How to Become an Astrophysicist

If you want to become an astrophysicist, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you:


Those who become astrophysicists are individuals that have a keen interest in celestial objects, space, and the physical universe as a whole; they tend to read over and above what is taught in the classroom.


They are typically well educated in math, physics and astrophysics; aspiring astrophysicists should be prepared to undertake 8-10 years of post-secondary study to build the necessary knowledge base for this career. Astrophysicists also have the patience to pursue a career with low turnover and few vacancies.


Although lucrative careers in astrophysics are out there, it is typically not a ‘money-making’ field; those who become astrophysicists are those that really care about the topics they are researching… which can make for a great work environment!


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as an astrophysicist in the United States, and Canada. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



What is an Astrophysicist?

Astrophysicists are scientists that study the physical components of celestial objects. They study the physics of the universe as well as the interaction between the various objects which occupy it. Astrophysicists can either study the theoretical aspects of space or apply their fundamental knowledge of physics to explore various occurrences in space such as dark matter, black holes, stellar evolution, super clusters, and neutron stars.



Education Needed

A Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in astronomy, astrophysics or physics may qualify you for entry-level jobs in astrophysics


A Master of Science (M.Sc.) degree in astrophysics is required for most research assistant and consulting positions.


A Doctoral (Ph.D.) degree in astrophysics is most likley needed if you want to work for a college or university as a teacher or a researcher. You will also likely need a Ph.D. to work in most federal government research positions. Many astrophysicists who have doctoral degrees work as post-doctoral fellows for 3-6 years before finding permanent employment.





Astrophysicist Job Description

The job description of an astrophysicist can vary, largely depending on whether they work in observational or theoretical astronomy.


Theoretical astrophysicists are responsible for working to understand the physical processes within our universe. For example, a theoretical astrophysicist may be concerned with how universe's first galaxies appeared and what the stars were like in those galaxies.


Observational astrophysicists compare mathematical models and run computer simulations in order to test theories and work out the best model for explaining various astrophysical phenomena, such as how the first galaxies formed.


Regardless of what area they specialize in, astrophysicists spend the majority of their time using computer programs to analyze data, writing research papers and attending meetings.


Astrophysicists may also teach undergraduate physics, which involves developing courses and lectures, marking students' work, and supervising research students that are undertaking honours theses and postgraduate degrees.



Typical Job Duties

• Develop and explain theories regarding how the universe functions

• Interpret and analyze data obtained from various instruments such as ground and space telescopes as well as satellites

• Test hypotheses by performing calculations

• Use theoretical models to compare data and align images

• Coordinate data obtained from various sources

• May instruct university courses

• Publish scientific papers for publication



Who Creates Jobs for Astrophysicists?

Astrophysicists are hired by organizations involved in performing theoretical work, research or teaching in areas of astrophysics. Jobs for astrophysicists in these areas very competitive, as there is much interest in them and relatively few positions available.


•Colleges and universities

•Government agencies

•Public and private research facilities

•Science centers and planetariums


Success Tip: The knowledge base and skill set of astrophysicists allows them to move into other fields such as bioinformatics, medical imaging, science communication and many others






Skills and Traits Needed

•Interested in a career that offers continual intellectual stimulation

•Able to stay abreast of latest advancements in the field

•Able to remain passionate about your work

•Able to apply scientific and mathematical concepts to solving complex problems

•Able to work in a science in which you can’t weigh, touch or smell your subject matter

•Well-versed in working with instrumentation, remote sensing and spectral observations

•Able to use specialized computer applications to solve unusual problems

•A natural interest in the composition of matter and its behavior

•Able to pay close attention to detail, and perform calculations with accuracy

•Must be able to work well in collaboration with others, be they physicists or other professionals

•Excellent analytical skills and a strong imagination



Astrophysicist Salary Level

The salary level of astrophysicists can based on their qualifications, as well as the specific responsibilities of their specific job. It may also depend on the size and type of their employer.


Salary - Alberta: According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Physicists and Astronomers occupational group earn an average of between $46.17 and $55.94 per hour. The average wage for this group is $51.74 per hour.


Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage of American workers in the Physicists and Astronomers occupational group is $106,360 per year. The lowest 10% of salaries in this group are below $58,850, and the top 10 percent are above $166,400 per year.



Astrophysics Jobs

Our job board below has "Astrophysicist" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Similar Careers in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Astrophysicist, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Aerospace Engineer








Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as an astrophysicist.


Alberta Learning and Information Service website:

United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website:



Relevant Scholarships

Scholarships listed for fields of study that apply to becoming an Astrophysicist can be found on our Physics Scholarships page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for eventually working as an astrophysicist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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