What path would you recommend to undergraduate students looking to study lunar or planetary science? Is a degree in astronomy preferable to a degree in geology? Are there graduate programs with particularly well thought of planetary science programs? Are there programs where grads or undergrads can get there foot in the door?
The Short Answer: most any scientific discipline.
The Long Answer: Planetary science covers almost all scientific disciplines: biology, geology, astrophysics, astronomy, engineering, physics, etc, etc, etc. The best thing for you to do is pick an area that gets you excited personally, and put a planetary spin on it. Personally, I chose microbiology and studied the wat microbes are able to metabolize minerals and rocks. This easily ports over to an astrobiology/planetary topic of enlarging the known environments and conditions under which life could potentially exist (subsurface Mars and Europa ultramafics for example). My recommendation is to continually work on outside activities that demonstrate your passion for planetary science/space/etc and make sure to highlight those activities on your resume/CV.
There are several planetary/lunar programs out there. Take a look at current literature, specifically projects that you find interesting, and see what institutions are conducting current planetary research in which you’re interested. For purely selfish reasons, I’ll plug the new teams that were just selected for the NASA Lunar grad/undergrad programs total. Of course, there are lots of other schools out there, so take a look around.
The NASA Undergraduate Student Research Program is another. The Lunar and Planetary Institute also has a summer program with info about this and other opportunities on their website. Each of the teams of NLSI has an undergrad/grad training program underway as well. Emails to surrent and former members of each of the above should bring out additional opportunities tailored to what you hope to accomplish. Good Luck!
NLSI Staff Scientist
January 20, 2009