What can I do with a degree in Astronomy?

Mt John Observatory

Astronomy and astrophysics is the study of the nature and distribution of matter and radiation throughout all time and space in the Universe. Astronomers harness the latest technological advances in their quest for ever more precise and revealing observations. As a consequence, astronomy has been one of the most rapidly expanding of all physical sciences and many exciting and often quite unexpected discoveries continue to be made.

Through their Astronomy degree, graduates gain a broad set of valuable transferable skills such as:

  • Mathematical competencies
  • Computer competencies
  • Critical, logical and quantitative thinking
  • Problem solving
  • Ability to use technology such as spectroscopic and photometric detector systems
  • Data analysis and modelling
  • Innovation and imagination
  • Oral and written communication
  • Cooperation, teamwork and leadership.

Te Waipounamu, the South Island as your lab

Applied learning happens in laboratory sessions and on fieldtrips, using facilities that include:

  • An internationally important astronomical observatory at Mt John, Tekapo, with computer controlled instruments and cryogenic detectors
  • UC-constructed Hercules, a high resolution spectograph to search for planets and conduct improved stellar astrophysic.

Astronomy graduates may follow traditional paths and work at a:

  • Tertiary institution
  • Research institute
  • Astro-tourism destination or agency
  • Observatory, planetarium or star-gazing facility
  • Scientific publishing house
  • Aerospace company.

Astronomy is a relatively small field; because of its size, astronomers get to collaborate with many colleagues and conduct research around the world.

Related fields

Astronomy graduates move into related fields like:

  • Computing and information technology
  • Education
  • Data analysis
  • Defence forces
  • Science communication.

With additional study graduates can get into meteorological services, geophysical consultancy, optics, and even medical physics.

Graduates with this degree are employed in a range of jobs — see some examples below.

Note: Some of the jobs listed may require postgraduate study. See the ‘Further study’ section.

Astronomer

  • Studies objects found in space
  • Records findings and analyses images and data
  • Communicates learnings and engages with different groups eg, enthusiasts, media, schools
  • Maintains technical specialised equipment
  • Collaborates with other research scientists or organisations, and applies for funding

Field / laboratory technician

  • Plans and carries out research experiments
  • Maintains and calibrates equipment
  • Liaises with scientists and industry personnel
  • Collects and collates data, and drafts reports

Research scientist, postdoctoral researcher

  • Organises and conducts research
  • Tests theories and operates instruments
  • Analyses data and scientific phenomena to develop explanatory theories
  • Writes reports, publishes articles and makes recommendations
  • Consults with and advises industry

Tour guide

  • Uses technology to showcase the night sky
  • Helps guests discover new knowledge
  • Ensures visitors have a memorable, enjoyable experience

Science writer / editor

  • Researches specialist or technical stories
  • Interviews scientists, medical personnel
  • Writes and edits scientific articles/publications

Observatory manager

  • Develops and implements plans for connecting the general public with professional astronomy
  • Manages organisational operations eg, staff, building, equipment maintenance, budgets
  • Ensures the centre attracts visitors and funding

Tertiary lecturer

  • Prepares and gives lectures, tutorials
  • Sets and marks assignments and exams
  • Conducts research, writes and publishes articles

Science communicator, communications advisor

  • Presents science topics to various audiences eg, publicising research findings
  • Manages educational programmes eg, exhibitions, outreach events, seminars
  • Produces content eg, media releases, videos

Secondary school teacher

  • Plans and delivers instructional lessons
  • Evaluates performance and provides feedback
  • Sets and marks assignments and tests

Sales manager, account manager

  • Creates and implements sales strategies
  • Identifies and develops new markets or business eg, in complex technical instruments
  • Manages client relationships
  • Provides product information and technical support

Patent advisor

  • Researches technical or scientific documents, to assess if a product is new and innovative
  • Maintains knowledge of relevant laws and regulations
  • Advises businesses, government and industry

Optical assistant

  • Serves optical retail customers and works with optometrists
  • Uses devices and product knowledge to assist
  • Keeps customer details up-to-date and schedules aftercare

Entrepreneur and CEO

  • Develops an idea to form their own business
  • Gets involved in a start-up
  • Offers their services as a consultant

Get started with Entrepreneurship here.

As they progress, students and graduates often join professional bodies relevant to their area of interest. These organisations can provide regular communications and offer the chance to network.

Social media networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter can provide avenues to keep up with the latest industry knowledge, events and jobs.

Learn from our students' experiences

For more information

see the Astronomy subject page