Career Spotlight: Astrophysicist


By Gwen Myslinski

Does life exist somewhere else beyond Earth? How did we come to exist? How does the universe work? There are lots of

unanswered questions about the universe and the people who try to answer those questions are astrophysicists. They are the professionals whose specialty combines astronomy and physics to study the universe, galaxies, black holes, stars and other space entities. They are always on the hunt to answer the universe’s continuously changing conditions and its origin.

Education and Training

Astrophysicists have a passion for the unknown, are great at problem-solving and have a strong liking for the sciences. These scientists ask lots of questions, develop theories and hypotheses, which are often based on incomplete information, and design experiments to try to find answers.

To become an astrophysicist, one would need a Ph.D. in astronomy or astrophysics from an accredited university. Here are some tips to becoming a sought-after astrophysicist:

  • While obtaining a Ph.D. work under the guidance of someone recognized in the field, and collaborate with other project scientists
  • Take a postdoctoral fellowship (like an internship) in a different country from where you grew up and were educated — this is the only time for 100 percent research, without any administrative duties or support
  • After the postdoctoral fellowship, apply for senior fellowships and permanent positions

It’s important to make a name (for yourself) early because there’s a short list of open positions available.

Job Outlook

Many astrophysicists in this field aren’t usually after fame, fortune or prestige; many are searching for answers and want to know that their lives had been worthwhile. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary is $105,000. Ray Norris, an astrophysicist at the CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility, was doing research for his Ph.D. when he discovered a new piece of knowledge that no one else knew at the time. When he realized it, he found the feeling “intoxicating and addictive.” He “spent the rest of [his] life trying to get regular fixes.”

There are few employment opportunities available for astrophysicists, though according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics between 2010 and 2020 the field is expected to increase by 14 percent and according to, those in biotechnology and nanotechnology will have better job opportunities. Private firms are also expected to recruit a significant number of astrophysicists.

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Classroom Discussion

  • Astrophysicists from NASA are working on a well-known, two-year mission that launched in August. What is it? (Hint: It’s covered in Headline Discoveries.)
  • How do most astrophysicists get the funding to do their research?