Exploring this Job
Students can measure their aptitude and interest in the work of the astrobiologist by taking biology courses. Laboratory assignments, for example, provide information on techniques used by the working astrobiologist. Many schools hire students as laboratory assistants to work directly under a teacher and help administer the laboratory sections of courses.
School assemblies, field trips to federal and private laboratories and research centers, and career conferences provide additional insight into career opportunities. Advanced students often are able to attend professional meetings and seminars.
Part-time and summer positions in biology or related areas are particularly helpful. Students with some college courses in biology and astrobiology may find summer positions as laboratory assistants. Graduate students may find work on research projects conducted by their institutions. Beginning college and advanced high school students may find employment as laboratory aides or hospital orderlies or attendants. (Despite the menial nature of these positions, they afford a useful insight into careers in biology and astrobiology.) High school students often have the opportunity to join volunteer service groups at local hospitals. Student science training programs at colleges and universities allow qualified high school students to spend a summer doing research under the supervision of a scientist.
Finally, check out Ask an Astrobiologist (https://astrobiology.nasa.gov/ask-an-astrobiologist), which features more than 1,000 frequently asked questions about astrobiology.
Astrobiologists study the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of all life forms in the universe. Astrobiologists' work is varied—they try to find answers to such questions as how life forms are affected by changes in environment, if any forms of life exist on other planets, as well as the adaptability of human beings to extraterrestrial environments.
Most astrobiologists work for government-funded agencies such as NASA. For example, at NASA's Ames Research Center, astrobiologists could be assigned to work on research projects covering animal muscle evolution or plant adaptation. Much of their work takes place inside a laboratory with actual specimens, but sometimes the nature of their research takes them to different places around the world. Some are even assigned to help plan and monitor experiments for future spaceflight missions.
Many other astrobiologists find work at the university level, either as researchers or educators. Academic positions are quite competitive, since only a few schools offer programs devoted to astrobiology. However, this may change in the near future as interest grows in this interdisciplinary field.
Astrobiologists also work at private research institutes located worldwide. An astrobiologist employed as a researcher at the Scripps Research Institute, for example, might conduct studies on the effects of drastic environments on simple proteins. Researchers strive to have their work published in industry journals such as Astrobiology Magazine or presented at seminars offered by the NASA Astrobiology Institute.