What is an astronomer?
A career as an astronomer is all about discovering the secrets of the universe. Astronomers study the origin and the structure of the universe, such as its planets, galaxies and black holes. The field is divided into two types: observational astronomy and theoretical astronomy. Observational astronomers use telescopes and other space vehicles to look at objects like the stars and planets, while theoretical astronomers use computer models and maths to develop theories.
What sort of careers are available within the field?
A wide range of careers are available, so you can be sure to find one that suits your skillset. Many astronomers are researchers and lecturers.You could also train to become a telescope mechanical engineer, someone who works to design and operate telescopes.
Or, why not become a planetary geologist? Planetary geologists study how planets, moons, asteroids and comets (and everything else in the solar system) were formed, and how they have evolved over time. You could even find yourself working at a museum or a planetarium, sharing your specialist knowledge with the general public.
What are the typical responsibilities of an astronomer?
Your responsibilities will vary depending on your area of expertise. However, typical responsibilities include: collecting and analysing data from spacecraft, exploring space using telescopes, designing new technology while maintaining existing ones and executing research projects that answer key questions. If you plan on doing a postdoctoral fellowship, you can expect to train and mentor students, and teach astronomy courses.
As an astronomer, you can expect large, ground-based observatories. Bear in mind that hours can be irregular, and you may need to travel outside of the UK. This is especially true if you’re interested in an observational astronomy career.
How can I become an astronomer?
It’s possible to become an astronomer with just an undergraduate degree; however, to reach senior levels, you’ll need to have or be working towards a PhD. Once you have a PhD, your research supervisor will help you search for postdoctoral posts, or you can apply for a fellowship. This will allow you to conduct independent research in your area of interest.
Instead of university, why not complete a technical qualification or an apprenticeship? For example, Airbus, the UK Space Agency and the University of Leicester recently launched a space engineering technician apprenticeship. Some careers in astronomy provide the option for you to work your way up from an entry-level position, for example museum assistant to a museum curator.