The hats astronomers wear

Once upon a time science departments in universities often had draftsmen on staff that would produce figures for scientific publications. Today, those positions are much rarer (and called “graphic designers”) except in very large institutions because scientists themselves are expected to do much of that work. Other work routinely done by administrative staff in the past—like travel reimbursements—are now done by faculty themselves.

Part of this is that computerization and other technologies have made these tasks easier and so it’s not unreasonable to expect a typical scientist to do the job quickly and competently. But it also means that the modern astronomer (queue Gilbert & Sullivan “I am the very model of a…”) has to do a wide variety of tasks outside of their training.

Today in group meeting we tried to make a list. This whole exercise was inspired by this Jonathan Fortney tweet thread about “scientists” vs. “engineers”:

and about giving yourself permission to not be interested in certain parts of the job of scientist that other people find endlessly fascinating

My punchline is that it’s fine to love and get really good at a few of the aspects of being a scientist, and that it’s OK to not be good at or enjoy other aspects.

Indeed, I sometimes chafe when people say things like “every scientist has an obligation to communicate their science to the public” or “all astronomers should learn Python” and such. I think its fine and good that astronomers specialize in different parts of the job, and that collaborations consist of a group of people that, together, have all the pieces needed to do great science.

Also, part of my definition of a good job is one where you spend most of your time doing things you both like and are good at, and a minimum of time doing things you dislike and are bad at. Enumerating the parts of the job can help you find the job you like (or turn your current job into that). So it’s OK not to be good at everything.

Here’s the list of “hats” astronomers wear that we came up with.  What did we miss?

  • Teacher / instructor
  • Science popularizer
  • Public ambassador of science
  • Salesperson
  • Writer
    •  proposals
    • research articles
    • emails
    • popular materials
    • journalism (e.g. press releases)
  • Copyeditor
  • Graphic(s) designer
  • Examiner (tests, defenses)
  • Peer reviewer
  • Mentor
  • Research adviser
  • Manager
  • Administrator
    • Travel
    • Grants administration
    • Budgeting
  • Computer programmer
    • Team coding
    • Public code
    • “Private” code
  • Computer systems administrator
  • Web developer
  • Marketer
  • Engineer
  • Physicist
  • Theorist
  • Observer
  • Data analyst
  • Statistician
  • Philosopher of Science
  • Ethicist

[Update: good suggestions from Twitter:




Atmospheric scientist and meteorologist


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