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The Question

(Submitted November 23, 1997)

Hi, I am a grade nine student from Edmonton. When I was asked to pick a career, I chose astronomy as the field I wish to study in. This assignment requires us to ask an astronomer several questions about the job. Below are examples of job interview questions and I hope you are able to answer the following.

1. What kind of training is required?
2. What part of the job that you like most?
3. What part of the job that you dislike?
4. What are the company benefits?
5. How can one be promoted?
6. In this type of work, do you need a good background knowledge about computers?
7. Will there be any trips out of the city for work purposes?
8. What are your job responsibilities?
9. Are there any dress codes or uniforms required to wear while at work?
10. What projects are you working on now?
11. What kind of qualifications do I need to become a astronomer?
12. What unions do you belong to?

Thank you very much for your time.

The Answer


Your question was forwarded to our "Ask an Astrophysicist" service.

1. See

2. I like to think of the universe as a puzzle that we are trying to piece together. Every new discovery I make is fitting another piece of the puzzle.

3. There is a lot of paperwork involved in proposing for more funding. Every job has some bureaucratic parts, but it's not the most fun.

4. I work for a contractor (Universities Space Research Association) to NASA and the benefits are good: retirement benefits, health and dental insurance, generous vacation time and sick leave benefits, etc. The good universities that hire astronomers will all have comparable benefits.

5. Promotions can be in the form of permanent positions, raises, and better titles. Also improved recognition in the astronomy community.

6. It is very unusual in today's day and age for an astronomer not to have a good to very good background in computers and programming.

7. I regularly travel to remote sites for observations, as well as considerable travel to other cities to meet other astronomers.

8. My job responsibilities include designing, building, testing, and flying various scientific instruments. After they've flown, I analyze the scientific data to figure out what we've learned from the experiment and where we should look for the next piece of the puzzle.

9. No dress code. I tend to wear t-shirts and blue jeans unless I'm going to a meeting in which case I'll wear at least a dress shirt and slacks, and sometime suit and tie if I'm giving a talk.

10. Most of my time is currently spent working on a spacecraft called the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) for which I'm Deputy Project Scientist. You can look at: for more information.

11. See 1.

12. I don't belong to any unions. There are several scientific organizations that many astronomers belong to: The American Physical Society and the American Astronomical Society for example.

Thanks for your questions

Eric Christian
for Ask an Astrophysicist

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