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The Question

(Submitted June 12, 2008)

I AM STUDENT FROM INDIA. i have completed 12th std.(science) with 83%(overall) and 87% in PHYSICS. what can i do for becoming astrophysicist or astronomer. taking advice from here they are saying that you be engineer in electronics or computer,because there is no value of B.Sc, M.Sc in INDIA economically. my father is saying that you should be economically sound. can i come to U.S.A. for higher studies or i can do it in india only. i have deep interest in astronomy. can i enter NASA one day as i am not U.S. citizen. i have submitted application form in electronics and computer science. my turn for counselling is on 20th. is it possible to come to U.S. for engineering which would be helpful for astronomy.i am very much confused . and finally CONGRATULATIONS FOR PHOENIX. thanking you

The Answer

If you want to be a scientist, then the best preparation is most likely a science degree. But it may be true that if you plan to stop short of a doctoral degree, or maybe even if you complete it, it would be more difficult to get a job as a scientist than it would be to get a job as a computer programmer or an engineer with the corresponding degree. I don't know the situation in India these days. It is not very easy in the United States right now.

But to get a degree in something you don't want to do seems like bad policy. An astronomy degree does have value, but if you want a job as a computer programmer, you would be better off with a computer science degree.

There are many Indian students in the United States, in both undergraduate and graduate studies. There are also many people working at NASA from India and other countries, both those who are now US citizens and those who are still foreign citizens. In general it would be easier to come for study than it would be to come for work.

There are programs to spend a semester or a year at an American university as part of your studies at a university in your own country. Those would be administered through your home institution, and you would have to contact them for more information. You can also come to an American college or university intending to get a degree from that institution. You would have to apply directly to each institution in which you were interested. Almost every institution would accept applications from foreign students.

There are thousands of colleges and universities in the US. All the states and most large cities have a university, usually more than one university campus, and there are private institutions large and small. Here is one list, I cannot recommend any particular one:

There are several good universities in India for astrophysics. Try looking at these sites for some more information:

I found these by entering "India University Astrophysics" into a search engin.

India has an active space program. Take a look at the Indian Space Research Organisation web pages:

Jay and Amy
for Ask an Astrophysicist

The following aditions to the above answer was provided by Sudip, an Indian astrophysicist who voluntereered his time for the "Ask an Astrophysicist" project while he was working in the US.

In India, the salary of a scientist/professor is in the middle class level. The salary of a computer programmer/engineer is several times higher than that of scientists/professors. The difference is much more than it is in the US.

In India, there are about 20000 colleges, about 250 universities, many private institutions (mostly for engineering and management), teaching/research institutes (such as IITs, IISERs, etc.), many laboratories, and so called "elite" research institutes like TIFR, IISc, etc. People with academic (research) interests can go to the US either for doing Ph.D. or for doing a postdoc. The latter, unlike the former, does not require an exam (GRE). Those who do Ph.D. in India normally gets a good scholarship without doing a teaching/research assistantship.

Astronomy is generally not taught in universities (except some like Delhi, Osmania, etc.). Those who want do Ph.D. in astronomy in India should first do a bachelor degree in physics (or engineering with inclination to physics) or a Master degree in physics, and then join (by clearing the entrance test) one of the research institutes that offer astronomy, such as Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Raman Research Institute (RRI), Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), Indian Institute of Science (IISc), etc. Students normally do very good Ph.D. works from these institutes. However, one probably should go to the US for postdoctoral works.

Getting a permanent scientist/professor job (especially in a good research institute) is very tough in India, as it is in the rest of the world.

There are some observational facilities in India: GMRT (radio), Astrosat (X-ray; upcoming), Tauvex (UV; upcoming), some optical telescopes, etc. Also Indian institutes have collaborations with some international facilities.

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