Astronomers: Observers of Space
It’s easy to imagine an astronomer spending their days (or, rather, their nights) gazing up at the stars observing planetary activity and other celestial bodies. To a certain extent you wouldn’t be too far off from the truth, but the life of an astronomer isn’t anywhere near as romantic as we’d like to think it is. In fact, the majority of the a professional astronomer’s career is spent analyzing pre-recorded data. There are occasions when an astronomer might take a seat at the helm of an optical telescope or use the recorded data from a radio telescope to inspect extraterrestrial space, but these instances will usually take place every few months or even years, depending on the nature of his or her research. Others exclusively use programmed computer simulations to research and simulate recorded findings to learn more about them. An astronomer’s primary focus, however, remains to observe planets, stars, galaxies and the ever changing intergalactic landscape.
Education you say?
The academic background of an astronomer can vary. There are universities like York and the University of Toronto that offer degree programs in Astronomy. Typically, a bachelor’s degree in science (usually chemistry or physics) is completed first. Then an aspiring astronomer might set his or her sights on a Master’s of Astrophysics and/or a Doctorate in Astronomy. Needless to say that there are a variety of paths to take, most of which generally stay close to the mathematics, chemistry and physics fields.
Where can you get a job?
Generally, astronomers find work with research institutions and universities. Working at a research station will require the astronomer to be fully focused on a branch of research, while a position at a university usually includes a teaching component, instructing courses at the undergraduate level, or supervising those at the master’s and doctorate levels.
The skills you’ll need
If you’re thinking of pursuing astronomy in the future, there are a few things you can start on now to help increase your chances of success. In high school it’s a good idea to take a wide range of courses while also taking all of the sciences and mathematics, of course. Geography and geology (if your school offers it) wouldn’t be such a bad idea either, since most celestial objects are composed of the same components as Earth. Lastly, work on developing your research skills, as well as reading and writing. As you enter post-secondary education you won’t have as much time to perfect those skills, so the sooner you feel confident in your ability to think critically and articulate your thoughts, the better.