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[sci.astro] General (Astronomy Frequently Asked Questions) (2/9)
Section - B.17 How do I become an astronomer? What school should I attend?

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Author: Suzanne H. Jacoby <sjacoby@noao.edu>

This material is extracted from the National Optical Astronomy
Observatories' Being an Astronomer FAQ,
<URL:http://www.noao.edu/education/astfaq.html>.

Astronomers are typically good at math, very analytical, logical, and
capable of sound reasoning (about science, anyway).  Computer literacy
is a necessity.  While not all astronomers are skilled computer
programmers, all should be comfortable using a computer for editing
files, transferring data across networks, and analyzing their
astronomical data and images.  Other valuable traits are patience and
determination for sticking to a difficult problem or theory until
you've seen it through---which can take years.  The final product of
scientific research is the dissemination of the knowledge gained, so
don't overlook the importance of communication skills like effective
public speaking at professional meetings and the ability to publish
well written articles in scientific journals.

Many of these skills are developed during one's education and
training.  In the U.S., a typical astronomer will obtain a Bachelor of
Science (B.S.) degree in a physical science or mathematics, then
attend graduate school for 5--7 years to obtain a Ph.D.  After earning
a Ph.D., it is common to take a postdoctoral position, a temporary
appointment which allows an astronomer to concentrate on his or her
own research for about two to three years.  These days, most people
take a second postdoc or even a third before they are able to land a
faculty or scientific staff position.

If you want to become an astronomer, a general principle is to obtain
as broad and versatile an education as possible while concentrating in
mathematics, physics, and computing.  It is not critical that your
Bachelor's degree be in astronomy.  Students with a strong core of
physics classes in addition to some astronomy research experience are
most likely to be accepted to graduate programs in astronomy.

Additional information on astronomy as a career can be obtained from
the American Astronomical Society,
<URL:http://www.aas.org/education/career.html>, and the
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (contact their
Publications Department, MS-28, 60 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA 01238,
USA, or call 617-495-7461, ask for the brochure "Space for Women").

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