I'm a bit unsure as to whether or not a question I have in mind is appropriate for Academia Stack Exchange, so I decided to ask about it on meta. It's possibly unique in that it is written by a student in high school looking at college curricula while considering how those curricula would be relevant to graduate school.

My question would be along these lines:

I once talked with a professor of astronomy - my hopeful major/specialty - at a college. He said that the key to doing well in the field is to take as few astronomy classes in college as possible (and as many physics classes as possible) and to take as many astronomy classes in graduate school as possible (and as few physics classes as possible).

This seems like wise advice - you need to focus on the basics before moving on to things that may be more advanced. The problem, though, is that I'd like to do undergraduate astronomy research as soon as possible in college - I'm already doing some independent work at the moment - and to do research in college, I need a solid block of astronomy courses.

Is this recommendation a good one, or does the possibility of research make it inadvertently backwards?

My other concern - besides it perhaps not being relevant to high enough levels, though it does rest in part on graduate school - is that it seems a little opinion-based. I've read through many questions on Academia, and it seems like there is room for opinion in many of them. However, I can't tell if this is okay in the case of my question or not.

Is this question okay for Academia Stack Exchange?

2 Answers 2


Well, as you said, this is a very unusual question.

Questions asking about specific coursework preparing for research are considered off-topic, but this doesn't do that. It's not an "undergrad-only" question, since the focus is on research, rather than the coursework per se. It also avoids the "too specific" trap, but it may (legitimately, perhaps) be dinged for being opinion-based.

Personally, I wouldn't contribute an answer, but my comment would be:

You should consider asking some people at a nearby research college what they would expect undergraduates to have studied before starting in their research group. You may need less formal coursework than you think.

  • Thanks. Is there any way I could eliminate the opinion-based part, or would you say that that's an innate part of the question?
    – HDE 226868
    Jun 5, 2015 at 22:10
  • You could try to write it in the form of: "are undergraduate astro majors expected to have significant coursework in astro before starting research" (or something along those lines), which might make it more "experiential" than opinion. But that's kind of window dressing.
    – aeismail
    Jun 5, 2015 at 22:17
  • Okay. I'll try to improve on that part.
    – HDE 226868
    Jun 5, 2015 at 22:24

I think you should start out asking the question that that guy was answering, and compare the answers you get with the answer you've collected so far.

How does this sound?

I'm getting ready to start college with some kind of science major, with the plan of doing grad studies in astronomy.

Q1: What sort of proportion of my undergrad courses should be physics and what proportion astronomy? I've heard that the best way to prepare for grad studies in astronomy is to get as strong a foundation as possible in physics, and that undergrad courses in astronomy might not be very helpful, and could actually be counter-productive!

Q2: My hope is to get involved in astronomy research as an undergraduate. Is this a realistic goal?

Q3: Would it be counter-productive, in the long term, to get involved in astronomy research as an undergrad?

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