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I realize there are very few to none universities that offer direct specialization of Astronomy. If I aspired to be make astronomy my career choice, I'd likely have to pick something like physics and specialize later - or something similar - but that's just my hunch, and I'd prefer to know for sure.

What educational and professional paths optimize one's education and skill set for the occupation of Astronomer? How do I become one?

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you should have tried some job requirements site for this. Instead of this one..you might have found a better answer...as you might get some incorrect info here..:) Good luck –  Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan Oct 16 '13 at 7:07
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@AfzaalAhmadZeeshan: Job requirements sites will list necessary skills, but not the necessary paths to obtain them. They also often contain skillsets thought up by HR and recruitment agencies as opposed to actually required for given job. I definitely prefer to hear that from proverbial horse's mouth. –  SF. Oct 16 '13 at 7:31
    
To know how you can achieve a skill, you must get a guideline from one who have those skills :) –  Afzaal Ahmad Zeeshan Oct 16 '13 at 12:28
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up vote 5 down vote accepted

What you need would be at least the following:

  • Physics: astronomy is physics in the end, and you'll need strong basis in physics;
  • Math: as for any good education in physics, you'll need a reasonable amount of math to be able to become an astronomer;
  • Programming: it's almost impossible nowadays to get away from it. Being an astronomer today implies lots of data processing (to reduce the data, to interpret it etc.), and it involves a lot of coding.

And, as far as I know, in lots of countries/universities, you can find at least few astronomy & astrophysics courses. In some countries, you can even find dedicated master degrees.

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Very true on all points - and here is an example of a Masters in Science (Astronomy) - future.swinburne.edu.au/courses/… –  user8 Oct 16 '13 at 8:58
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For French speaking people, there's also a bunch of Masters: at Paris Observatory, at Strasbourg Observatory, in University of Grenoble, at Toulouse Observatory etc. –  MBR Oct 16 '13 at 9:02
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