-site.
Astronomy careers in governmental research organizations
Fancy a job at NASA? It’s possible. There are many national research organizations all over the world which offer positions for graduates with degrees in physics or astronomy. However, bear in mind that governmental agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the US or the National Institute for Earth Sciences and Astronomy (INSU) in France, have very specific goals and interests when they hire new people. This is a highly competitive sector to get into and you will probably need to complete a PhD and gain some additional research experience first.
Astronomy careers in the aerospace sector
Astronomy careers within the aerospace sector are related to researching, designing, manufacturing, operating and maintaining various types of aircraft and/or spacecraft. The aircraft in question may have commercial, industrial and military applications. There are many private companies which produce technical tools and components for craft such as spaceships and satellites, and astronomy graduates may find roles here. Possible employers in this sector include Boeing, EADS, Lockheed Martin, MacDonald Dettwiler and Northrop Grumman.
If you’re ready to try something different, there are many other sectors in which the strong numerical, computational and data-handling skills provided by an astronomy degree are in high demand, ranging from media and communications to finance and accounting.