Employment Prospects


Because astrophysicists require such expensive equipment to do their job, their employers are generally limited to large colleges or government agencies. Some government agencies that employ astrophysicists include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the U.S. Naval Observatory, and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, known as Fermilab, a physics laboratory. Fermilab is the home of one of the world's most powerful particle accelerators, which scientists from various institutions use to conduct research to better understand energy and the atom.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there are approximately 19,900 physicists and astronomers working in the United States. Most work for scientific research and development services firms or colleges, universities, and professional schools.

Approximately 19 percent of physicists and 23 percent of astronomers work for the federal government, mostly with the Department of Defense and NASA. These scientists work all over the country, but most are employed in areas where large universities or research laboratories are located.

Starting Out

Many astrophysicists get their first paying job as graduate students who assist professors in astronomy, physics, or astrophysics. These assistant jobs are known in the field as postdoctoral positions. Students may help the professors grade undergraduate and graduate papers or assist them in recording and compiling astronomical data in the observatory. Beginning jobs in government may include internships or temporary positions with specific research projects. The job market for astrophysicists is very competitive; students and recent graduates often must volunteer their time at university or government observatories and work other jobs until they can find full-time, paid work.

Advancement Prospects

Astrophysicists work with other highly educated people, including mathematicians, astronomers, and other scientists. Astrophysicists who work for large universities or the government should have a sense of the "department politics" that may go on at their university and be able to deal diplomatically with department heads and colleagues competing for resources such as grants and equipment.

At the beginning of their careers, astrophysicists may be assigned to work nights at the observatory. Hours can be long and pay can be limited. After they have gained experience, astrophysicists can expect to be involved in the planning and development stages of research and may not be required to do as much observation and data recording. With further experience, astrophysicists can advance to become tenured professors, research institution leaders, or observatory managers.

Tips for Entry

Read The Astrophysical Journal (https://iopscience.iop.org/journal/0004-637X), various journals of the American Physical Society (https://www.aps.org/publications/journals/), and other publications to learn more about trends in the industry.

Visit the following Web sites for job listings:

  • https://www.aps.org/careers/employment/jobcenter.cfm
  • https://nasajobs.nasa.gov
  • http://www.fnal.gov/pub/resources/index.html#job-seekers

Participate in internships or part-time jobs that are arranged by your college’s career services office. Additionally, the American Physical Society offers information on internships at its Web site, https://www.aps.org/careers/employment/internships.cfm. 

Join professional associations to access training and networking resources, industry publications, and employment opportunities.