CAREER GUIDE Friday, February 21, 2003, Chandigarh, India
Reach for the stars
Pervin Malhotra
UDDING astronomers may perhaps be interested to know that astronomy is the oldest science known to man. It basically involves observing the motion of heavenly bodies and their patterns in the sky. Over the years it has joined hands with physics, chemistry and other branches of science to arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of celestial phenomena.


Reach for the stars
Pervin Malhotra

BUDDING astronomers may perhaps be interested to know that astronomy is the oldest science known to man. It basically involves observing the motion of heavenly bodies and their patterns in the sky. Over the years it has joined hands with physics, chemistry and other branches of science to arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of celestial phenomena.

Although exploring the cosmos is like chasing a gripping detective thriller, it can also be pursued as a satisfying career as have several eminent scientists like our very own Jayant Narlikar. Last yearís Nobel Prize in physics was shared by a team of three astrophysists for using some of the most obscure particles (neutrinos produced by the billion in the sun) and waves (including cosmic x-ray sources) in nature to understand the workings of astronomyís grandest wonders.

Job prospects

With the IT revolution and powerful satellites enabling new capabilities, astronomy has again entered an exciting phase.

You can choose between observational and experimental astronomy where the scope is wider (even engineering students can opt for it), and theoretical astronomy which requires doctoral and post-doctoral study.

Astrophysics, a related field, studies the behaviour of astronomical phenomena and related physico-chemical interactions in outer space. It includes study of cosmology, plasma, kinetics, stellar physics, convolution and non-equilibrium, radiation transfer theory, non-Euclidian geometry, mathematical modelling, galactic structure theory and relativistic astronomy.

You could even look at radio astrophysics (study of reception and analysis of radio-frequency, electromagnetic radiation emitted or reflected by celestial bodies) or cosmology (study of the nature, origin and history of the universe) or astrometry (study of the position of celestial bodies) or astronautics (study of space communication and life support systems) or celestial mechanics (study of the movement of celestial bodies under influence of gravity), etc as fields of specialisation.

The work is research intensive, and would entail working with seniors on their projects and being part of a worldwide network of astronomers and ongoing observation projects.

Astronomers are classified into specialised groups.

Observational astronomers specialise in surveying objects in outer space with the help of telescopes.

Stellar astronomers are stargazers who study stars in their entirety.

Solar astronomers study the sun.

Planetary astronomers study the planets and their environment.

Theoretical astronomers apply the principles of physics and mathematics to understand the nature of the universe.

Cosmologists study the history and structure of the universe as a whole.

A certified astronomer has the option of working in observatories or government laboratories. Many of them teach in planetariums and universities.

Employment opportunities exist in organisations such as the TIFR (Government of Indiaís National Centre for Nuclear Science and Mathematics), the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics, Pune and Ooty, the IIS, Bangalore, the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune, Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad, UP State Observatory at Nainital, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Bangalore, Astronomical Society of India, Udaipur Solar Observatory, and the CSIR. Some researchers also go on to work at leading observatories and institutes in the USA.

Where to study

While several premier institutions offer courses at the PG level, astronomy/astrophysics are offered as one of the subjects in BSc at a handful of universities like Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad, Shivaji University, Kolhapur, the University of Lucknow and the University of Chennai. The eligibility is class XII (Sc).

The study of cosmic sciences - astronomy, planetary science and astrophysics requires a sound base in mathematics and physics at the undergraduate level, so make sure you opt for either of these at the BSc level.

However, if you want to pursue instrumentation or experimental astronomy, observational astronomy which mainly deals with image processing, accommodates people from any branch of engineering or science, including biology. Since the work involves plotting and manipulating data and theoretical modelling on computers, training in IT is required.

But in case you are despairing at having to defer your passion till after you have graduated, the wonderful thing about astronomy is that unlike all other scientific disciplines, it is a field where even a school kid can contribute if s/he is passionate and curious.

Moreover, institutes like the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bangalore, or Nehru Planetarium, Delhi, regularly invite students for workshops at their planetariums. This is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the subject and meet experts. You could contact them directly for further information.

Astronomy and astrophysics are taught as special MSc programmes in the Physics or Mathematics departments in a number of universities. Here are some of the better ones:

Andhra University, Visakhapatnam 530003 ó Course: MSc Space Physics (3yrs). Eligibility: BSc. Diploma in Space Science & Tech. Eligibility: MS (Phs)/MScTech with electronics.

MP Birla Planetarium, 96 Jawaharlal Nehru Rd, Kolkata 700071. Course: PG Diploma in Astronomy & Planetary Sciences.

Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Koramangala, Bangalore 560034. Course: PhD in Astronomy and Astrophysics, Post-doctoral Fellowships. (

JNTU College of Engineering, Hyderabad. Course: MSc (Tech) Space Physics).

National Centre for Radio Astrophysics, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Pune & Bangalore Campus, ( Research Programmes in Astrophysics & Astronomy (Radio Astronomy & Astrophys, Theoretical Phys & Astrophys, Elig: MSc (Phy/ Astro/ Appl Math/ Physical Chem. BSc/ BE/ BTech with exceptional record can also apply. Selection: Written test & interview.

Osmania University, Centre for Advanced Study in Astronomy, Hyderabad 500007. Course: MSc (Astronomy). Eligibility: BSc (45% in the rel subj).

Punjabi University, Patiala 147002 (Punj). Course: PG Diploma in Space Sciences. Eligibility: MSc (Phys)/ BSc/ BE/ BTech (50%).

