Master of Science - Astronomy

The purpose of the Astronomy M.S. and Ph.D. degrees are to prepare students for a career in Astronomy or Astrophysics Research or in education at the university level. The program achieves this with a custom program for each student set up by their advisor and their advising committee. At the M.S. level we have two options. A coursework M.S., wherein students take classes at the graduate level in Astronomy and pass an exam. We also offer a thesis option where students will learn to formulate, conduct and report on research. In the case of the Ph.D. the research must be original research conducted independently by the student.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand astrophysics at the graduate level.
  • Understand either classical mechanics or quantum theory or electromagnetic theory at the graduate level.
  • Understand mathematical physics at the graduate level.
  • Understand observational astronomy techniques.
  • Understand astrophysics of gaseous nebulae and active galactic nuclei, and high energy astrophysics.
  • Understand cosmology at the graduate level.
  • Understand stellar atmospheres and the interstellar medium.
  • Perform a graduate research project at the doctoral level.
  • Communicate scientific research to a scientific audience.
  • Possess strong background of knowledge and expertise in physics and astronomy.

Career Information

Students who obtain the Masters of Science degree (M.Sc.) in Astronomy typically develop critical skills that are very beneficial to a wide array of professions. Such skills include but are not limited to: data analysis, computer modeling, data measurement, high technology awareness/familiarity/expertise, ability to conduct independent scholarship/observation leadership, writing/communication proficiency, mathematical expertise, creativity (“thinking outside of the box”) and critical thinking/analytical reasoning. The level of skills will of course depend on the nature of the masters thesis project but in general, astrophysicists are considered to be deep thinkers and problem solvers and are thus highly sought out for high- level jobs in many areas of human endeavor. As the bedrock of all science, mastery in physics gives students confidence and ability to solve a wide variety of problems that are critically and widely relevant to society.

Soon after receiving their M.Sc., many astrophysics students continue their studies by entering a Ph.D. program in astrophysics or other related field - particularly for those wishing to engage in independent research for their career. Nevertheless, even without a Ph.D., masters- level astrophysicists may obtain some faculty positions (visiting professor or professor-in- residence) in academic/degree-granting institutions (usually private and public four year colleges, professional schools and community colleges). These faculty positions are often offered by physics departments but physicists can also be hired by chemistry, geology, materials science, atmospheric science, applied math, history of science, engineering, medical physics, and biology departments depending on their particular thesis project/field of expertise. Physicists may also teach in K-12 educational institutions (public and private) with additional teaching certification.

Astrophysicists with M.Sc. degrees may obtain positions in national observatories (e.g. the Keck telescope or Magdalena Ridge Observatory) or agencies such as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or NASA as technicians associated with space programs, satellite development/deployment, exoplanets, stellar and galactic observations to present some examples.

Masters degree-holding astrophysicists can be hired by private companies as technicians/technical staff members, many of which are technology-based (e.g. Raytheon). Many of today’s technological innovations that drive our economy (e.g. the transistor, laser, x- ray machines, NMR/MRI, CCD cameras, microwave ovens, etc.) were developed by physicists including astrophysicists who in many cases founded companies creating these technologies. In another example during the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico during 2010, an astrophysicist was appointed on a presidential commission to investigate and seek solutions to ameliorate the disaster.

Astrophysicists have been hired by financial firms due to their proficiency in data analysis and market modeling/prediction/computer prowess.

Past graduates from the UNLV Ph.D. program in astrophysics have garnered postdoctoral, positions in academia.