Here are some questions I received as part of an e-mail interview with a high school student. I tried to give relatively short answers, and not to be too flippant (both of which are hard for me).

The questions

  1. What is your career?
  2. What are the main duties of a your job?
  3. Where do you work at?
  4. How much time do you work in a week?
  5. Do you work in a routine?
  6. Do you work independantly, or with a group of colleagues?
  7. What is the working environment like?
  8. What is an average day on the job like?
  9. How much leisure time do you have?
  10. Why did you choose this job as your career among the others?
  11. What characteristics do you think are important for people in this field?
  12. What are the most rewarding aspects of this work?
  13. What are the most challenging aspects of this work?
  14. What skills does the career require?
  15. How many years of education do you need in order to qualify for a position?
  16. *If possible, but only at your convenience, how much do you earn in a year? (estamates are fine)
  17. What are the average wages and what are the starting wages?
  18. Is it competitive to be in this field?
  19. Is this a felmale-dominated or male-dominated job?
  20. Are there any opportunities for job advancement in this field?
  21. Is the job secure? Have you ever faced the risks of being unemployed?
  22. Is this industry growing, stable, or in decline?
  23. Where do jobs in this field exist?
  24. Do most people in the field work Full-time or part-time, sesonally or full-year?

The answers

  1. I'm an astronomer/physicist
  2. Research and teaching, and too much administrative work!
  3. University of British Columbia
  4. 60 hours maybe? (nobody does this sort of work unless they love it!)
  5. No routine unless I can't avoid it
  6. Sometimes independently -sometimes with students - often with colleagues elsewhere
  7. Very pleasant environment - I am my own boss
  8. Depends. Teaching and preparing for teaching have to come first. Then there are meetings, and various other demands on my time. I try to get research done whenever I can (calculating stuff, writing papers, etc), and if there's time left I answer e-mails like this one.
  9. Almost none I'd say. You have to work hard to be successful in the academic world. But I try not to work at weekends.
  10. Astrophysics is the most interesting thing there is. No other reason is relevant. Certainly I could make much more money doing other things. But I love what I do, and can't imagine being fulfilled doing anything else.
  11. Common sense is probably most important (although not everyone has it!).
  12. Being involved in some of the most interesting research questions that I can think of.
  13. Managing time.
  14. You have to be good at physics and mathematics, and these days computing as well.
  15. Beyond high school probably soemthing like 12, although you get paid for many of those years if you are good.
  16. It's probably more useful to give you a range. Starting professors make anything from $30k (small teaching schools) to $80k (prestigous US schools).
  17. There are also people employed by the government to do similar work, and people working in related or astronomy-support jobs. The salaries are very variable, depending on who you work for and how senior you are. Generally it's a decent wage, but you could make much more with the same qualifications if you worked in industry or finance, say.
  18. Very.
  19. At the top it's still male dominated. That's changing, but still rather slowly I'm afraid. But some women are very successful.
  20. Yes. In university positions there's a clear promotional programme.
  21. Probably more secure than most jobs, but never entirely.
  22. It's not an industry. Astrophysics, I think, is on the increase - more teaching and research is being done than ever before.
  23. At universities, teaching colleges and government institutions.
  24. It's a full-time, life-time committment!

Douglas Scott
Last revised: 15th October 1998