Frequently Asked Questions
- What qualifications do I need to become an astronomer?
- What is the day to day work like for astronomers at the JAC?
- What are the career options for an astronomer?
- How much time do you spend at the telescope?
- What is the starting salary?
- Can I work in astronomy without at PhD?
- Do you get to travel much?
What qualifications do I need to become an astronomer?
You will ultimately need a PhD to work as a professional astronomer. Positions are available in observatories as support staff who help keep the telescope running, assist visiting observers and get some time on their own research.
What are the career options for an astronomer?
If after your studies you want to continue a programme of research the most common route is to take a post-doctoral position at a university. The other option is to join to the staff at an observatory as a 'staff' or 'support' astronomer. In this position you will be responsible for assisting in the day to day running and operation of the telescope but will also be allowed some time (usually 30%) to pursue your own research.
It is often the case though that people after their PhD are either unable to find a position of want a change and move into different areas. This can be virtually anything analytical but is often well paid positions such as investment banking or management consultancy.
What is the day to day work like for astronomers at the JAC?
Most normal days are spend in the base facility rather than at the telescope itself. A day will usually involve looking over data taken the night before and checking any problems that arose. Sometimes data needs specialist data reduction which staff astronomer will carry out to assist the person whose data it is. Other duties include updating the website, checking observing scripts for upcoming projects, communicating with astronomers who have submitted projects to our telescope and attending meetings. If there is time left over you can fit some research in too.
How much time do you spend at the telescope?
As a staff astronomer you could expect to be at the telescope every couple of weeks. Although flexibility is required as sometimes you are required to go up at short notice of for extended periods of time.
What is the starting salary?
For a staff astronomer the pay is roughly equivalent to what you would get in a post-doctoral positions. Approx. $50,000.
Can I work in astronomy without at PhD?
Yes you can certainly be involved. You would not get a position where you need to have your own research programme but we have telescope support specialist (TSSs) who work up the mountain all night i shifts. They are the people who actually take the data for the astronomers and are the first people to see the signals coming up.
At the larger universities there are also positions where your job is to analyze the data that comes in each data. These do not require a PhD but would need computer skills and a degree in an analytical subject.
Do you get to travel much?
In a post-doctoral positions you will travel regularly to conference and to telescopes around the world. Travel is more limited as a staff astronomer, this is usually as there is so much work to be done at the telescope and with less time available for research we have fewer results to present.