How many years does it take to become an Astronomer in college? Does one need a doctoral degree?

Thanks for your interest in our profession! It is exciting that you picked Astronomy for your report.

Here’s a list of answers to your question written by some of my colleagues at the University of Santa Cruz: Astronomy as a Career.

I’d like to add that as an astronomer, there are two main paths to the profession. Some of us (the “observers”) like observing with big telescopes, which is accomplished by traveling in exotic places in search of the darkest nights and the clearest skies. They go to Chile or Hawaii and get exciting new data to either confirm their theories or to make new surprising discoveries. Others (the “theorists”) like to make discoveries by applying math and physics to understand how the universe works, how it came to be and why it looks they way it does when you go out on a dark, starry night. They use both extremely powerful computers and the power of their brains to get insights into the complexity of our universe. Many astronomers are well-versed in both venues.

A typical path (for the US) is:

  • 4 years for your bachelor’s degree in Science (usually in Physics or Astronomy);
  • 2 years to get your Master’s degree in Science;
  • 3 years to complete your PhD program.

This is the standard path for someone aspiring to work in the academia; it is also very common to hold postdoctoral jobs as researchers after your PhD. Many people, on the other hand, go on to work in the industry (commonly aerospace or computer science) either after their PhD or their Master’s.

Good luck with your report!

Stefano Meschiari
University of Texas at Austin