What Are Some Good Minors When Thinking About Further Study in Astronomy?

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When you want to earn a master’s degree in astronomy, you probably know that you need to pick a major to pursue a bachelor’s degree. You might not have known that choosing a minor as well as a major could help you in your future studies and your career. A minor usually consists of 18 to 30 credits – generally, five to ten courses – of study in a discipline outside of your major program of study. Pursuing a minor allows you to build a depth of knowledge in a secondary area of study aside from your major, the topic to which you will devote the largest chunk of your curriculum. Some good minors for prospective astronomers to consider include physics, mathematics, statistics, chemistry, biology or any area that interests you.

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The area of study most closely related to your astronomy major is physics. Although students are encouraged to earn a bachelor’s degree in either astronomy or physics before applying to a master’s in astronomy program, having a minor in physics can be enough to satisfy graduate school prerequisites. Some of the classes you might take for a minor in physics could include introductory coursework in mechanics, electricity and magnetism and thermodynamics, fluids, waves and optics. Don’t be surprised if your minor curriculum also encompasses one course or a sequence of courses in modern or contemporary physics.

While a physics minor is certain to be relevant to your astronomy graduate studies and career, not all schools allow astronomy majors to minor in physics because the coursework is too similar.

Math or Statistics

In fields like physics and astronomy, you may find that you need to do a lot of mathematical calculations. It’s never a bad idea to build up your math skills when you want to work in the sciences.

If you minor in mathematics, you can expect to take a full sequence of calculus courses. This requirement may not change your curriculum too much, since astronomy majors often have to take Calculus I, II and III courses anyway. Your further minor coursework might fit into branches of mathematics such as number theory, linear algebra, abstract algebra and general algebra.

Alternatively, you might opt to minor in statistics, the branch of mathematical science that applies quantitative methods to analyzing and interpreting data that pertains to real-world problems. Minoring in statistics might mean taking introductory coursework in probability and statistics and a series of classes in statistical methods for data analysis, as well as elective courses in probability and numerical analysis.

Statistical analyses are often performed with the help of computer software, so if you plan to minor in statistics, you should be comfortable working with computers and, potentially, taking a course in computer coding using a language like R, SQL and Python.

Chemistry or Biology

You know you’re comfortable in the study of science, but you want to expand your horizons. A minor in chemistry or biology, two other major natural sciences, might do the trick. Chemistry is the branch of science that is concerned with chemical matter, properties, interactions and processes. Biology is the scientific study of living organisms.

Minoring in chemistry might encompass taking coursework in general chemistry, biochemistry and elective chemistry topics. A biology minor will likely include classes in genetics and microbial science, as well as electives drawn from areas like animal biology, plant biology, cellular biology, population biology, clinical biology and interdisciplinary biology topics.

In specializations like astrochemistry and astrobiology, astronomers can combine the study of astronomy with one of these other science disciplines.

An Area of Interest

If you’re already majoring in astronomy, you don’t necessarily need a specific minor to make sure that you’re set up for graduate study. Your major coursework should provide you with enough knowledge of astronomy and physics concepts and practices to succeed in earning your master’s degree. Don’t be afraid to use your elective courses to pursue a minor in a field that interests you, even if it doesn’t relate directly to astronomy.

There’s no harm in choosing a minor purely for your own personal growth and interests, especially if your major is already in a field that will help you with your career. In some cases, pursuing a minor that doesn’t have obvious connections to astronomy can be valuable in your professional career, as well.

You might develop your reading and writing skills by majoring in English, literature or creative writing. Studying business can be an asset if you pursue industry work rather than academic research. Minoring in a foreign language to become bilingual can expand your employment prospects and allow you to communicate with fellow scientists from other nations. Through a minor in psychology, sociology or anthropology, you can better understand people – as individuals, in groups or as entire cultures – and learn how to effectively respond to their thoughts, fears and behaviors. Whether you’re applying for an industry role or writing a grant proposal, this knowledge of people is valuable in a career as an astronomer as well as in your personal life.

You may think that soft skills like communication, problem-solving, interpersonal skills, teamwork and leadership skills are less important for scientists than technical skills, but successful scientists have these skills, too, the American Chemical Society reported.

Additional Resources

Will I Be Considered for a Master’s in Astronomy If My Undergraduate Wasn’t in Astronomy?

Other Than Astronomy, What Are Majors That Will Help Prepare Me for a Master’s in Astronomy Program?

When Applying for a Masters in Astronomy, Is It Better to Have a B.A. or a B.S.?

What Degree Do I Need to Be an Astrobiologist?

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