Astronomy Major?

Ok, I'm a high school Junior and and I've pretty much decided I want to go into science (or theatre) as my profession and I'm very interested in the science of Astronomy, however I'm not particularly a math person and I...hate...chemistry. So I was wondering if someone in the Astronomy field could give me some insight as to what it takes to get a degree (do you really need a PhD?) and what kind of work there is to do once you've got a degree.

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  • 1 decade ago
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    If you want a position as an independent researcher, a PhD is pretty much a must. however, with an undergrad degree, you could still be an observatory technician, or work at a museum or planetarium (but you won't likely be a curator or director; those will generally be PhD holders also.) There really are not many jobs as astronomers in hte U.S. outside of the academic world (including observatories) a few private research institutes, NASA and museums, though the skills learned as a graduate degree holding astronomer can be used widely. I had some experience building instrumentation that I leveraged into a remote sensing job after a post-doctoral type position. I now work for an aerospace company mostly building space hardware with remote sensing applications. I could also have worked in image analysis, technical instruction (for instance I was considering a job training field techs for those set top box systems in hotels that sell games and movies) or a few other areas.

    If you want to pursue a graduate degree in Astronomy, I highly recommend not majoring in it. Something more general like Physics is probably better, though naturally taking an intro astronomy course and some junior level courses (and maybe a grad level seminar class your junior or senior year) would be good exposure and will keep your spirits high as you slog through Thermodynamics and senior level quantum mechanics!

    You don't need to be a complete math whiz to do astronomy, but some basic competency is necessary. Astronomy is, in my mind, a sub-field of Applied Physics, and mathematics is an important part of the language of Physics thanks to its precision and conciseness for certain concepts. (When I think of math as a language, it makes it easier to learn and apply.)

    You need to be able to learn mathematical techniques, but you certainly don't need to be a master. If you can do basic calculus and simple differential equations, that is sufficient, though some more sophisticated techniques, like those learned in a graduate level "Mathematical Methods for Physicists" course can be useful. Yes, I know that might sound intimidating if you are struggling a bit in pre-calc, but you have years and years and years to develop competency.

    "Not particularly a math person" could be attributed to poor teaching. In my case, I had always been very good at math, but a rather unpleasant classroom experience my Junior year in HS left me math phobic, though it was not until after college that I recognized when/how it happened. I did poorly in calc my senior year in HS, and struggled with calc and differential equations in college which in turn made my upper level physics courses more difficult, but not impossible. It was only after college when I decided to sit down and work through my calculus book on my own that I finally 'got it.'

    My grad school Math Methods course was a chore, and none of the material stuck to the point that I can just sit down and use it on a whim (though I could for the first few years afterwards). . . The value was I do know what can be done and where to look it up and can relearn a technique if I run across the need.

    In practice in grad school, I found I had enough math competency to follow academic papers and do some relatively simple original derivations on my own. In the end, the math was more of a means of expression and verification of nifty ideas that I came up when thinking qualitatively rather than an analytical tool, though for me it has some value as the latter also.

    Source(s): grad school and 3-4 years of professional astronomy experience.
  • 5 years ago

    I did astronomy as an undergrad and never regretted it (especially since I found most physics boring). You will have to take a fair amount of physics anyway, along with math, so if your school offers the astronomy major, go with it.

  • 1 decade ago

    I am an Engineer and in my college Astronomy was a specialty within the Physics department. Astronomy would rely heavily on math. Also the joke within the Physics department was that there were only 3 professional paid Astronomers in the United States. So although Astronomy is great fun and a wonderful hobby. I would not recommend it as a profession.

    Source(s): I used to spend hours using the college telescope observing and taking photos.
  • 1 decade ago

    Math is the language of science, stick to theatre. Good luck!

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