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Radio Astronomy Education and Career Information

Radio astronomers collect and analyze radio waves emitted by celestial bodies. Often, radio astronomers focus on research that can either be theoretical or analytical. Theoretical astronomers focus on creating laws and rules that may be applied to the universe. Analytical research is geared toward collecting and analyzing various types of astronomical data.

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Education Requirements for Radio Astronomer

The majority of research positions for radio astronomers require a doctorate degree. Undergraduate studies typically consist of a strong focus in physics, mathematics, cosmology and earth science. Bachelor's degrees in engineering, computer science or applied physics usually satisfy most of the undergraduate-level requirements for advanced programs in radio astronomy.

Master's Degree Programs

Universities offer master's degree programs with a concentration in radio astronomy or dual degree programs that combine master's and doctorate-level study. Coursework in a master's program prepares students in the research procedures they will need later on in their careers. Topics can include observation techniques, principles in optical observing, galaxy structure and stellar configurations.

Students with a bachelors or master's degree can often find work in planetariums conducting tours or shows or assisting doctorate-level or post-doctorate astronomers conducting research using various types of instrumentation, such as space-based radio telescopes. Teaching positions and individual research projects generally require a doctorate degree.

Ph.D. Programs

Doctorate-level education for radio astronomers is highly competitive and programs only accept a handful of students every year. Graduates typically need a strong physics background to compete with other students in securing a spot in one of these programs. Besides conducting research, students at this level usually perform a large amount of laboratory work, teach undergraduate astronomy classes and work in instrumentation development.

After graduation, many radio astronomers begin in a research position under the tutelage of an experienced astronomer before branching out on their own. Astronomers specializing in radio waves generally conduct research in a variety of related areas, such as of galaxy properties, radar investigations, solar radio observations, interstellar radio lines, quasars and radio wave emitting phenomenon.

Career Information for a Radio Astronomer

Radio astronomers are generally employed for by government agencies, defense contractors, national laboratories and private industry to perform research and assist in development projects. They are also employed by colleges and universities in positions that typically combine teaching and research. Competition for these jobs is high due to the popularity of the occupation.

Employment Outlook

Federal resources cover the majority of the expenses for radio astronomers involved in research and development. Limited funding for these projects can inhibit individual career growth in this field.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), overall employment of astronomers between 2012 and 2022 would rise by 10%, due in part to the government's increased focus on research and development (www.bls.gov).

Salary Information

The average annual wage of astronomers employed in the U.S. was $110,440 in May 2013, according to the BLS. The BLS reported that astronomers who worked for the federal government had an average salary of $132,380 a year in May 2013, while astronomers who worked in colleges and universities earned an average annual salary of $101,900.

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