How Do I Become a Radio Astronomer?

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  • Written By: L.K. Blackburn
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 17 March 2020
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Astronomers study the sky, stars, and planets using telescopes and special instrumentation. Objects in the universe emit different types of light that can be observed and recorded by special types of telescopes. Radio waves are one type of light radiated by objects that is studied by astronomers. You can become a radio astronomer by graduating from college and earning a doctorate degree.

Telescopes used by radio astronomers typically are not the traditional optical type most people are familiar with. Instead, they are usually dish-shaped and can be used for observation of radio waves during both night and daytime. Radio astronomers can use both large, singular dish telescopes and smaller telescopes configured into an array to listen to the stars to determine different qualities such as composition and distance. To become a radio astronomer that is authorized to use a telescope of this type you usually have to work for a college, university, or non-profit group that has contracted with the institution that owns the telescope.


Students in high school who want to become a radio astronomer should focus on excelling in math and science courses. The highest level classes of each subject should probably be taken including advanced placement courses to allow the student the best chance at succeeding in the higher level math and science classes in college. When choosing an undergraduate college to attend to eventually become a radio astronomer, it may be a good idea to focus on schools that have solid graduate level astronomy programs. While getting a good foundation in math and physics is possible at most colleges, schools with astronomy programs may have more chances for undergraduate access to astronomy professors and research programs, which can help when you are applying to graduate school.

You do not necessarily need to major in astronomy to become a radio astronomer. Astronomy graduate schools are also looking for students with degrees in mathematics and physics. Individual graduate schools will usually have a list of required undergraduate coursework on their admissions website. Admissions committees for astronomy graduate schools generally like to see students apply with some type of scientific research experience.

While in graduate school, to become a radio astronomer you may want to focus on picking a thesis and working with advisors that use radio telescopes and radio telescope data for their projects. After all graduate coursework and your doctoral thesis is completed, you will generally be awarded a PhD in astronomy. Successful completion of the degree should allow you to look for post-doctoral positions working for astronomy organizations that have access to radio telescopes.



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