How To Become a Cosmologist in 5 Steps

Updated June 24, 2022

If you're interested in the history and evolution of the universe and have a passion for physics and mathematics, you might consider a career as a cosmologist. Like astronomers, these professionals conduct research and test theories related to space and the universe. Understanding how the two professions differ and what a cosmologist does may help when choosing a career path. In this article, we define what a cosmologist is, list skills that may help them be successful, review how they differ from astronomers and provide steps for how to become a cosmologist.

Related: What Is a Scientist? Definition and Types of Scientists

What is a cosmologist?

A cosmologist is a scientist who uses space-based and ground-based telescopes and satellites to study the properties of the universe, including planets, black holes and galaxies. They obtain data and observe certain aspects of astronomical objects, including distance, size, motion and brightness. Cosmologists use their data to test and create theories, such as string theory and theories of dark matter, regarding various phenomena. Their work can lead to practical and scientific advancements in electronics, energy, navigation and medical technology.

A cosmologist's job duties can include:

  • Designing scientific instruments like lasers and telescopes

  • Observing astronomical bodies using telescopes and satellites

  • Developing computer programs for data analysis

  • Testing theories related to the creation of astronomical bodies and the universe

  • Presenting the findings of their research at academic conferences

  • Analyzing data using complex mathematical functions and equations

Related: Top 21 Jobs for Astronomy Majors (Plus Education Requirements and Average Salaries)

Skills for becoming a cosmologist

Possessing certain skills can show prospective employers that you're qualified and passionate about your cosmology career. Here are some skills that can help you become a successful cosmologist:

  • Patience and adaptability: As a cosmologist, you may spend a lot of time testing a particular theory without obtaining a definite answer or result. In times like this, it may benefit you to be patient with your work and adapt as the research project evolves.

  • Use of specialized software and equipment: Cosmologists use a variety of scientific instruments to collect data and test theories. They also work with various computer software programs for data entry and analysis and spend a lot of their time working with technology.

  • Aptitude for mathematics and science: To analyze data and develop research plans, employers require cosmologists to have an aptitude for mathematics and science in addition to their extensive education in these fields. Being skilled in physics and mathematics may help you accurately conduct research and identify results.

  • Communication: Important parts of many cosmologists' responsibilities include speaking with others regarding their findings, writing grant applications for research funding and writing academic articles to publish their research results. As a result, both verbal and written communication skills can aid a cosmologist in their work.

  • Precision and attention to detail: Much of a cosmologist's work involves recording data and research results for future analysis. Being precise in their measurements and exact in their data collection can help ensure that they perform reliable and valid research.

  • Collaboration and evaluation: Cosmologists often conduct their research alongside other scientists, and this work relies on their ability to collaborate and work together. This may include evaluating one another's work and being able to provide and receive feedback from other research team members.

  • Data analysis and synthesis: Cosmologists work with a significant amount of data, and their job duties may involve refining data to identify patterns and trends. As a cosmologist, it can benefit you if you're comfortable synthesizing large data sets using computer programs, as this can help you complete data-driven work more efficiently.

Difference between a cosmologist and an astronomer

The primary difference between a cosmologist and an astronomer is their research. Both cosmologists and astronomers are interested in understanding and testing theories about the way the universe works. Although they can often share work environments and collaborate on projects, their research and job duties differ.

Cosmologists study theories about the creation and development of the universe. This includes theories about the history of the universe, like the Big Bang theory and particle physics. Astronomers, conversely, are primarily interested in celestial bodies, meaning things that exist in space. This includes planets, stars and galaxies. An astronomer's job duties can include:

  • Using scientific mechanisms to measure energy output from celestial bodies

  • Developing new software to make observations and analyze data

  • Instructing students and creating material for astronomy courses at a college or university

  • Developing and testing hypotheses

Related: FAQ: How Much Do Astronomers Make?

How to become a cosmologist

Consider following these steps to become a cosmologist:

1. Pursue a bachelor's degree

If you're interested in becoming a cosmologist, the first step is to get your bachelor's degree. To prepare yourself for this career, consider taking undergraduate courses in mathematics, science, philosophy and astronomy. Majoring in astronomy may help prepare you for a career as a cosmologist, as it provides you with an introduction to many concepts and theories that are important in cosmology.

2. Apply for an internship

In the fields of cosmology and astronomy, you may increase your chances of finding a cosmology-related position if you obtain professional experience, so consider applying for a cosmology research internship while obtaining your undergraduate degree. Alternatively, you can pursue an internship right after you graduate. A cosmology internship might include helping professors with their research or working in a laboratory.

A cosmology internship can help you develop a better understanding of the role and responsibilities of a cosmologist. Internships can also allow you to network and meet those in the field that might assist you with future opportunities.

3. Obtain a Ph.D. in a related field

In order to become a professional cosmologist , employers require a Ph.D. in a related field like physics, mathematics or astronomy. Work as a cosmologist relies on adequate knowledge in all three fields. This profession uses advanced mathematics like algebra and calculus, so consider focusing on these areas while in a graduate program.

In graduate school, you may also want to familiarize yourself with field-specific concepts like electromagnetism, quantum mechanics and thermodynamics. Some universities and colleges employ cosmologists to conduct research for the school, so getting your Ph.D. can also help you meet people working as university researchers that may connect you with professional opportunities.

Related: Types of Research: Definition and Examples

4. Find a post-doctorate research position or fellowship

Once you have a Ph.D. in a related field, you're able to apply for cosmologist positions. However, some employers may prefer a candidate who has professional experience and academic credentials, which means it could benefit you to look for a post-doctorate research position or fellowship. These opportunities allow you to apply your advanced knowledge and skills in a practical environment. During this time, you also work with established professionals who can guide your development and potentially serve as recommenders for any full-time cosmology positions to which you apply.

5. Apply for a job as a cosmologist

When you're ready to apply for a job as a cosmologist, update your CV and customize a cover letter for each position in which you're interested. Cosmologists can find employment in academia, with the government and with research groups.

Additionally, both public and private organizations hire cosmologists to conduct research or help develop products. Some organizations that hire cosmologists include:

  • Space education centers

  • Aerospace companies

  • Space physics laboratories

  • Planetariums and observatories

  • Astronomical equipment manufacturers


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