Astrobiology Career Path: Is it the Right Career for You?

Passionate about space and extraterrestrial life? Tony Z Jia, an Astrobiologist and Research Scientist, discusses everything from scope to pros & cons to daily work life in the astrobiology career path.

Astrobiology Career Path

1. Astrobiology Career Path

This profession is a very interesting yet relatively new one, which would be a great choice for the students who like studying space and would like to contribute to the search for extraterrestrial life.

What do Astrobiologists Do?

Astrobiologists study extraterrestrial life detection in order to assist in space missions seeking to find signs of life in outer space. Additionally, we also study the origins of life, search for habitable environments in outer space, and prebiotic chemistry. This means finding the right conditions that could suggest life on other planets or celestial bodies. You can read more here at the NASA website.


Contents: Jump to Section

1.1 Astrobiology Career Path/ What do Astrobiologists Do?
1.2 Difference between Astrobiology and Astrophysics
1.3 Industry/Sector
1.4 Social Image
1.5 Reasons to Become an Astrobiologist
2.1 Personality Traits Required
2.2 Physical Demands
2.3 Psychological Demands
3.1 Extra Curricular Activities Recommended
3.2 Related Hobbies to Take Up
3.3 Related Movies/ TV Shows
3.4 Related Fiction to Read/ Novels
4.1 Part-Time Options
4.2 Traveling Required
4.3 Average Workday/What to Expect
5.1 Retirement Prospects
5.2 Threats from Automation
5.3 Common Reasons for People to Quit

1.1 Difference between Astrobiology and Astrophysics

The word astrobiology comes from the Greek word ‘astro’ meaning star, heavenly body or outer space, and ‘bio’ meaning life. Astrobiology is the study of life in outer space or other planets. However, astrobiology also deals with the search for prebiotic chemistry, meaning how organic compounds formed or organized themselves before life on earth first began.

On the other hand, astrophysics is the the branch of astronomy that deals with, as the name suggests, the physical and chemical structure of objects in outer space. So astrophysicists study the composition and origin of planetary or celestial bodies.

Difference between Astrobiology and Astrophysics

1.2 Industry/Sector

Academia, Education & Research, Government

Astrobiologists usually work in research institutes and universities. So I can either work for a specialized research institute in bio medicine, materials science, space research, and others. Or I can become a researcher, lecturer, or a professor in a university. Astrobiologists can also be public sector employees, working for a government space agency or university.

1.3 Social Image of the Astrobiology Career Path

Mixed; highly respectable in some circles

Space research is often very interesting to some people, while it is completely boring to other people since it has no direct bearing on most people’s lives. Thus, it seems that to some taxpayers (and much of our funding comes from taxpayer money), we are a useless profession and scorned.

However, to others, we are at the frontier of known human knowledge, and thus are perceived as very respectable people in society. So if you look at the people who value intellect and science, the astrobiology career path is one of the most respectable ones.

1.4 Reasons to Become an Astrobiologist

Intellectually fulfilling, not dull or routine work, academic travel

I am able to work on an interesting problem every day that is decided by myself. So there is never a day of dull or routine work, which many professions suffer from.

What it Takes to Be an Astrobiologist

Although the salary isn’t good and the hours are long, at the end of the day the astrobiology career path is very fulfilling, both intellectually and personally. Part of your job is also to attend conferences around the world, which is a great way to meet people from all parts of the world and see different places you never would have seen otherwise.

2. What it Takes to Be an Astrobiologist

2.1 Personality Traits Required/ Preferred

Curiosity, exceptional academic prowess, patience, grit, computer skills

This is one of the fields where you really need to be good at many different things in order to succeed at it. You need both technical and soft skills in this profession. So here are some of the personality traits that the astrobiology career path requires:

  • Meticulousness
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Good work ethic
  • Number or math skills
  • Good with abstract ideas
  • Quick-thinking
  • Problem solving skills
  • Good at damage control
  • Good memory
  • People skills (for human resources as well as networking)
  • Writing skills
  • Speaking skills
  • Organization
  • Good with your hands
  • Computer coding and data analysis skills
  • Good at learning new things
  • Good at working with machines
  • Doesn’t need much sleep
  • Doesn’t get depressed or discouraged by things not going your way


2.2 Physical Demands

Long hours, quite a bit of travel, lack of sleep.

Some work hours stretch longer than 20 hours, and that can get very tiresome very soon.

