There are about 2,000 astronomers employed in the United States. About 40 percent work for colleges, universities, and professional schools, while 23 percent work for the federal government, with the majority employed by the U.S. Department of Defense (especially at the U.S Naval Observatory and the Naval Research Laboratory). Others work for NASA, and the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Energy.
Astronomers more frequently find jobs as faculty members at colleges and universities or are affiliated with those institutions through observatories and laboratories. Other astronomers work in planetariums, in science museums, or in other public service positions involved in presenting astronomy to the general public; others teach physics or earth sciences in secondary schools or are science journalists and writers.
In the private sector, astronomers are hired by consulting firms that supply astronomical talent to the government for specific tasks. In addition, a number of companies in the aerospace industry hire astronomers to work in related areas in order to use their background and talents in instrumentation, remote sensing, spectral observations, and computer applications.
A chief method of entry for astronomers with a doctorate is to register with the college's career services office, which can provide help with finding job opportunities. Astronomers can also apply directly to universities, colleges, planetariums, government agencies, aerospace industry manufacturers, and others who hire astronomers. Many positions are advertised in professional and scientific journals devoted to astronomy and astrophysics.
Graduates with bachelor's or master's degrees can normally obtain semiprofessional positions in observatories, planetariums, or some of the larger colleges and universities offering training in astronomy. Their work assignments might be as research assistants, optical workers, observers, or technical assistants. Those employed by colleges or universities might well begin as instructors. Federal government positions in astronomy are usually earned on the basis of competitive examinations. Jobs with some municipal organizations employing astronomers are often based on competitive examinations. The examinations are usually open to those with bachelor's degrees.
NASA offers internships for students with some postsecondary training. To find out more about NASA internships and other opportunities, explore its Web site, https://intern.nasa.gov.
Because of the relatively small size of the field, advancement may be somewhat limited. A professional position in a large university or governmental agency is often considered the most desirable post available to an astronomer because of the opportunities it offers for additional study and research. Those employed at colleges may advance from instructor to assistant professor to associate professor and then to professor. There is also the possibility of eventually becoming a department head.
Opportunities also exist for advancement in observatories or industries employing people in astronomy. In these situations, as in those in colleges and universities, advancement depends to a great extent on the astronomer's ability, education, and experience. Peer recognition, in particular for discoveries that broaden the understanding of the field, is often a determinant of advancement. Publishing articles in popular publications, such as Scientific American, or professional journals, such as Science, the Astrophysical Journal, and the Journal of Astrophysics and Astronomy, is a way for astronomers to become known and respected in the field. Advancement isn't usually speedy; an astronomer may spend years devoted to a specific research problem before being able to publish conclusions or discoveries in a scientific journal.
Tips for Entry
Learn more about trends in the industry and potential employers from publications such as:
- Astrophysical Journal (https://iopscience.iop.org/journal/0004-637X)
- Astronomy & Physics (https://www.aanda.org)
Visit the following Web sites for job listings:
Join professional associations such as the American Astronomical Society and Astronomical Society of the Pacific to access training and networking resources, industry publications, and employment opportunities.
Participate in internships or part-time jobs that are arranged by your college’s career services office.
Conduct information interviews with astronomers and ask them for advice on preparing for and entering the field.