How to access astronomy careers (plus job options)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Published 4 November 2022
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Astronomy is a scientific field that studies space and celestial objects, such as stars, other planets, comets or black holes. Professionals working in this field might also specialise in researching specific astronomy subjects, such aerodynamics, planetary geology or meteorology. Learning more about the professional and academic experience involved with a career in astronomy can help you determine whether to pursue this field. In this article, we explain how to access astronomy careers, provide advice on choosing a career path in astronomy, list four astronomy jobs and highlight career support programmes for students.
How to prepare for astronomy careers
As astronomy is a fairly broad subject, you might benefit from earning several higher education qualifications before starting your career. You might also specialise in a certain field of astronomy, making it easier to build up valuable work experience and achieve continued career progression. The section below provides a guide that explains how to access astronomy careers:
1. Obtain relevant A-Levels
If you currently attend secondary school, the first step that you can take on this career path is to earn A-Level qualifications. As astronomy is a science subject, you can benefit from earning A-Levels in topics that relate to astronomy jobs, such as physics or biology. You can also consider completing an A-Level in mathematics, as this subject provides the problem-solving skills required to analyse complex scientific data sets.
When choosing A-Level subjects, consider these questions:
What A-Levels do universities expect astronomy students to possess?
Which A-Level subjects do I find the most interesting?
What grades did I achieve in science subjects at GCSE level?
What A-Level grades does my first choice university require for entry?
2. Earn a bachelor's degree
After graduating from secondary school, you may study for a bachelor's degree in a science-based subject. Depending on your preferred subject specialism, you can earn either a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in astronomy or a bachelor's degree in another scientific field. Following the former path, you can assess astronomy research methods, study galaxy formation or practise using radio equipment in preparation for future employment.
In contrast, by studying for a more generalist science degree, you can develop broader scientific knowledge before transferring that expertise to a related astronomy career. Examples of helpful generalist qualifications include a B.Sc. in geology or B.Sc. in meteorology and climate. These degrees cover the past development or structure of earth's geology, alongside geological research methods. You may later transfer this knowledge to study planetary geology. Similarly, by earning a meteorology degree, you may learn to analyse air pressure and predict future climatic conditions. You can later use this knowledge to study the atmospheres of earth or other planets.
3. Study for a master's degree
You can also benefit from securing a master's degree, though the best way into postgraduate education can vary based on your academic history. If you've completed a bachelor's degree in astronomy, consider extending the course by taking a Master of Science in astronomy programme. Combined courses might cover astronomy topics in greater depth and provide opportunities to complete individual research projects. If you possess a bachelor's degree in another scientific field, you can take a specialist degree that merges astronomy with your existing knowledge. One such degree is a masters degree in planetary science.
4. Earn a Ph.D. in astronomy
To access higher-paid job opportunities, you may earn a Ph.D. in astronomy. If you're studying full time, these courses can take three or four years to complete. During your studies, you can take part in either pre-funded or supervised research projects. If you pursue a pre-funded project, you can collaborate with qualified astronomers on existing university projects. If you prefer the second option, you may write a project proposal, seek university funding and ask researchers to supervise your work. By selecting this option, you might control the project's scope, albeit only after securing funding.
You can also write several research reports and a final-year thesis. Your thesis is a targeted piece of original research that introduces your topic, summarises prior literature and details key research methods. The thesis can then present your results and discuss their significance. If you impress the course convenor during your studies, you may secure a full-time position as a scientific researcher at that university upon degree completion.
5. Build up work experience
Upon graduating with a Ph.D., you can start to gain work experience as a professional astronomer. At the beginning of your career, you can submit job applications for entry-level jobs offered by varied organisations. For example, to start a career as a planetary geologist, you can apply for positions offered by universities and private research institutes. Contrastingly, to become a full time aeronautical engineer, you may prioritise jobs advertised by aircraft manufacturers and space exploration agencies. You can also use careers websites to discover industrial placements or internships.
Choosing a career path in astronomy
When choosing your career path in astronomy, consider which specialisation matches your personality, interests and professional goals. For example, if you're passionate about planetary geology, you can benefit from pursuing a career in this field, regardless of the salary you may earn in another profession. If you genuinely enjoy your work, you're more likely to work hard to achieve career success, increasing your long-term earning potential.
You may also use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test to learn about your personality type. Some personality types might be better-suited to some paths than others. For example, if you have an extroverted and rational personality, you may prefer in a career in academia, where you can lead research studies and teach lectures.
Related: How to choose a career path
4 job options in astronomy
The next section includes descriptions and salary data for four astronomy job options, which you may use to plan your career's future trajectory:
National average salary: £27,1133 per year
Primary duties: A planetary geologist might study the geological origins and composition of planets, comets, moons and meteorites. These professionals can analyse the historical geological processes that led to planet formation. They can also use geological data to consider the likelihood that living bacteria species exist on or below a planet's outer surface. They might also research ways that other planets' geological conditions differ from those of Earth, studying phenomena such as magma seas or solar radiation exchanges. Planetary geologists often use remotely gathered data in research, though they occasionally use rock samples collected by unmanned space missions.
National average salary: £30,198 per year
Primary duties: Meteorologists study short and long-term trends in Earth's weather and climate. These professionals collect satellite or weather station data to predict future weather events, such as changes in temperature or rainfall. They may also monitor weather patterns over many years to identify noticeable changes to regional or global climates, such as rising annual temperatures or reduced rainfall. They may then lead further research to identify the causes of climate change and predict future climatic trends. Depending on their professional interests, meteorologists may also study other planets' atmospheric systems.
National average salary: £36,431 per year
Primary duties: Aeronautical engineers use knowledge of atmospheric forces and aerodynamics to design high-performance aircraft, space vehicles or satellites. They can use scientific principles and statistical data to design components to specifications that increase fuel efficiency, flight safety or travel speeds. They may also supervise aircraft assembly to ensure that manufacturers follow component blueprints. Between every flight, aeronautical engineers can inspect aircraft and identify essential repairs. They can also modify components to adapt aircraft to carry out specialist missions, such as space station repairs.
National average salary: £68,968 per year
Primary duties: Astronomy professors provide lectures and laboratory workshops on astronomy subjects to higher education students. They may design lesson or experiment plans before every session, creating digital presentations or lists to guide students' learning. During lectures, they cover many astronomy subjects, such as the history of astronomy, the elements that form from celestial bodies or the formation of the universe. During laboratory workshops, they teach students to apply their subject knowledge to practical work, such as using radio telescopes to detect radio waves from space. University professors might work in the industry before moving into academia.
Related: How to become a professor
What are astronomy student support programmes?
Several non-profit organisations provide careers support and advice to astronomy students. For example, the UK Students for the Exploration and Development of Space issues reports to advise astronomy employers on how to make the industry more inclusive. The association also hosts careers launch events, where university students can meet astronomy professionals and attend career advice panels. Space School UK also organises summer events for secondary school pupils, such as academic lectures and simulated space missions hosted at the National Space Centre.
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
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