One of the most common questions to sites like Professor Astronomy is, "How can I become an astronomer?" Often this question comes from high-school or college students loking for a career, but sometimes it comes from experienced workers looking for a change of career.
Since I'm in the middle of hunting for jobs myself, this topic is very close to my mind right now. So I think it is also appropriate to explore here in the blog, which I will do over the next few posts. But the best place for this information is this brochure from the American Astronomical Society.
Let me point out that, even if you find that a career in astronomy is not for you, astronomy makes a great hobby. In fact, astronomy is one of the few fields of science where amateurs still make important contributions! Amateur astronomers discover supernovae (exploding stars) in nearby galaxies, discover comets, and track asteroids. Some amateurs even help to discover planets around other stars. So, if you don't have the time or skills it takes to become a professional astronomer, you can still contribute to the science. Don't be discouraged!
So, what skills are needed to become a professional astronomer? Obviously, you need to be interested in the subject. But you also need to be very good in math, as algebra, trigonometry, calculus, and statistics (among other things) are used on a daily basis by professional astronomers. You need to be comfortable using computers, as 99% of our work is done on the computer. Note this doesn't mean you have to be able to extoll the virtues of BSD Linux over Fedora Core 3 (yet), but you need to be able to pick up new computer skills quickly. You need to be able to learn on your own, be a careful worker, and be able to write/speak well.
Next time, I'll talk about what classes to take in high school and college to prepare for further study in astronomy.