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View Full Version : Yet another "Should I study astronomy" question



SpaceChick
2004-Jun-18, 02:30 PM
I apologize for any duplicate topic of similar pondering. I'm a big fan of astronomy and like to study stars on my own. I always enjoyed astronomy since I was a kid, but I never really pursued the field except taking an astronomy course and lab in college, which I did pretty well. It still fascinated me to this day. It was my dream but not fooled by the strict requirement to be proficient at math (which I admit it takes me a while to grasp concepts) and never took physics course. I also enjoy writing sci fi stories.

Straight to the point: is it possible or even worth it to return to study astronomy for another bachelors after many years working and already holding a B.A. degree in other major? Is it possible to go back and refresh my memory in math since it has been a while I did math? I know many young people have their headstart, but what about those who want to change careers later in life? I know it's a long way...but does it stop me? No. But it would mean I have to leave my FT job (I don't want to work at my current job rest of my life) and focus my study on astronomy for several years. That's why I kind of hesitated when I thought about that, but it shouldn't be a huge deal. I live in San Diego and I noticed that SDSU has its own astronomy dept. so I thought I might give it a try. What's a good way to prepare myself? Any thoughts?

ToSeek
2004-Jun-18, 02:42 PM
I'm starting on a master's in astronomy this fall, via the Internet courtesy of James Cook University in Australia. Give me a couple of years, and I'll have a good answer for you!

CUStudent
2004-Jun-18, 02:47 PM
I'm a bit out of my league pretending to be an authority, but my guess is it depends on what your BA was in. I know most places you can go into a graduate astronomy program with a bachelors in physics, but you claim to have never taken a physics course. My guess is you'd have to get another bachelors in astronomy/physics before moving on to grad school. And trust someone who's there, it's a lot of math. But it's not impossible. I'm sure some members of the board with degrees can fill you in a little more.

Ricimer
2004-Jun-18, 02:54 PM
Spacechick:

The one problem with a BA in astronomy: As far as I can tell, it just gets you to grad school, or into the secondary school system as a teacher (of science classes). You might be able to swing work at planetariums or such (probably not as the head honcho, at least, not by degree alone, talent is another issue).

That's one thing to think about, that you'd probably have to head for a masters if you wish to make a living in the field.

Astronomy is physics. My degree will differ from the straight physics class by 2 400 level (200 is fresh, 300 soph, 400 jun/sen level) courses (+ an extra 400, and 200 level course). That's all, out of some 20 physics courses required. I also need the same amount of math, all the calculus the college offers! So I'd take the intro physics classes (for the science majors, the "real" physics class) and see if that flies with you. If you can't do/stand that, odds are the astro degree isnt' for you.

Now, practicallities out of the way:

You sound like you enjoy it, heck I sorta wandered into it myself (I was a "science" kid until my senior year in highschool, then physics and astronomy bug bit me, HARD).

So you should definetly give it a try. The only real regrets a person can have IMO, is not taking the chance and trying what you want to do. (Good thing for me I don't want to do everything!)

sts60
2004-Jun-18, 03:18 PM
I'll echo what Ricimer stated so well... if you have the opportunity to do something you love - try. If you fail, or it turns out you don't feel about it the same way before you started, then have no regrets.

Very few people in this world have that chance. If your situation permits it, you should really consider it. Talk to one of the local astronomy profs.

Good luck!

Normandy6644
2004-Jun-18, 04:06 PM
Astronomy is physics. My degree will differ from the straight physics class by 2 400 level (200 is fresh, 300 soph, 400 jun/sen level) courses (+ an extra 400, and 200 level course). That's all, out of some 20 physics courses required. I also need the same amount of math, all the calculus the college offers! So I'd take the intro physics classes (for the science majors, the "real" physics class) and see if that flies with you. If you can't do/stand that, odds are the astro degree isnt' for you.

Completely right. I'm majoring in astronomy and aside from one course in astronomy every semester, my degree will be almost the same as a physics degree. Now, a lot of this is because I want to grad school to study theoretical astrophysics and cosmology, which are essentially no-nonsense mathematical fields. If, however, you have decent math skills (and probably wouldn't mind brushing up :wink: ), I don't see why you can't spend a few years getting a degree in astronomy and maybe even going to grad school for it as well. I'm not sure how any of it would work, but you could probably go through it all and work somewhere cool like an observatory or something else. I'm not 100% sure. On second thought, maybe ask the BA, since he would most certainly know what it takes to do all of this.

Ricimer
2004-Jun-18, 04:18 PM
And don't worry if your math skills aren't your strong point.

They aren't necessarily mine (I'm told I'm good, but it's still rough for me).

Where talent fails, practice can prevail.

Just sit yourself down and if you don't get it, ask why it works, and chat up the professor.

(Math, is my worst subject actually)

Harvestar
2004-Jun-18, 07:03 PM
Being an Astronomy grad student, my advice is to really sit down and figure out what you'd like to do with a B.S. in Astronomy. Do you want to go to grad school - for a Ph.D. or a Masters? Or just stop at a Bachelors?

Here's a link about looking at grad schools compiled by a friend of mine:

http://satchmo.as.arizona.edu/~jrigby/gschool/index.html

It has some good advice there.

The advice of going to a physics class (may be an evening class?) is a good one, though I caution that I hated and did poorly (well, **) in my first 2 semesters of physics. It was through sheer tenacity that I stuck it out to 3rd semester which was waves and optics and I did much better.

Some undergrad programs also have several tracks - Penn State's had one for grad school bound and one with a computer science bent. There may also be an astrobiology one too now.

People from my undergrad program did varied things - some went to industry - computer science or such, one to space art, one to an organic farm, and several to grad school. Some people from my program left with a Masters and went to industry or outreach.

