Hi everyone! I am Vann and I am just new here at SAGAN. I am seeking for advice from people coming from different fields especially Astrobiology regarding the career path I should possibly take to make my way up to Astrobiology!

I'm still an undergrad student, and will be specializing in Genetic Entomology. I should have specialized in evolutionary biology, unfortunately it is not offered in my degree. I am really interested in many things, in evolutionary biology to the possibility of life in other planets and so on. I just can't figure out yet what field I should pursue for MSc and eventually to PhD in Astrobiology. I hope to hear from you guys soon, thank you very much! :)

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Hi Vann! Although I didn't take the same path as you to reach astrobiology (i took the engineering/geology route), perhaps a general recommendation is to stay as generalist as possible for your undergraduate (i.e. broaden your knowledge and skill set as much as possible). This will give you greater flexibility when choosing a grad program, especially because you are unsure what path to follow (and that's ok! I didn't discover mine until I was finishing up a masters). Bio-informatics seems to be an important skill-set to have in your toolbox for bio-related work in astrobiology, or perhaps a more general statement of this is to gain skills in handling large dataset by learning some sort of computational language (python, matlab...). This will make you much more marketable I think. Good luck, thank you for starting this discussion, and welcome to S.A.G.A.N.!

Hi Sanjoy. Right now I've so many things in my mind that I can't seem to narrow down my choices yet. And maybe, as you've said, I'd try to start learning about bioinformatics. I guess I'll just have to do my own study sessions. Anyway, I'm open to almost anything new besides I like to learn different things everyday. I am so excited. Thank you sir!

Hello Ivan! Thanks for starting such a great discussion here on SAGAN. Hopefully you'll get a lot of feedback that will be useful to you, and may even be useful to others in our community :)

I completely agree with Sanjoy's perspective - there are many paths toward a career in astrobiology, and I don't think that any two are the same! That makes the field much more exciting, but it can also be nerve-wracking if your new to astrobiology and trying to maneuver finding your place in such a multidisciplinary field. For example, I started in undergrad majoring in physics and working in an experimental particle physics lab, but what I study now (the origin of life) is usually viewed to be about as far from fundamental physics as you can get in science (not exactly sure I agree with that perspective!). In any case, since you never know where you might end up, I think Sanjoy's advice is spot-on, stay a generalist as long as you can! (Plus things are more fun that way ;-) ). You may do something entirely different in the future, many people pursue PhDs in fields that are very different than they did in undergrad, or even do postdocs in something entirely different than their PhD. Therefore, I think your best bet is always to follow what interests you.

Now this advice may be a little too general, but there are a few things you can really do that might help you prepare for graduate school (if you decide to go that route) or at least will provide good work experience as an undergrad. Have you considered trying to become part of a research project at your university? Check out some research groups that interest you and see if they are looking for any undergraduate research assistants. You could also look into a program called 'research experiences for undergraduates' that has a lot of opportunities for summer research, some which are even in astrobiology. A undergrad research experience can give you an advantage moving on to the next stages of your career, and you never know - you may find something you are really passionate about! And if you have the opportunity to go to any conferences that is always a great way to meet new people and to explore your interests. I'd also recommend just following the latest news in astrobiology - you can do that right here on SAGAN and also on some of the great sites we have links to on the side bar and bottom tab - it is amazing how much you can learn just keeping up with recent news in the field.  

So, I am not sure exactly what genetic entomology entails (maybe you could explain it to us all sometime!) but it sounds like you will build a strong background in evolutionary biology with your major which is always an asset. Are there any insects that live in extreme conditions that you might be interested to study? In astrobiology, we are pretty much obsessed with extremophiles, so studying how insects adapt to extreme environments might give you a leg up on understanding how evolutionary processes lead to adaptation under even the harshest of circumstances. And who knows where that might take you!

Best of luck!

Thank you very much Sara! One of these days, I'm going to the mud spring up in Mt. Makiling. One of my professors told us that there are two thermophiles endemic to Mt. Makiling. Besides, my professor in entomology told me that it'd be great if I'd collect insect specimens in the area.

Greetings Vann, Sanjoy, and Sara! 

I'm going to butt into this thread, since I should also be asking this question. I have fantastic notions of building resilient and sustainable biosphere greenhouses for extreme environments (on Earth, and on other planets), and probably what can best be described as agricultural interests in extremely hardy edible plants, but I am still feeling around blindly until I find something awesome to pursue in this vein. I suppose I want to be an astrobiological engineer, really. I'll be working with my engineering profs this year to try and figure out which engineering discipline best suits my interests (it is currently a toss-up between chemical, biological, environmental, and civil engineering), and I'll also be taking a year to finish up a general BSc in addition to the BEng I am currently working on. 

