Wednesday, January 25, 2006

How to become an astronomer, part 2

So, after yesterday's post, you still want to become an astronomer, eh? Well, if you are in high school or working on your Bachelor's Degree, here are my tips. Certainly this is not the only way to become a professional astronomer, but it is the "classical" route.

In High School:

  • Take as many high-level math and science courses as you can. A standard set of math courses would likely include algebra, geometry, pre-calculus, and calculus. You can always learn calculus at college, so if your school doesn't offer it, that's okay. For science, standard courses include biology, chemistry, and physics. Again, the exact topics are not important, but taking the high-level classes will help you.
  • Take Advanced Placement courses, if your school offers them. Even if these courses are not in science, you may be able to fill part of your college general education requirements.
  • Take writing and speech courses. Writing and public speaking are part of the job of being an astronomer!
  • Keep up on your hobbies. There is more to life than studies. As you advance along the career path, you will need other interests to maintain your sanity. :)

As an undergraduate:

  • Major in Physics! If your school offers an astronomy major, great! You can double-major! But your physics classes are absolutely vital at this point.
  • Get involved in undergrad research. The exact project is not important, but the experience can be. Most astronomy professors are willing to help an undergraduate find an appropriate research project. While these projects are not required to an astronomy career, they do help applications and can help you figure out if you enjoy astronomy research. (A couple of my friends got to that point and learned that research was not for them, so they were able to find astronomy-related jobs before spending years in graduate school).
  • Study hard for the GREs. The importance of the GRE cannot be understated. Although many schools claim that it is not the sole thing they use to choose graduate students, it certainly is the single most important criteria. An excellent GPA and fantastic references will not make up for poor GRE scores. And, when you are preparing for the GRE, don't buy the purple book. (If you are studying, you know what I am talking about.)
  • Finally, enjoy yourself. Yes, study hard, but take time to enjoy college life. Join clubs, go to football and basketball games, or whatever else you need to do to relax.

Alrighty then. Tomorrow, in the last installment, I'll talk a bit about career choices in astronomy and related areas.

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