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All Posts by Richard Tresch Fienberg

What Makes an Astronomy Story Newsworthy?

Former AAS Press Officer Steve Maran once said, “News is what reporters want to cover, not necessarily what organizations, agencies, and institutions want to publicize.” In other words newsworthiness, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder—or, in this case, the journalist. So what do journalists consider to be important? In Science and Journalists—Reporting Science as News (Free Press, 1986), Sharon M.

The AAS Astronomy Ambassadors Program

The American Astronomical Society (AAS), in partnership with the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), members of the Center for Astronomy Education (CAE), and other organizations active in science education and public outreach (EPO), is creating a new program for young astronomers just starting their careers. The project involves a series of professional-development workshops and a community of practice designed to help improve participants’ communication skills and effectiveness in doing outreach to students and the public. Called Astronomy Ambassadors, this new program will provide mentoring and training experiences for new members of our profession, from advanced undergraduates to postdocs, providing access to resources and a network of contacts within the astronomy EPO community.

Where does one find information about careers in astronomy and other sciences?

Mon, 2012-08-20 16:40 -- Rick.Fienberg

The AAS career brochure, A New Universe to Explore, Careers in Astronomy, is available online and as a booklet (contact the Society to request copies). This guide covers all of the most popularly asked questions like what astronomers do, what kind of astronomers are there, how easy is it to get a job, how much do astronomers get paid etc.

I want to be an astronomer: how do I find colleges? how do I find scholarships?

Mon, 2012-08-20 16:19 -- Rick.Fienberg

The web makes looking for colleges and universities easier than it used to be -- most institutions (and astronomy and physics departments) have comprehensive web pages. In addition there are websites that have already gathered a lot of this information. Two sources of information on colleges, with links to sites that list scholarships, grants, and other financial aid, are U.S. College Search and MatchCollege, which list thousands of U.S.

Does the AAS offer any astronomy scholarships?

Mon, 2012-08-20 16:19 -- Rick.Fienberg

At this time, the American Astronomical Society offers no scholarships. However, we do award the Bok Prize in Astronomy annually to the top two astronomy science fair projects in the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). First prize is US $5000, second prize is US $3000. You may write to Science Service, Inc., 1719 N Street, NW, Washington DC 20036, to request a copy of the "Student Handbook for Precollege Science and Engineering Projects", and for information on "Intel ISEF participation."

What do I study in college?

Mon, 2012-08-20 16:18 -- Rick.Fienberg

Attend a school with a good physics or astronomy department and be prepared to work hard! Although it is hard to become an astronomer, most who get graduate degrees in the field are employed (fewer than 2% are unemployed) and most feel that their graduate education prepared them well for their current job.

What colleges are the best?

Mon, 2012-08-20 16:17 -- Rick.Fienberg

There is no easy answer to your question as there isn't a one-size-fits-all program. Each department, and each school, offers different programs, opportunities and environments. You will benefit from spending some time researching colleges and universities; they have web pages describing their programs, the schools and so forth. You may wish to contact the department chair for additional information on the schools you are interested. The AAS maintains a list of programs that offer Astronomy related degrees.

I need to interview an astronomer.

Mon, 2012-08-20 16:16 -- Rick.Fienberg

The AAS does not give out names of astronomers. However, there's probably an astronomer near you. Check with your local community college, or four-year college or university, planetarium or science museum. Be sure to provide your name, school, and a specific description about your project. If you're working with time constraints some online interviews with astronomers are available.

I'm doing an astronomy project and I need help.

Mon, 2012-08-20 16:16 -- Rick.Fienberg

The AAS is not a reference library, however when we receive inquiries we will do our best to steer you toward reasonable sources of reliable information. We do not have regular staff dedicated to this, so do not rely on an immediate response. Such queries should be directed to There are many sources for school projects. Start with your school or local community library.

I'm in high school. How can I prepare for an astronomy career?

Mon, 2012-08-20 16:15 -- Rick.Fienberg

If you are a high school student who wants to become an astronomer, the best advice is to study hard. It's important to take a lot of academic classes in high school if you want a career in any of the sciences, so make sure you fit in four years of science, math, english, and social studies. You should read magazines like Sky and Telescope or Astronomy and follow the new developments in astronomy that make it into the news. Any readings or research that you do early on can only help you later.

What does it take to become an astronomer?

Mon, 2012-08-20 16:14 -- Rick.Fienberg

Most research astronomers have doctorate degrees in physics or astronomy and also bachelor's and/or master's degrees in a physical science, usually physics or astronomy. It takes about 10 years of education beyond normal high school education to become a research astronomer. Astronomers are usually comfortable with computers, both usage and programming in addition to being knowledgeable about basic science, especially physics. They also have extensive mathematical knowledge.