At one point, back in High School, I considered becoming an astronomer. Sagan was on TV with the Cosmos series, and boy, did it look cool. However, I was weak in math. Never really enjoyed math, never have, probably never will. So, I went to school to be an Engineer (go figure). When I decided that wasn’t for me either, I bummed around for a few years, until I landed a job as a computer hardware geek at a systems integration house. First day on the job, I was informed that the company had just landed a big contract, and no, don’t bring your tools, you need to learn to code.
That was 1984. I’ve been a code monkey ever since, and moved into Sysadmin, and now I’m an IT manager; a high tech geek at a low tech company.
Now, reading Rob Knopp’s blog about being essentially forced out of Vanderbilt [read here and here], and the effect it had on his life, and his family, and also reading Pamela Gay’s blog about how the academic track is inherently unfriendly to families, especially women with families, I’m beginning to see that I made the right choice in staying an amateur.
By the way, did you know that the word ‘amateur’ comes from French, and can be translated as “lover of”, reflecting the amateur’s motivation to work as a result of a love or passion for a particular activity. Astronomy is one of the few sciences where amateurs make regular and important contributions. Fremont Peak observatory regularly answers calls from academic institutions to join in observations of particular events, sending observation notes, pictures and other data on events such as occultations, transits, and impacts in cooperation with hundreds or thousands of other amateur observatories.
Speaking of doing real science, Pamela Gay has an excellent post on doing real research with your consumer grade telescope.