I also recommend working on a research project in undergrad - this gives you a way of telling whether you like doing the job of a research astronomer.

Trebuchet
2004-Jun-18, 07:17 PM
Would there be opportunities in the astronomy field for folks without the proper sort of degrees? Lab technicians, that sort of thing? How about engineers?

Harvestar
2004-Jun-18, 09:12 PM
Oh, goodness yes!

All sorts of people work at the observatory here - optical science people, computer software people, electrical & mechanical engineers, business office workers, and there's always telescope operators. One of ours I don't think has a degree, but may be he does, but he was a big amateur astronomer and he's the most knowledgeable one about the telescope. And we also have an education group who does research into teaching astronomy.

And there's also outreach people, space artists (many who have degrees in astronomy or planetary science), science journalists, ....

edit - and there's also the whole field of archeoastronomy - history, archeology, library research, even interviews and field work.

AK
2004-Jun-19, 12:13 AM
I myself would have majored in astronomy, but I really don't enjoy physics, so I now have my ** in my other passion, biology.

However, the lure of astronomy is too strong. For me, the perfect solution is that I will soon be pursuing a Ph.D in astrobiology. 8)

craterchains
2004-Jun-19, 03:01 AM
If you are looking for work, there are a lot better jobs that would pay more. :roll:

But, if you are looking to satisfy your own personal curiosity then all the galaxies await you.
=D>

SpaceChick
2004-Jun-20, 04:05 AM
I appreciate for all of your responses about my question. In fact, I did some research and explored my options as well as the reasons for majoring in astronomy if I take that path down the road. I'm glad that I'm not the only person in here whose strength isn't in math but will try my best. I realized that I need to be open to different positions that can use astronomy degree, besides either coveted university professor or observational astronomer jobs (really scarce according to many people). I realized that I can settle down for something like such as scientific journalist, research scientist, technician, software engineer, author, space artist, and anything that can put astronomy degree in a good use if I don't end up as an astronomer in true sense or a professor since I read that there are a Ph.D. surplus and poor economy everywhere. For myself, as long as I pursue the path as a scientist, seeking knowledge and truth around us and in the universe, I can live with that. I will continue to browse the topics on this forum and learn along the way. It's an exciting time to be an stargazer nowadays. Thanks to all again. :D

stu
2004-Jun-20, 05:15 AM
Oh, goodness yes!

All sorts of people work at the observatory here - optical science people, computer software people, electrical & mechanical engineers, business office workers, and there's always telescope operators. One of ours I don't think has a degree, but may be he does, but he was a big amateur astronomer and he's the most knowledgeable one about the telescope. And we also have an education group who does research into teaching astronomy.

And there's also outreach people, space artists (many who have degrees in astronomy or planetary science), science journalists, ....

edit - and there's also the whole field of archeoastronomy - history, archeology, library research, even interviews and field work.

I was going to say this, but you got to it first. :evil:

So I'll just echo: Yes, if you love astronomy but your current degree lies elsewhere, perhaps you can mix the two. You could work at outreach programs at museums, planetariums, or astronomy organizations like AURA or the NOAO. There's also the technitian part, those who operate the equipment, write the software, and those who build it (I walk through the machine shop where they're working on telescope components every day at my internship here with the National Solar Observatory, and I don't think any of the people there hold astronomy degrees).

BUT -- if you really do want to pursue a BA or higher in astronomy, then you really can do it. I was at an internship (it was an REU, actually) last summer and one of the interns was in his 30s, married, and I think had been in business before, but decided to take a change and is pursuing astronomy now. So it can be done.

However -- a word of caution (or a paragraph): If you are in your 40s, going into astronomy now could be very difficult. By the time you would get a BA, it will probably be 2008 at the earliest. If you wish to go further, it will probably take an additional 6+ years, and by that point, you could have a harder time being hired because you simply wouldn't be of working age for too much longer (the only reason I mention this is because the dad of a friend of mine is going through this).

Good luck!

Ricimer
2004-Jun-20, 08:13 AM
stu, I'll up you a few:


I'm in an REU right now and one of the physics (not astro unfortunately ) people is 60+ years old, a main inventor/designer/innovator (something like that) of camera mechanisms (especially shutter sdesigns) and he's an undergrad phsycics major finishign up next year.

P.s. (pardon me if my post is bad, I'm drunk, it's my 21st b=day!_)

SpaceChick
2004-Jun-20, 03:30 PM
P.s. (pardon me if my post is bad, I'm drunk, it's my 21st b=day!_)

Happy Belated Birthday, Ricimer!

Well, imo, education isn't confined to just 20s crowd only. Age isn't a factor when it comes to education. I know as many as people returning to school in 40s, 50s and 60s, which is totally great because those people aren't afraid of going against the mainstream, and have a passion for learning. Isn't that what it should be about, not based how we look, how old we are, what ethnicity we are, etc. People aren't afraid to take risks and show what they're capable of. I admire those people because both young and old make great contributions to science and technology. So, there shouldn't be any egoism involved if the scientist happened to be the youngest (say, 16 or 17) in history because all of us will get old eventually.

Good thing I'm in my late 20s so it's not that a big deal if I decide to study another discipline. I love to learn. Age isn't a factor for me and people always mistaken me as 21 or 22 year old! Go figure! :lol:

stu
2004-Jun-20, 05:40 PM
Okay, my statement about age seems to have been drawn a little out of proportion. It was simply a warning that SpaceChick might want to think about.

Y'all are right, it shouldn't matter how old you are in order to contribute something useful or important, but, as I said with my friend's dad, it can play a role when you are looking for a job. Maybe not as much in academics as industry.

But you should also pursue what you love. So much mixed advice!! :wink: