Career Profile: Astronomer

Career Profile: Astronomer

by Meghan Brown
Jobs People Do | JobsPeopleDo.com

Astronomy offers exciting career paths in Canada.  Astronomers are scientists and researchers who study celestial objects such as the sun and moon, the other planets in our solar system, exoplanets in other parts of space, distant stars and ancient galaxies.

Astronomers analyze data from telescope and sensor observations, and sometimes design and build equipment for astronomy such as telescopes and satellites.  Most astronomers in Canada work in universities, where they teach and pursue research projects; others will work with the National Research Council, where they perform research with or work to maintain international telescopes and observatories in which Canada is a partner or member.

As part of their research, astronomers will have to make presentations about their work at conferences, and write grant proposals to apply for funding for their research projects.  Many astronomers also participate in community outreach to share their knowledge of space and science to kids, teens and adults.  This means that astronomers need to have strong communication skills, writing skills and interpersonal skills.

The work schedule for an astronomer can vary, from regular hours working at a university as a professor, to working long hours or overnights while travelling or working on site at an observatory.  Salaries for astronomers in Canada range between $40,000 to $70,000 for post-doctoral researchers, and these amounts are largely dependent on grant funding on a project-per-project basis.  Professors at a university can start with a salary around $80,000 and can reach $120,000 to $150,000 for the most experienced and senior professors.

Pursuing a career in astronomy in Canada usually requires a PhD in astronomy, with at least three to six years of work as a post-doctoral research student.  This is on top of completing a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in astronomy, physics, planetary sciences or other related fields of study, which usually takes four years and one to two years, respectively.  While some internships are available for students throughout their years of study, most astronomers will gain the bulk of their skills and experience through contributing to research projects during their graduate and post-graduate degrees.

If you want to become an astronomer, it’s important to start early and get the necessary education in high school and your early years of college or university.  In high school, be sure to take as many science courses as you can, particularly physics and chemistry, as well as mathematics, computing and programming.  During your undergraduate degree, studying physics, astronomy, astrophysics, planetary science, and mathematics are all useful to work toward an astronomy career.

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