If you want to go from being an amateur astronomer to a professional one, you’ll need to study the right kind of subjects.
The two most important ones are physics and mathematics, with some chemistry knowledge being useful as well.
Yes, astronomy does involve looking up at stars and planets using a telescope. But astronomers also spend a lot of time analysing data and doing all sorts of calculations.
If you love physics and math, you are ready for a career in astronomy. Here’s how to start a career in astronomy in the UK.
What to Study in High School
If you are in high school, this is the best time to get started on your astronomy career. Focus on physics and math, and generally all sciences including chemistry and geology.
Being great at all sciences gives you more options when it comes to specializing in astronomy. For instance, you might decide to use your biology and chemistry knowledge to investigate the possibility of life on other planets.
As for qualifications, you’ll need at least 5 GCSEs (with grades of at least 4 or 5) including math, English and science.
While some universities now consider work experience and other non-traditional qualifications while assessing applicants, getting your A levels is the best way to get into a university.
Obviously, math and physics are must-do subjects if you want to get into an astronomy program in the university.
Check the subject requirements by various universities or ideas on what other subjects you may need to take.
Degree and PhD
The next step is getting your degree. Not all universities offer a straight astronomy degree. But an astrophysics and a physics program is still a great way to get into astronomy.
In fact, these programs can give you more work options and career flexibility compared to an astronomy degree.
After getting your degree, you may decide to get into work as a research assistant or an observatory technician.
But to become a professionally astronomer and take advantage of the best career opportunities, you’ll need a doctorate (PhD).
After getting a PhD, you’ll have the chance to work at universities, observatories or the UK Space Agency. You can also get a job in a private space company either in the UK or abroad.
Other Ways to Grow your Career
Whatever stage of education you are in, there are additional things you can do to develop your career and passion in astronomy.
If you don’t own a telescope, it’s definitely time to get one. Seeing the star and planets for yourself prepares you for a career in the field.
Telescopes have gotten cheap. You can get a good one for as little as £100. For around £300, you can get a powerful amateur telescope for seeing planets up-close and peering into the deep sky at galaxies, nebula and star clusters.
Something else you can do is join an astronomical society or club.
A club or society allows you to meet other aspiring and professional astronomers, learn more about astronomy and know what to expect.
An astronomical society can also be a great way to gain more knowledge and skills in astronomy and related subjects. Some societies like the Manchester Astronomical Society have access to an observatory.
Don’t forget to do lots of reading in your area of interest, be it astronomy, cosmology or astrogeology. Reading books, including the more advanced ones, will prepare you for the rigorous career that astronomy is.