Children grow up staring at the stars and asking big questions about the universe. When they continue asking those questions as adults, they may be suited for a career in astrophysics. Although the road to becoming an astrophysicist may be long, the benefits, both monetary and otherwise, can be significant.
Astrophysicists may hold a variety of positions and study a handful of different subjects throughout their careers. They often seek to understand specific things about the universe, such as its history and how it was formed. According to NASA, these scientists spend much of their analyzing data about galaxies and stars that are collected by sensors and telescopes. They use this information to formulate theories, write academic papers and contribute to the growing body of knowledge about the universe.
Many budding scientists find a very promising career in astrophysics and the advantages are numerous. A Ph.D in this field earns an annual wage that exceeds the national average for all occupations. As of 2016, the median salary for a physicist is $115,870 and that of an astronomer is $104,740. As technology advances, astrophysicists constantly develop new skills. Additionally, astrophysicists are able to write the software code needed to collate the data they have collected.
While the upside is significant, there are some drawbacks to this career field. Most astrophysicist spend their time working in offices, laboratories, or observatories. This work can occasionally require long hours and travel to remote locations. Because of the nature of their work, they also often work at night collecting data. Furthermore, although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a growth of seven percent in the field for the period of 2014 through 2024, federal government spending related to physics and astronomy research is not likely to increase. This trend may result in a decrease of available positions at colleges, universities and at national laboratories.
In addition to the apparent advantages and disadvantages, there are other neutral factors that affect the quality of life for astrophysicists. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the majority of such professionals work for colleges and universities. A large portion also work for the federal government at NASA or the U.S. Department of Defense. Because of this, most individuals in this field invest several years in a doctoral program before starting their career. While such jobs can offer a great amount of intrinsic rewards, they are often subject to government funding and can be quite bureaucratic.