How to become an Astronomer ?
(Career in A & A)

Prof. T. Padmanabhan

How and where can I start career in A & A?

Careers in Astronomy & Astrophysics (A&A) can be broadly divided as Theoretical or Observational though, in order to make significant contribution to the subject you have to be good at both.

Theoretical research career in A & A typically involves doing a Masters in physics, or Bachelors in Engineering or Technology with thorough basic knowlegege in physics and mathematics, joining a suitable institution or university for a Ph.D. programme in A & A, following it up with one or two postdoctoral positions and - finally - obtaining a permanent job.

Among the leading institutes in this country

have graduate students programmes in A & A leading to a Ph.D.

Institutions like

are actively expanding into this area and will certainly encourage theoretical research in A & A.

There are also several universities, which have faculty members working on A & A, not to mention the Indian of Institute(s) of Technology.

On the observational side, the scope is somewhat wider because even students with engineering degree (or knowledge of computer systems and electronics) are also encouraged to apply for the graduate student's programme in many of the above places. For example, IUCAA takes B.E. and B.Tech students for its graduate school and allows them to do an M.Sc. by research prior to doing a Ph.D.

The scope for experimental astronomy in this country is somewhat limited compared to theory, but this situation is likely to change within the next 5 years or so.

The key point to remember is that A & A is a branch of physics and you need to have a strong foundation in physics and mathematics in order to have a successful career in A & A.

Joint Entrance Screening Test (JEST)
For Ph.D. Programmes in Physics / Mathematics / Theoretical Computer Science

What about books and syllabus of A & A?

There is no single book or syllabus in A & A which a student is expected to read and follow.

In fact, most institutions will examine you on your physics and mathematics background and will admit you to the graduate school even if you know nothing of A & A.This is necessary because our M.Sc. courses in physics do not give adequate emphasis to A & A compared to, for example, solid state physics or nuclear physics.

This situation may change over the next decade or so but at present, it is enough if you concentrate on the regular M.Sc. physics syllabus.

What should I study to prepare for the examinations?

The graduate school programme in most of the leading institutions expects you to be good at physics and mathematics with an aptitude and motivation to do research.

The latter is difficult to define but essentially it involves an ability to apply your basic knowledge to unfamiliar areas and come out with logically consistent conclusions. In short, you should be able to think on your own and should be confident in using the basic principles of physics and the techniques of mathematics which you have learnt in any area.

In the best institutes, the examination is designed in such a way that no specific preparation is necessary or even useful. The idea is not to run a memory test or investigate your knowledge base but to see how good you are in using the knowledge which you posses.

Of course this is the ideal situation. If the examination is not up to the mark, you may be straddled with questions which require memorizing of some key formulas, etc. The general technique of preparation can be similar to that you will adopt for JEE or GRE or for any other multiple choice objective type test.