Re: What is a typical job of an Astronomer.
Posted By: Pauline Barmby, grad student, Astronomy, Harvard University, Astro. Dept.
Date: Tue Jul 29 08:51:43 1997
Area of science: Astronomy
Typically, astronomers work either for universities or (mostly
government) observatories - placees like Kitt Peak National
Observatory or the Space Telescope Science Institute. These days,
however, many astronomers don't stay in the field of astronomy after
graduate school or postdoctoral work, and they can then be found
working in many fields, from medical imaging to the stock market.
For information about careers in astronomy, a couple of places to
look are Sten Odenwald's
answers to questions about a career in astronomy or the
American Astronomical Society's brochure
A New Universe to Explore: Careers in Astronomy. Also, check the
previous astronomy questions on MadSci Network!
The popular idea about astronomers is that they stay up all night looking
through telescopes and sleep all day. This is not generally the case:
most astronomers only spend from a few days to a few weeks a year at a
telescope, and some theorists never go observing at all!
On a day-to-day basis, the work that astronomers do falls into
a few general categories:
- Researching: the actual research that astronomers do is mostly
done with computers. We use them to analyze the data we collect
at telescopes, or to do calculations or simulations about
astronomical phenomena. It is very common for astronomers to do
some computer programming: pre-written programs are available
for some tasks (like working with images), but many others
require writing your own programs.
- Writing: astronomers write papers for scientific journals, reports
about their work for conferences, and proposals for telescope
time (There is not enough time on telescopes for all the projects
people want to do, so the time is allocated by making everyone
write a description of what they want to do and why, and giving the
time only to the best proposals.)
- Reading: like most scientists, astronomers have to spend a lot of time
reading about what other people working in their field have done,
so that they can figure out what they should do and how.
- Listening/Talking: talking about your work and listening to other
people talk about theirs is an important part of science. Both
are good ways to find out new things and stimulate new ideas.
Astronomers working at universities also spend time talking and
listening to their students, usually one-on-one for their graduate
students and in classes when they teach. Many astronomers also
spend time talking to the public about their work.
- Building: some astronomers work on building new instruments for
telescopes, or new telescopes. This takes a lot of time in the shop,
working on designs, or being in meetings.
Astronomers have to do stuff like go to meetings, fill out forms
(often requests for grant money) and do administrative tasks, but
most of them would rather not have to do these things.
I hope this gives you some idea of what astronomers do.
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