Bio-informatics does seem to be what I want to study next. I've looked into doing bio-informatics courses online, since my school doesn't offer anything for undergrads (I found a few reputable schools that offer online courses), but it doesn't really fit into my current degree, so it seems like it will have to wait until  graduate school. I don't know yet if I have the energy to go as far as getting a PhD, but it has always been something I've wanted. I've got to get through my undergrad first though, Lol! 

I actually come from a social science background. In fact, I will be graduating with a minor in psychology. I would love to take another year (that is, two total years in addition to my four-year BEng) and get a major in biology, but I can actually get a whole other degree (BSc in environmental science) in one additional year of study (so I would end up with a general BSc, a BEng, and an additional BSc in environmental science). At the end of the day, though, I really have to ask why I am raking in so many undergraduate degrees. So, I will probably forego the extra year of studies, and just bow out gracefully with a general BSc and a BEng, and just head on to graduate school.

There are quite a few subjects that I am interested in, which don't fit into my programme. I am guessing that this is something that any multidisciplinary generalist has to learn to deal with. Sometimes I just stare at my bookshelf (which largely shelves textbooks, not all of them are terribly exciting to read, ex, numerical methods for X, statistics for X, GIS mapping, etc.) in exasperation, but I also sometimes let myself get a little too distracted from my coursework when reading about subjects I love (genetics, plant biotechnology, forest gardening). 

Two things that really interest me in general, though, are 'paraterraforming' and the idea of ecopoiesis. The idea of artificially creating living, thriving anthropocentric ecosystems is positively exhilarating! I was recently reading about a Stanford-Brown (I think) coalition of students who were working on developing an extremophilic bacteria using BioBricks which could be ideally programmed to thrive on Mars. Moreover, it seems that some organisms (including some lichens, which just blows my mind) are possibly already adaptable to the Martian environment! This is just great, but ultimately I want to design a more complex, resilient ecosystem for Mars (supposing Mars does not already have an ecosystem that could be harmed by the introduction of alien life). 

I am more of an engineer and architect than I am a scientist. I want to do more work in science, but I am most interested in developing technology for space exploration (and for the long-term settlement of extreme Earth environments, too). I am keeping an ear out for any research or work opportunities that could help me out along the way (anything from lab work to field work to touring facilities to construction projects and agricultural experiments). 

Perhaps, Sanjay, you could explain a bit how you got into astrobiology, coming from engineering?

And Sara, how do you draw on your background in physics in your current studies?

Any advice is welcome :)

Nice day folks.
Hi Sara! Hi Sanjoy!
From the start I did not really plan to specialize in Genetic entomology, but since it fascinated me quite a bit, that gave rise to my interest.
I find insect phylogenetics interesting, specially regarding insects and microorganisms living in isolated regions wherein they evolved in a manner not consecutive or somewhat different to their mainland (if found in island areas or in an archipelago like the Philippines, the Marianas etc.) or distant relatives. Moreover it is also related to Genetic entomology in an area about the genetic conservation and distribution patterns of the different groups of insect species (or in my case, plus other group of organisms). That is why I am interested in evolutionary biology. Given the fact that studying the phylogeny of organisms here on Earth would give us more clues to understanding how evolution dictates the flow of life to certain organisms in a certain area, or in the case of astrobiology in exoterrestrial environments if ever curiosity would find life form/s in Mars.

I also am always amazed by the ideas about human cyborgs or avatar bodies presented in scifi movies, literature or even in animes. And recently, the movie "The Amazing Spider Man" showed something that I've always been interested at. Cross species genetics. Well, given this idea, to an aspiring astrobiologist like me, I am also so much interested in the idea of creating an avatar body or the human body itself, that is genetically capable/enhanced (may it be with an animal, or an insect gene), containing traits that are bound to survive the extremities of space. I know it sounds so weird but is anyone familiar with the ongoing research about avatar bodies in Russia? They do intensive research in the field of life extension by means of the cybernetic technologies hereby creating an avatar body that is said to be bound with immortality? Really, I'm not into this immortality thing but I think the idea is somewhat essential in space exploration. Space travel would soon be possible, but a great concern here is the ability of the human body to withstand extreme space conditions and of course, time. With the fusion of Astrobiology and Recombinant DNA Technology, I think we can brew something like that.

I am so much interested in other things but these two I mentioned are some of my favorites. I know that some of my ideas are still premature, but I would love to develop them and soon turn them into real actions. If ever a group of astrobiologists or others from similar fields would come here, I hope they would do some educational seminars or camps or whatever it is. Besides, there are a lot of areas here where researches can be conducted about extremophilic organisms.

Thanks for the advise Sanjoy and Sara, Astrobiology is a long way to go and I better prepair as early as now.
Zachary's question about how both of you got in Astrobiology is interesting, given that you're both from different fields. I am looking forward to the story of your adventures!

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