This advice is provided by Dr Duane Hamacher based on his experience.
For students who wish to specialise in cultural astronomy, there are a wide variety of degree programs in Australia and around the world. There are no specific programs for the subject (YET!) but students can develop degree programs to suit their interests.
Explore some of the options below.
Students wishing to pursue studies in cultural astronomy are encouraged to consider flexible degree programs that will allow studies in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. This might include dual degrees or a combination of Major/Minor in the physical sciences (such as physics, astronomy, geology, or engineering) and the humanities and/or social sciences (such as Indigenous studies, anthropology, archaeology, or the history and philosophy of science). Students may consider other programs, such as the fine and performing arts, depending on their interests. The options are truly wide open.
Although this is not required (students are perfectly capable of studying a single discipline) it is important to gain training in both astronomy and the social sciences. For example, this could be fulfilled by taking a couple of elective units in astronomy as part of an anthropology or Indigenous Studies degree. Cultural and historical astronomy is founded in the social sciences but draws heavily from the physical sciences. Therefore, one should strongly consider pursuing higher degrees in the social sciences. Please consult with your advisors about potential programs.
Students should be forewarned that the fields of cultural and historical astronomy are relatively tiny. Few academic jobs exist in these areas. When considering your pathway for studies, it is recommended that you include a focused stream from undergraduate to postgraduate so as to maximise your skills in a particular discipline and increase your chances of landing an academic position (if that is your goal). For example, if you choose to pursue a dual undergraduate degree (say in astrophysics and anthropology), ensure your graduate degrees (up to PhD) are also in one of those fields. Based on personal experience, those armed with an undergrad degree in one field and a postgrad degree in a significantly different field are certainly capable of landing an academic job, but it can pose a significant challenge.
Many academic departments seek candidates with a solid foundation in their particular field and an odd combination of different degrees often causes problems, since you do not neatly fit into one category or another. Universities pay lip-service to interdisciplinary research, but in this regard they generally refer to researchers in one group (e.g. artists) working with researchers in another field (e.g. engineers). Researchers with a degree in both fields are generally frowned upon, as they are not considered to have a solid foundation in either discipline and are generally seen as “un-focused”.
Academia frequently pigeonholes researchers into a particular discipline. 99.9% of the time, astronomy departments will not hire anthropologists, nor will anthropology departments hire astronomers. Social science and humanities departments are more likely to hire academics with science backgrounds, but it rarely goes the other way. Nothing is certain, but it is important to recognise the various issues that permeate highly interdisciplinary research of this nature.
A suggested program could include:
- A dual degree (with or without Honours) in astrophysics and a social science, OR
- A Major in a social science and a Minor in astrophysics (or a few astronomy units), AND
- A Masters and PhD in the same or closely related social science field of your undergrad degree.
For students wishing to pursue postgraduate studies in cultural astronomy, you need to find a suitable advisor and degree program that can build on your experience and education. Few academics research Indigenous Astronomy, but the academics that can advise you are usually able to co-advise from another institution, opening options.
For example, Dr Duane Hamacher supervises postgraduate students at the University of New South Wales, the University of Malaya, and can supervise students at the University of Southern Queensland. USQ’s programs allow on-campus or by-distance study options, opening options for students around the world. Professor Ray Norris is also available to supervise programs at Western Sydney University.
Generally, students are able to pursue studies in cultural astronomy at any university in any department, so long as they are willing to supervise and support the student’s project. Only two programs currently exist at the postgraduate level that are specifically tailored for students studying cultural astronomy.