UCL News


It's not quite 'Star Trek', but a degree in astronomy will always be well-received

16 February 2006

The early 19th century was a boom period for astronomy.

Advances in instrumentation meant that telescopes gave a far better view of the solar system than had previously been possible. Plus, two things happened that cemented astronomy's reputation as a serious academic subject.

First, the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) was formed in London in 1820. The discoverer of Uranus, William Herschel, was its first president. Second, a BSc in Astronomy was among the inaugural degree courses offered by the newly founded UCL in 1826.

Nearly 200 years later, the degree course is still going strong, albeit with content that's moved on somewhat since the days of Herschel. Between 30 and 35 undergraduates a year embark on one of UCL's three 'astro degrees' in UCL Physics & Astronomy, taking a BSc in astronomy, astrophysics, or astronomy and physics. Most stay for a fourth year to complete an MSc. …

For the practical modules, students go to the observatory at Mill Hill, to view the solar system through the university's telescopes.

Many of UCL's graduates stay on to do postgraduate study - cosmology and atmospheric physics, dealing with 'the edge of space' 100km above our heads, are particular research strengths. …

Those students who go on to work as professional astronomers can end up in academia, research institutions or organisations of world renown, such as Nasa. Other career paths followed by UCL graduates include schoolteaching and jobs in the City, where employers value the numeracy skills of anyone with a degree that has a substantial maths content.

Steve McCormack, 'The Independent', 16 February 2006