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(Asking this since similar themes have come up in a conversation with a friend)

So-and-so physics department has decided to start teaching more astrophysics classes, because they need more students. Astronomy with all its pretty pictures is supposed to attract students - certainly the general education classes that cater to students fulfilling their breadth requirements are very popular. The idea is to add several more astrophysics courses and offer undergraduates who take all of them a "concentration in Astrophysics", so their degrees say "Bachelor of Physics with concentration in Astrophysics".

The problem: in that particular city - or country, even - nobody is looking for astrophysics graduates. In fact after being subscribed to "astronomy" and "astrophysics" job advertisements for more than a year, I've only seen like two jobs with those keywords, and one of them had nothing to do with astronomy or astrophysics. One could still get a job leveraging the fact that astrophysics is "sort of" physics which is a quantitative discipline that teaches its graduates to think logically yada yada blah blah. But at that point, the astrophysics concentration seems pretty pointless.

How do you advertise a program knowing that its graduates will not be able to find jobs in that topic? What is a good response to "what do your graduates do after graduating?"

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    I think it might help if you mention what country, as the cultural expectations of the relationship between education and employment is different in different countries. For example, in the US, especially at elite institutions, investment banks and consulting companies will hire smart graduates without much regard to what subject they have concentrated in, whereas it seems a similar German company would hire only economics/finance/business students. – Alexander Woo Nov 26 '18 at 2:20
  • I imagine this is a common problem. What do other departments in the same university do? – Thomas Nov 26 '18 at 3:47
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    As a meta comment - I don't think that the purpose of academia in general is creating jobs. If schools were to become vocational then teaching astrophysics (or physics in general) is a bad idea. Astrophysics is at the very least teaching its students some 'useful' skills like algebra/probability/basic programming, as opposed to some humanities subjects. – Spark Nov 26 '18 at 3:48
  • Why is the search space for jobs from that university only that city or country? I assume this isn't the US or other large country as I can't imagine there have been no astro* jobs posted in the past two years – Azor Ahai Nov 26 '18 at 5:45
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    I tagged by region, and I suspect conventions are similar across the region. – Allure Nov 26 '18 at 5:49
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If the basic degree is still Physics with a bit of astro tacked on I don't see the problem. Even pure Astrophysics degrees usually follow all the core physics classes before specialising.

For example, my Astrophysics degree is probably about 75% identical to my pure Physics counterparts, so as long as students make potential employers aware of this, they should be just as employable as a Physics graduate.

As a side note, perhaps students should be encouraged to study what they actually find interesting, not what will get them a job. They are likely to perform better if they enjoy the material, and with better grades and an enthusiasm for their degree, the jobs will come.

  • You don't find this to be a problem? That's surprising (and distressing) - see e.g. news.com.au/finance/work/… – Allure Nov 27 '18 at 5:42
  • Also an astrophysics concentration would teach subjects such as stellar nucleosynthesis, planetary science, cosmology, galaxy dynamics ... the opportunity cost of taking these classes would be missing out on topics like biophysics, surface science and material science, which could potentially be relevant (as mentioned there are some research positions requiring physics which tend to be applied - i.e. use these topics). One can still get a non-research position, but it would still be missing out on an option. – Allure Nov 27 '18 at 5:45
  • I don't see this to be a problem. I and all my friends with astrophysics degrees are doing just fine even though we never studied biophysics... No matter what degree you choose you have to make some sacrifices, for example, we didn't learn creative writing, or organic chemistry, or geology, or physiotherapy, or medicine, or.... – astronat Nov 27 '18 at 8:54
  • But that's because you have a job in astrophysics. If you have to find a job outside of academia, in a situation where nobody is looking for astrophysics, not having taken one of these other topics is going to narrow your options, e.g. searching for "material science" yields pages upon pages of results while "astrophysics" yields one page. – Allure Nov 27 '18 at 9:57
  • If the students are adults, that is their decision to make. Besides, I imagine there are far more material scientists than astrophysicists looking for work anyway, so it's not surprising there are proportionally more jobs. Not to mention all the unrelated to physics jobs an astrophysics graduate could do. – astronat Nov 27 '18 at 10:31
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Given the variety of some of the jobs that graduates land, the benefit of a science-based degree is the structured thinking/maths skills/theoretical knowledge that are useful to the employer, not necessarily the exact topic studied.

Many of the disciplines have core parts that overlap.

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    This doesn't seem to answer the question. – lighthouse keeper Nov 26 '18 at 11:00
  • i seemed to have missed your answer... – Solar Mike Nov 26 '18 at 11:04

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