Inter-University Centre for Astronomy & Astrophysics, Ganeshkhind, Pune 411007 ( Course: MTech in Astrophysics; PhD in Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology and Quantum Physics. PhD Astronomy & Astrophysics, Experimental and Theoretical Physics. Courses: PhD in Physics (including Theoretical and Observational Astronomy, Astrophysics, Physics in Biology, Plasma Physics & Technology, Earth & Atmospheric Sc and Space Sc)/ Mathematics/ Theoretical Computer Sc. Selection: JEST, Introductory Summer School in Astronomy & Astrophysics, Vacation Studentsí Programme, Refresher Course in Astronomy & Astrophysics for College and University Teachers.

Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (

Birla Institute of Technology & Sciences (BITS), Pilani, offers a starry future for those who have completed their Masterís in Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, Geology or Astrophysics. Course: MPhil in Astronomy & Planetarium Sciences in collaboration with the BIAPS (Birla Institute of Astronomy & Planetarium Sciences), Kolkata. A PhD programme is also offered.

Possibly the only course of its kind in the world, this one-and-a-half year programme (3 sem) costs Rs. 40,000/-. Only 5-6 students are enrolled. The most flattering aspect is that over 20 full-time faculty and guest professors cater to the handful of students. A few scholarships are available for meritorious students. Extensive training is imparted in computer programming and application. The course begins in September and notifications appear in May.



Q I am planning to study law straight after school. Is corporate law a good field? Will it matter if I donít belong to a lawyer family?

Amit Chibber

A While this is a profession where family connections do matter, the lawyerís reputation and track-record is what clients go by. And that is something which has to got to be earned. It rarely comes fast. Or easy.

Moreover, in keeping with the winds of globalisation sweeping through corporate India, the legal profession has also undergone a sea change in recent times. Especially in corporate law, as the rules governing companies have been virtually rewritten with the opening up of the economy in the last decade.

Broadly speaking, corporate lawyers advise corporations on their legal rights and obligations. Very few matters actually come to the court. Multi-billion-dollar suits have changed the very complexion of the game, making corporate law a popular and lucrative career option. And with foreign law firms moving into India, salaries have begun to shoot upwards.

Demand for lawyers with experience in securities and transactions is growing in proportion to changes in the global marketplace. While till some time ago only major companies were involved in international business, today even small ones have foreign transactions requiring the services of corporate lawyers with knowledge of international law. Similarly it helps if you specialise in other niche areas i.e. environmental law, IPR and patents for instance.

Besides large corporate houses, some of the big accounting firms like the PwC and the KPMG have opened their own legal departments.

The average starting salary if you pass out of a reputed law school is anywhere between Rs 10,000 - 25,000. International law firms pay more.


Q Could you please give me some information on the Indian Revenue Service and how I can join it?

Narayan Mishra

A The Indian Revenue Service is a part of the Group A services of the Government of India. The IRS deals with matters relating to direct and indirect taxes i.e. income tax, wealth tax, gift tax, and expenditure tax. Officers of this service handle problems of tax evasion and tax arrears.

Appointment to the IRS is through merit in the Civil Services Exam. Successful candidates undergo training as probationers at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie and the National Academy of Direct Taxes, Nagpur. Probationers are then appointed as Assistant Commissioners of Income Tax. It may take you about 8 to 9 years to get promoted from the Junior Administration grade to the Sr Administration grade.


Q I play football and TT in school. Will this give me a preference as far as getting admission to a good college is concerned?

Shohail Khan

A Mere participation in sports at the school level will not qualify you for the sports quota in a good college.

Those who apply through this route are called for trials and they are ranked on the basis of performance. Universities stipulate certain conditions under which students are graded on their performance at the zonal and national levels.

Then too, different colleges within the university may give different weightage ranging from 10 to 15 per cent.

Similarly, students who have a proven track-record in elocution or performing arts can also avail of the extra-curricular activity quota, provided they have the necessary certificates. They are similarly awarded weightage on the basis of their performance at the campus trials.


Q Could you please tell me about the latest GATE eligibility conditions please.

Amit Singh

A The following categories of candidates are eligible to appear for GATE-2004 :

(a) Bachelorís degree holders in Engineering/Technology/Architecture/Pharmacy and those who are in the final or pre-final year of such programmes;

(b) Masterís degree holders in any branch of Science/Mathematics/Statistics or equivalent and those who are in the final or pre-final of such programmes.

(c) Candidates in the second or higher year of the four-year integrated Masterís degree programme (post-B.Sc.) in Engineering/Technology or in the third or higher year of the five-year integrated Masterís degree/ Dual degree programme in Engineering/Technology;

(d) Candidates with qualifications obtained through exams conducted by professional societies recognized by the UPSC/AICTE as equivalent to B.E/B.Tech.

Those who have completed Section A or equivalent of such professional courses are also eligible. So are those who have cleared the DOEACC "B" level exam

For syllabus and more information, please log on to: . The papers are now fully objective-type. You can submit your forms online.


Q I will be completing 10+2 this year. I am keen to pursue a BCA. What is the eligibility? Do universities conduct an entrance test? Will I be eligible for an MBA at the PG-level or a CA/CS alongside?

Jaswant Gill

A The typical eligibility for BCA is 10+2 with mathematics.

Admission to most BCA courses is on the basis of an entrance test which consists of objective-type questions covering: Maths at 10+2 level, logical and analytical ability, English comprehension and general awareness. The test is usually held in June/July.

Those who do not have maths in 10+2 can still pursue a BCA from IGNOU. However, they have to first enrol for a CIC (Certificate in Computing) and PPC (Preparatory Programme in Computing) before they seek admission to BCA.

A BCA from an Indian university, being a fully recognised Bachelorís degree, will entitle you to appear for any MBA entrance test. You can also enrol for the CA/CS Foundation Course along with your BCA.