Questions About a Career in Astronomy

Question: Though I have taken physics chemistry and biology but not maths in my high school but recently i have Developed quite an interest in astronomy and I want to pursue my career in this field so is there any hope for me to do so? .And also please tell what should I do to do so?  – Zainab

Answer: You should look over the posts on my Careers in Astronomy section.  There you will find lots of responses to questions about how one can pursue a career in astronomy.

Jeff Mangum

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Question About Different Research Fields in Astronomy

Question: Hello. I’m a Junior in High school and a sophomore in College. I just recently became interested in the field of astronomy, but I’m having a hard time understanding the different types of astronomy fields there are. I would enjoy to go into the field of planetary or radio astronomy, but was wondering where i could go to understand each of these fields a little better. Also, do you have any suggests for universities that have great astronomy programs?  – Sandra

Answer: Great to hear of your interest in studying astronomy.  Like specialization of research in other scientific fields, planetary and radio astronomy are specializations associated with the study of particular objects and/or using specific wavelengths for study.  Planetary astronomy involves the study of objects in our solar system, and can be defined to include the study of planetary systems outside our solar system (the so-called “extrasolar planets”).  Radio astronomy, on the other hand, involves the use of radio frequency measurements to study a wide range of astronomical objects.  Radio wavelengths span the range from wavelengths of several meters or more to wavelengths as short as a few hundred microns (sometimes referred to as “submillimeter astronomy”).  Every object that is studied using other wavelengths, such as optical wavelengths, can also be studied at radio wavelengths.  Regarding your question about universities with good astronomy programs, I can say that there are many!  The best way to find a graduate program in astronomy is to look at the web pages for any astronomy program that you might be interested in and look at the research that the faculty in that department are working on.  If you find a researcher whose work you find interesting, contact them for more information.  Most astronomers are more than happy to discuss their work with students.

Jeff Mangum


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A Question About a Career in Astronomy

Question: I am in 12th grade and am really very confused how to opt for astronomy and how?  [For example,] what should I do after 12th [grade]?  [For example]:
1.What to opt after 12th to enter in field of astronomy?
2.i want to be an astronomer? so which university should i apply for?
– Palavi

Answer: You should look through the posts on my Careers in Astronomy section of this blog for quite a few answers to questions very similar to yours (and more!).  I am sure that you will find answers to your questions there.  If not, please let me know.

Jeff Mangum

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Academic Path to a Career in Astronomy

Question: Forgive me for asking a question that I’m sure you’ve seen many times over. I’m interested in radio telescopes and a career with them(particularly the prospect of working with the Square Kilometer Array). I’ve been contemplating an undergrad in physics with a possible double with chemistry (looking to go to a local university as I cannot afford going out of state for a university with an actual undergrad in astronomy or astrophysics) and then working towards an astrophysics graduate degree out of state. I’m thirty one and considered a sophomore. I’m finishing up my year in general chemistry and looking into calculus and physics starting the fall. Is shooting for an astrophysics degree a good way to go or should I go for an astronomy degree?

I’m trying to reach out into the field to get a better understanding now so I can make the right decisions in my academics. Thank you for taking the time to read this and if you do respond, I greatly appreciate that you took the time to do so. – Jonathan

Answer: At the graduate school level the astronomy and astrophysics degrees are effectively the same thing.  The difference is in name only.  You should choose a graduate school based on other factors like the research programs offered rather than whether the graduate degree is in astronomy or astrophysics.

Jeff Mangum

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A Career as an Astronomer

Question: I am 15 and I plan to become and astronomer. I’m a freshman in high school. What classes do you suggest I take my sophomore year? Also, do astronomers travel a lot? What do you suggest I do to learn hands-on about astronomy.  – Anthony

Answer: You should check out my Careers in Astronomy page on this blog for information on various aspects of a career choice as an astronomer.   Regarding the classes that one should take in high school to prepare for a career as an astronomer, the best tip that I could give to an aspiring high school student who is interested in astronomy is to learn as much math and science as possible.  Astronomers are basically physicists, and math is the language of physics.  A good background in physics and math is essential for a productive career in astronomy.  Regarding travel, yes astronomers do travel a fair bit, but I would not say that it is excessive.  Mostly we travel to attend meetings or to conduct observations at observatories.  Finally, to learn hands-on astronomy your best bet is to try to find a summer internship working at a physics or astronomy research institute.  There are a growing number of these summer programs for high school students and they are a great way to “get your feet wet” working as an astronomer for a summer.

Jeff Mangum

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Dream Job Questionnaire

Question: Hello. For school, I have to interview a person with my dream job and I would be very grateful if you could answer some of my interview questions.  – Leo

Q1: What events in your life inspired you to become an astronomer?

I have always had an interest in science.  I am not sure what influenced my decision to pursue a career in astronomy, but I have also always been interested in astronomy.  I did also have very good science teachers in elementary and high school, so I believe that they were very influential in my career path.
Q2: How does the typical work day as an astronomer look like?

The great thing about astronomy is that it is rarely typical.  I have quite a wide range of tasks that I can work on during any given day.  Most of them involve solving astrophysical problems or working on keeping the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s facilities running well.  All of them are interesting, though.
Q3: What college majors and degrees did you take to become an astronomer?

I have three degrees in astronomy.  Bachelors, Masters, and Doctorate.
Q4: What is the history of this occupation?

