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Life as an Astronomer




Teaching University/College

Research Facilities

Government Labs

National Observatories


planetariums, telescope support, etc.

Private Sector

Slide 11

How do we spend our time? (part 1 of 2)

How do we spend our time? (part 1 of 2)

Academia: Teaching University/College

teach 3-4 classes/yr

advise students

run observatory labs

support public outreach

less emphasis on research

Academia: Research University

bring in grant money

publish research papers

support observing facilities/instruments/ programs

supervise thesis projects

teach 1-2 classes/yr

serve on committees

Slide 12

How do we spend our time? (part 2 of 2)

How do we spend our time? (part 2 of 2)

Government Lab or National Observatory

support user community

publish research papers

manage people/projects

generally little or no teaching or grant raising

Other/Private Industry


science writing

telescope operators

science education

computer programming/ systems support

web design

defense industry

communications industry

“rocket scientist” on Wall Street

Slide 13



After M.S., attrition is mostly voluntary

long hours, but flexible schedule

extensive all-expense paid travel to exotic


no or poor health and retirement benefits


Teaching or Research Assistant

~$15,000 - $20,000/yr

plus tuition waiver

~70 colleges/universities

in U.S. offer Astronomy

or Astrophysics degree

B average or better and decent GRE scores

Slide 14

Job Timeline

Job Timeline

~10 years from High School

~16 years from

High School



geographically limited

employment options

no or poor benefits

extensive all-expense paid

travel to exotic locations

long hours, but flexible


Payscale: $45,000 - $70,000 at “Assistant” Rank

$70,000 - $90,000 at “Associate” Rank

$90,000 - $170,000 at “Full” Rank

geographically limited employment options

extensive travel

long hours

~22 years from High School before you know if you have a permanent position

Slide 15

What Astronomers don’t do

What Astronomers don’t do

Tell your horoscope

have a special line to space aliens

memorize the constellations

spend all their time looking through telescopes

Slide 16

A Typical Day

A Typical Day

Read dozens of e-mails

attend some inane meeting

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