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I ama grade 9 stu­dent and I would like to pur­sue a ca­reer in as­tro­physics. Please ad­vise on its scope and which are the best uni­ver­si­ties in In­dia that of­fer this course. NAME WITH­HELD ON RE­QUEST Pop­u­larised by the char­ac­ters on the TV show, The Big Bang The­ory, this fas­ci­nat­ing sub­ject can be stud­ied at the un­der­grad­u­ate, post­grad­u­ate and PhD lev­els.

Another al­ter­na­tive would be to study physics dur­ing the bach­e­lor’s course and then spe­cialise in as­tro­physics at the Mas­ter’s level. If you have your sights on re­search, then you must aim at do­ing a PhD as well. How­ever, be­fore you do so, it is im­por­tant to re­alise that while it may be a branch of as­tron­omy, as­tro­physics is a com­pletely spe­cialised field.

If you are look­ing at pur­su­ing this course in In­dia, you will typ­i­cally be do­ing a Bach­e­lor’s in ei­ther physics or engineering fol­lowed by a Mas­ter’s in as­tro­physics. The In­dian In­sti­tute of As­tro­physics, (Ban­ga­lore) of­fers an in­te­grated MSc-PhD pro­gramme in physics and as­tro­physics. The In­dian In­sti­tute of Sci­ence, (Ban­ga­lore) has a bach­e­lor’s pro­gramme in physics. Be­yond the un­der­grad­u­ate level, it has re­search pro­grammes and MSc engineering. Phys­i­cal Re­search Lab­o­ra­tory (Ahmed­abad) of­fers Ju­nior Re­search Fel­low­ships lead­ing to a PhD de­gree. Ra­man Re­search In­sti­tute (Ban­ga­lore) also of­fers ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­ni­ties for re­search in as­tron­omy and as­tro­physics.

The other top in­sti­tutes in this field are In­terUni­ver­sity Cen­tre for As­tron­omy and As­tro­physics (IUCCA) in Pune and Tata In­sti­tute of Fun­da­men­tal Re­search Mum­bai. To ap­ply to the Phd pro­gramme, you will have to ap­pear for the Joint En­trance Screen­ing Test (JEST) that is held once a year and con­sists of mul­ti­ple­choice ob­jec­tive ques­tions.

While at school, it is im­por­tant that you fo­cus on physics and maths. Most of your stud­ies will in­volve the core con­cepts of th­ese sub­jects.

Sub­scribe to one of the many jour­nals on the sub­ject to keep up to date with the field. Par­tic­i­pate in out­reach pro­grammes, at­tend lec­tures and work­shops con­ducted by th­ese in­sti­tutes. For ex­am­ple, The In­dian In­sti­tute of As­tro­physics or­gan­ises sum­mer pro­grammes with the aim of ac­quaint­ing stu­dents with re­search in as­tron­omy and as­tro­physics. Sim­i­lar work­shops and pub­lic pro­grammes are also con­ducted by IUCAA on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

Ca­reers in this field could be based in gov­ern­men­tal re­search or­gan­i­sa­tions, uni­ver­si­ties, ob­ser­va­to­ries and plan­e­tar­i­ums, aero­space in­dus­tries (such as Boe­ing) etc. Of course, the best thing would be to be em­ployed by NASA.

With the ex­pand­ing space pro­grammes of coun­tries such as China and In­dia, as well as the ad­vent of pri­vate space com­pa­nies such as Vir­gin Ga­lac­tic, there is a lot of po­ten­tial in this field as well as ca­reer growth.

Should as­tro­physics not turn out to be your call­ing, do not fret. A de­gree in this sub­ject will help you at­tain strong trans­fer­able skills in nu­mer­acy, com­pu­ta­tion, data anal­y­sis, re­search and prob­lem solv­ing – skills you can ap­ply to a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in many fields.

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