I think that astronomy must be one of the oldest of the sciences, dating from ancient times when people tried to figure out what stars where and why they moved the way they did.
Q5: How many years of college did you take to become an astronomer?

It took me four years to finish my bachelors degree, then two years to finish my Masters degree, followed by another three years to finish my Doctorate.
Q6: What is the main purpose of being an astronomer in your point of view and what accomplishments do they achieve?

The main purpose of astronomers is to figure out how the universe works.  Since many people find the study of planets, stars, and galaxies fascinating, astronomy also inspires people to better understand the physical world around them.  This results in an increased number of people who seek to understand science, and perhaps pursue careers in the sciences.
Q7: What is the best part or benefits for working as this occupation?

I think that the best part of my job is that I get to work on a variety of interesting problems.
Q8: Who in your life gave you the motivation and helped you to become an astronomer?

I think that my high school teachers were the main motivators for what became a career path in astronomy.
Q9: What is your specific role and what kind of astronomer are you?

I am a scientist at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) where I work to develop, update, and maintain radio telescope facilities.  NRAO’s telescopes are used by astronomers all over the world.
Q10: What is your name?

Jeff Mangum


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Astronomer Career Interview

Question: Sorry for disturbing. I have to make an interview with an astronomer for my school project. You have already answered these questions 2 years ago but questions have to be asked by me. I asked the same questions again sorry for that and also sorry for grammar mistakes. Thank you.  – Selin

Q:What is your name ?
A: Jeff Mangum

Q: What is your job title?
A: Scientist

Q: What is your upcoming salary?
A: In general, astronomers are not paid extremely well, but well-enough to “get by”…

Q: How many years it took you to finish your university [education]?
A: I was an undergraduate in astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley for 4 years, which was followed by 5 years of graduate study at the University of Virginia.

Q: Do you like or dislike your job?
A: Like most astronomers, I do like my job.  What is there not to like about trying to figure out how the universe works every day!

Q: Was it hard to get your job?
A: Permanent jobs in astronomy are rather difficult to obtain.  It can sometimes take several years to “land” a permanent position.

Q: What university did you study in?
A: As I mentioned above, I was an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley and a graduate student at the University of Virginia.

Q: How many years you have been working on this job?
A: I have been on the Scientific Staff at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory for 20 years.

Q: Do you enjoy your job? Why?
A: Absolutely!  I have a fair amount of freedom to work on a wide-variety of interesting problems.

Q: How many hours do you spend working?
A: Most scientists spend quite long hours doing their work and research.  My typical week can consume up to 60 or more hours at work.

Q: When do you have free time?
A: Mostly on weekends and holidays, like most people.


Jeff Mangum

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What Does an Astronomer Do?

Question: What exactly does an astronomer do? I am 14 and I am planning to become a research astronomer. I would like to know what a research astronomer does… like what does an astronomer trying to find out more about the Big Bang do? Also, how do you know what to do when you first start your job at a University… do a boss or colleagues tell you what to do? Finally, I would like to know some of the most famous Universities for astronomy. Thank you!  – Bethany

Answer: You should check out my Careers in Astronomy page for questions on just this subject that have been answered in the past.  In summary, astronomers are basically physicists that study how the universe works.  Observational astronomers use telescopes to study the properties of things like the Big Bang and interpret those observations, using their knowledge of physics, to help us further understand the properties and evolution of the Big Bang.  Astronomers who specialize in theory use the laws of physics to derived a theoretical understanding of things like the Big Bang which explains it properties and evolution using observations to constrain their theories.  Most astronomers learn “the ropes”, or how to be astronomers, when they are working on their PhD while in graduate school from their research advisor and other faculty and colleagues.  Finally, as for the most “famous” universities for astronomy, there are many.  Different universities with astronomy programs specialize in a wide variety of research areas.  For graduate study one generally chooses a school based on your specific research interests.

Jeff Mangum

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How Difficult is it to get a Job as an Astronomer?

Question: Hi, I am a freshman and I am wondering if it’s hard to get a job as an astronomer because I love everything about space and I am very curious, but I need to know if I will be able to find work?  – Anthony

Answer: Most people who pursue careers in astronomy are able to use the skills they learn in physics, technology, and math in careers in astronomy and related fields.  You might want to look over the careers in astronomy section of this blog for further information on what a career as an astronomer is like.

Jeff Mangum

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What is an Astronomer’s Work Day Like?

Question: Hi, just curious as to what astronomers do when the night sky is cloudy and observing is impossible? And what are your regular work hours? Do you start your day in daylight and work into the night?  – Jack

Answer: When we get “clouded-out” on an observing run we generally work on the reduction and analysis of data that we gathered when the skies were not cloudy.  Also, many astronomers have other duties, such as teaching or observatory support, which we can do when we cannot observe.  As for regular work hours, as you can imagine for a profession that allows one to work both day and night, an astronomer’s work hours tend not to be all that “regular”.  Most astronomers have a “to-do list” of tasks that they need to work on for any given day.  If the “tasks of the day” requires one to start the day early and end late, or vice-versa, this schedule dictates our actual work schedule.  Ultimately we are allowed to have flexible scheduled, but we are also responsible to get work done, so we adapt our schedules to get as much work done as possible.

Jeff Mangum

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