How to become an astronomer

Topic: How to Become an Astronomer

Heidi Hammel:  I remember when I did this big, visible program in Baltimore called “The Shoemaker-Levy 9 Comet Crash Into Jupiter.”  It was a big deal.  I was on the nightly news every night for a week.  And my local high school in Pennsylvania sent a TV crew down to Baltimore to interview me, and they asked me what was the most important class you took in high school to prepare you to become a world famous scientist?  And my answer was Chorus.  I had a great Chorus teacher, Sue Shayu [ph?], who was a former Rockette, and she demanded professionalism of her students.  And there we were in the chorus, just high school kids, but she made us warm up every time.  She told us how to stand, how to hold ourselves, you know, wear lipstick, girls, because the lights will wash you out.  She just gave us tips, and she expected us to be professionals.  No amateur night in Dixie.  And I took that lesson forward with me into whatever I was doing.  Whatever I was going into, whether it was going to be chorus or history or astronomy or whatever, do it right.  Be a professional.  Don’t just do a half baked job.  Do everything correctly.  Get down.  Learn the details of what you’re going to do.  That was by far the most important course for me, Chorus.  It also taught me communication skills, and for scientists nowadays, communication skills, whether they are writing skills or oral speaking skills, are incredibly important.  So when kids as me what classes do I need to take, I say, “Well, look.  You got to take math, because you got to learn the language.  And you also have to take communication classes, whether it’s an English class or your music classes, band classes to teach you how to cooperate in groups.”  You don’t focus on physics.  You make sure you broaden yourself and have a good solid background in many different things.  That’s what you need to be a good scientist.  The science teachers don’t like it when I say that.  They think you take chemistry, biology.  I’m like, yeah, you do need to do those things, but that can come later.  Your foundation has to be in basic communication and the basic language skills, and I include math as one of the language skills.

Question:  What should budding astronomers study?

Heidi Hammel: Astronomy and astrophysics is a very interesting field, because you can come out at it from many different angles.  When I was in college, I didn’t like physics a lot, and I really wasn’t very good at physics.  And there were a lot of people around me who were really good at physics, I mean, scary good at physics.  And they weren’t much help to me, because I would say, “How do you do this?”  They’d say, “Well, the answer’s obvious.”  And I would sit there going, “Hmm, hmm, not to me.”  So I chose not to major in physics.  A lot of astronomers and astrophysicists, has the word “physics” right in there, do major in physics.  I chose, instead, to major in earth and planetary science.  And so my background was in courses like geology, geophysics, atmospheric chemistry.  But, again, a lot of math courses and basic physics courses, things like Newtonian physics, all the way through quantum physics.  I did take those courses.  I wasn’t good at them, but I passed them.  I learned them enough to pass.  A C is a passing grade is what I learned in college, and something that I tell young people nowadays a lot.  C is a passing grade.  You don’t need straight A’s to be a scientist, despite what you may have heard.

 

 

 

Heidi Hammel says astronomers should be well-rounded especially in math, but no one looks for straight A’s.

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.

Ultracold gas exhibits bizarre quantum behavior

New experiments find weird quantum activity in supercold gas.

Credit: Pixabay
Surprising Science
  • Experiments on an ultracold gas show strange quantum behavior.
  • The observations point to applications in quantum computing.
  • The find may also advance chaos theory and explain the butterfly effect.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Learn innovation with 3-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn

    Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.

    Big Think LIVE

    Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.

    Keep reading Show less

    3 cognitive biases perpetuating racism at work — and how to overcome them

    Researchers say that moral self-licensing occurs "because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard."

    Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash
    Personal Growth

    Books about race and anti-racism have dominated bestseller lists in the past few months, bringing to prominence authors including Ibram Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Robin DiAngelo.

    Keep reading Show less

    Should you grow a beard? Here's how women perceive bearded men

    Whether or not women think beards are sexy has to do with "moral disgust"

    Photo Credit: Frank Marino / Unsplash
    Sex & Relationships
    • A new study found that women perceive men with facial hair to be more attractive as well as physically and socially dominant.
    • Women tend to associate more masculine faces with physical strength, social assertiveness, and formidability.
    • Women who display higher levels of "moral disgust," or feelings of repugnance toward taboo behaviors, are more likely to prefer hairy faces.
    Keep reading Show less

    Only 35 percent of Americans know the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease

    Yet 80 percent of respondents want to reduce their risk of dementia.

    Photo: Lightspring / Shutterstock
    Mind & Brain
    • A new MDVIP/Ipsos survey found that only 35 percent of Americans know the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.
    • Eighty percent of respondents said they want to reduce their risks.
    • An estimated 7.1 million Americans over the age of 65 will suffer from Alzheimer's by 2025.
    Keep reading Show less
    Quantcast