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

Tagged Leave a comment

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

Tagged Leave a comment

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

Tagged Leave a comment

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

Tagged Leave a comment

Are Piercings and Tattoos Acceptable in Professional Astronomer Workplaces?

Question:  I’m interested in pursuing a career in astronomy and was wondering if, in the field of professional scientists, it is acceptable to have piercings or tattoos? I know in many professional settings it is not, so I’d like to be sure. Thanks in advance for your answer.  – Emily

Answer: Astronomy is a pretty “laid-back” field.  Few of us dress up in suits or even blazers for regular work day attire, and the dress code is considered “relaxed”.  Piercings, tattoos, inventive hair styles, etc. are all welcomed.

Jeff Mangum

Tagged Leave a comment

How Many Years in College to be an Astronomer?

Question: I am a 14 year old girl and want to be a astronomer when I get older. I was wondering how long you would have to be in college.  – Elena

Answer: Most astronomers have doctorate (PhD) degrees in astronomy or physics.  A quick tally of the number of years that it takes to get a PhD degree can be accounted as follows:

  • 4 years for your undergraduate (bachelors) degree.
  • At least 5 years, but likely not more than 7 years, to complete your graduate studies to earn your PhD degree.

You might also be interested in visiting my Careers in Astronomy section for further information on topics relevant to those interested in pursuing careers in science, and especially astronomy.

Jeff Mangum

Tagged Leave a comment

A Career in Astronomy?

Question: Hi, would you recommend someone to study astronomy from your current work experience? and why.  – Lindokuhle

Answer: I suggest that you look over the “Careers in Astronomy” posts elsewhere in this blog for some information regarding careers in astronomy.  There are many reasons to pursue a career in the sciences, and the decision to do so really rests on your personal desires and interests.

Jeff Mangum

Tagged Leave a comment

Questions About a Career in Astronomy

Question:  Hi, I am a freshman and am currently enrolled in an Earth Science course at my high school. We are required to interview someone involved in a field which uses knowledge of Earth Science for our final project portfolio. If you could answer these questions for me that would be great!

1. Where do you work and what is your job title?
2. What are your degree(s)?
3. How long have you been a professional in your field?
4. In your own words, what is astronomy?
5. How does the field of astronomy incorporate knowledge of earth science?
6. Describe what a career in astronomy entails — what an astronomer does.
7. Where might someone in this career be employed? (types of industry, branches of government, etc.)
8. What would be the appropriate education or training required for this career? Please include possible electives for high school as well if possible.
9. What are the advantages of becoming an astronomer? Disadvantages?
10. What are some personality traits that would be helpful in pursuing a career in astronomy? (drive, patience, etc.)
11. What’s the best tip you could give to an aspiring astronomy student?

– Sadie



  1. I am an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville Virginia.
  2. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Astronomy from the University of California at Berkeley and Masters of Arts and PhD degrees in Astronomy from the University of Virginia.
  3. I have been a professional astronomer since earning my PhD in 1990.
  4. The description that I can think of to describe “astronomy” is to say that astronomy is the study of how the universe works.  To be more specific, it is the study of the physical characteristics and evolution of all of the material that comprises our universe; from galaxies to dust particles.
  5. One area of astronomy that incorporates what has historically been the study of earth science is the characterization of the properties of extrasolar planets.  As we study the properties of extrasolar planets we are starting to be able to study their atmospheres and composition, which involves many of the skills involved in earth science.
  6. A career in astronomy can be quite varied in its tasks and duties.  Some astronomers work at universities or colleges and spent most of their time teaching courses and conducting research.  Others work at research facilities supporting telescope facilities and conducting research.  In general, though, the vast majority of astronomers conduct their own research and participate in education and public outreach activities.
  7. Employment in astronomy is generally either at universities or colleges or at federally-funded research facilities.  A smaller fraction of astronomers pursue careers in industry in a variety of roles that allow them to use their knowledge of physics and mathematics in support of various industrial activities.
  8. Essentially all professional astronomers have PhD degrees in astronomy, physics, or chemistry.  It is also sometimes useful for astronomers to have an understanding of the instrumentation used in our profession, so a knowledge of electronics is often useful.
  9. The main advantage of a career in astronomy is that, for the most part, we are allowed to pursue interesting scientific questions of our own design.  Most astronomers also have a fair amount of freedom to set their own work schedules.  A slight downside to a career in astronomy, and in the sciences in general, is that salaries are not commensurate with the amount of time that we spend working.
  10. Most astronomers are personally driven and inquisitive individuals.  We don’t need to be told to do most tasks as we know that tasks need to be completed in order to make progress.  I think that most astronomers take pride in the work that they do, so are highly motivated to complete their work, whether it be research, observatory support, or teaching, in the most efficient manner possible.
  11. 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.

Jeff Mangum

Tagged Leave a comment

What High School Courses are Required to be an Astronomer?

Question:  What high school/college fields are required to be an astronomer? – Scotti

Answer: You should check out the Careers in Astronomy section of this blog for information on the career path(s) for astronomers.  You might also want to look at my Student Resources page for further information.

Jeff Mangum

Tagged Leave a comment

Astronomer Career Path

Question:  Hi, I’m currently considering exactly what career path I should take, and astronomy is one that I’m looking into.  I know that there’s not many openings in this area, and I just  want an honest opinion as to what the chances are that I’d ultimately end up in my desired position.  Obviously I would work hard and am in advanced math and all that, but it appears to me as if very few make it.  – Kevin

Answer:  Let me point you to my blog section on “Careers in Astronomy”.  You can also check-out my “Student Resources” page which points to several places with information on careers in the sciences.  As for your prospects for success at finding a permanent job in astronomy, there are many factors which make this hard to predict.  I always tell students interested in pursuing a career in the sciences that if that is really what they want to do, then they should just do it and everything will work itself out.  It is always best to be optimistic!

Jeff Mangum

Tagged 2 Comments