What can I do with a Master’s in Astrophysics?

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The typical graduate program in astrophysics, as the name infers, is a combination of astronomy and physics courses. Students enrolled in a master of science in physics will study classical and quantum mechanics, electrodynamics, nuclear physics, particle physics, and theoretical physics. These and related topics are part of the M.S. in Physics at the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Northwestern University. This program includes electives in astronomy with courses like Stellar Astrophysics, Cosmology, Extragalactic Astrophysics, Statistical Physics, and General Relativity.

The curriculum at Northwestern is similar by comparing the M.S. in Astrophysics at the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University. The latter includes Galactic and Extragalactic Astronomy, Classical Mechanics, Quantum Theory, Electromagnetic Theory, and Statistical Mechanics.

The Physics and Astronomy department at the University of Iowa offers a 30 semester-hour (s.h.) M.S. in Astronomy with core classes in Stellar Astrophysics, Galactic and Extragalactic Astronomy (separate courses), General Relativity, and High Energy Astrophysics. Students also must complete six s.h. of Classical Mechanics (3), Statistical Mechanics (3), Classical Electrodynamics (6), or Quantum Mechanics (6).

The examples above illustrate the commonality of study plans in astrophysics, physics, and astronomy. Each major having many of the same subjects means having more job opportunities to pursue upon graduation. You could search for prospective employment in astronomy, astrophysics, and the field of physics. Positions are available in the private and public sectors, government agencies, consulting, and universities. Not all require a master’s degree; some state that a bachelor’s degree is sufficient, and others stipulate a Ph.D. Furthermore, finding entry-level opportunities or with minimal experience will be a challenge.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) posted a job as a Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) Payload Operations Center Operator in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Some of the responsibilities include coordinating and executing TESS Mission Planning (MP) activities on an orbit-by-orbit basis; coordinating and executing TESS Telemetry Processing (TP) activities during and following data downlink at the NASA Deep Space Network (DSN) at MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. Applicants need a Bachelor of Science in Astrophysics, Aerospace Engineering, or a related field.

Are you interested in teaching? The University of North Texas in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area seeks a Lecturer in the Department of Physics, according to the July 2021 posting on SimplyHired. Candidates require a minimum of a Master’s in Astronomy, Physics Education, or Physics with a background in astrophysics or astronomy. The advertised salary range is $50,000 to $68,000.

The possibility of working as a technical advisor performing statistical analysis on the NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS) Project at the Smithsonian Institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was posted on SimplyHired. The preferred degree is a master’s in astronomy, mathematics, space science, or physics.

The job title is Systems Engineer (Cybersecurity Mission) at the National Security Agency (NSA) in Fort Meade, Maryland, whose sole purpose is to protect the United States from security threats. The job involves the prevention and eradication of threats to National Security Systems and their infrastructure. By this description, one would expect a graduate degree in cybersecurity to be optimum; however, the job posting on Indeed states that a professional engineering degree or a minimum undergraduate degree in physics or astronomy is suitable. Prospective hires need three years of experience with a bachelor’s and only one year with a master’s degree. The stated salary range is $73,076 to $91,057.

As you search for job openings in the field of astrophysics, physics, or astronomy, you’ll see numerous postings for Postdoctoral applicants as an Associate, Fellowship, Research Staff Member, or Researcher. Currently, there are positions on the Indeed site, with these titles at the University of Texas-Austin, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (California), Michigan State University, University of Alabama, University of Minnesota, and many other learning institutions.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lumps the occupation of Physicists and Astronomers together. According to the data, there were 20,500 employed in this category in 2020 with a median wage of $128,950. The projected job growth is 7%, or a change of 1,400 over ten years from 2019-2029. That translates to only 140 jobs a year for those with a doctoral or professional degree.

The BLS does provide separate data for astronomers and physicists; most of the former work in Scientific Research and Development Services (720). The #2 spot for employment is Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools with 660. The occupation of physicist paints a different picture with second place going to the Federal Branch with 3,130. First place is the same as astronomers, except 5,310 worked as physicists in the U.S. in 2020.

According to the BLS, the top three states for astronomers are California (340), Texas (230), and Arizona (150). Whereas for physicists, the three highest levels of employment are in Maryland (2,010), New Mexico (1,920), and California (1,360). From this data, the physics path seems to be the better choice for job opportunities.

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What Degree Do You Need to Be an Astrophysicist?