2.3 Psychological Demands

.Many deadlines, peer pressure, can’t choose where to live.

Some other emotional demands include lack of sleep, sometimes can’t see family regularly, pressure from colleagues, peers, and superiors, lack of viable positions. Despite being both technically and academically skilled, you won’t be able to decide where to live as job options are not that many to choose from.

3. How to Build Interest in Astrobiology Career Path

3.1 Extra Curricular Activities Recommended

Volunteer in a lab in a university, or attend weekend science workshops and lectures at the local university or research institute. Otherwise, join your school’s math and science competition teams. Often, these teams can compete at the local, regional, national, and international levels. Advancing and competing at these levels will allow you to hone in your own skills as well as meet other peers who are also striving for the same career.

3.2 Related Hobbies to Take Up

You can take up science-related hobbies, like get a telescope and observe the moon and stars. Read or watch documentaries about the solar system. Also, improve your analytical thinking skills with hobbies like chess, math puzzles, etc.

3.3 Related Movies/ TV Shows

  • Solaris (1972) (PG)
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008) (PG-13)
  • Through the Wormhole- Episode: Are We Alone? (2010) (TV-PG)

sci fi Life as an Astrobiologist movies related to astrobiology

3.4 Related Fiction to Read/ Novels

  • The Andromeda Strain By Michael Crichton.
  • Dragon’s Egg: A Novel by Robert L. Forward
  • Life in Space: Astrobiology for Everyone by Lucas John Mix

4. Life as an Astrobiologist

4.1 Part-Time Options in Astrobiology Career Path

Rare to none.

In order to commit to being a research scientist, it is discouraged to have a part-time position due to the time commitment you require for your everyday duties. If you have a part-time position, it must be at the expense of your own personal time and not at the expense of your work duties.

4.2 Traveling Required


Depending on the position, astrobiologists annually travel to ~3 domestic and ~3 international conferences. Furthermore, they also make research visits to other labs – both local, domestic, and international for collaborative work and discussions. The total travel time per year is roughly 2-3 months.

However, this depends on your position and employer. Going forward, it is highly likely that less travel will be required, as most conferences will be digital in the near future.

4.3 Average Workday/ What to Expect from Astrobiology Career Path

There is no average workday. That’s the beauty of this profession. Every day is different and depends on the experiments that must be done, the articles or grants that must be written, or the presentations or meetings that must be given or organized.

Thus, a workday can range from 0 hours to 24 hours depending on the day. Often, weekends and working late are required. I would say the average number of working hours per week is 50-60, although it depends on the field and the specific position. The workday can stretch up to even 20 hours per day, but definitely not every day.

5. Future of Your Career in Astrobiology

5.1 Retirement Prospects

Depends on your interests; teaching

Retirement age depends on your country. In Japan, where I’m currently working, the mandatory retirement is at age 65. After retirement, an astrobiologist could join a privately owned research institute or university to oversee research or teach.

What do Astrobiologists Do

5.2  Threats from Automation in Astrobiology Career Path


The astrobiology career path is all about creative thinking, problem solving and discovering new things. Now AI and deep learning is being used as a tool to supplement the research, but not replace it. So technology or AI can aid this career, which means that over time, this career path will keep evolving.

5.3 Common Reasons for People to Quit

Certain success factors are out of your control; low salary.

One major reason for quitting the astrobiology career path is that you can’t get the results to progress up the career ladder.

In order to progress up, you not only must be meticulous at your work, it involves a good amount of luck and creative thinking as well. If you can get good results and publish research articles in major academic journals, then you have a chance to progress up the career ladder (but this also is out of your control).

Thus, many people are stuck at the same career level for a long time and cannot progress. At such a low salary, and with families to feed, many researchers join companies in the industry. Other reasons include not being able to be awarded enough grants. When this happens, your university or research institute decides to not renew your contract. This is before you gain “tenure”. In this case, you must leave.

Additionally, sometimes people just decide that they don’t enjoy research, and pursue other careers as well. Luckily, with a PhD in a science or engineering field, you would still be well-positioned to find another job in business, finance, industry, etc.

Read next:

How to Become an Astrobiologist: Courses, Career Scope, Salary & More

Curious about alien life? From qualifications to tuition cost to salary & scope, Astrobiologist and Research Scientist Tony Z Jia talks about how to become an astrobiologist.

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