Astronomer Interview with Andrea Kunder
What is your official job title?
CTIO Post-doctoral Fellow
How did you first become involved with this kind of work?
Because my parents are missionaries, I grew up living in different cultures and countries, and with a strong fascination to explore and experience the world we live in. My friend, Lori, talked me into taking an astronomy class as an undergraduate at Willamette University, and I soon realized the ultimate place to explore, is the Universe. Since then, I have been fortunate to make a living investigating and observing the intricate Galaxy we live in.
What are some of the major tasks that you perform?
I feel fortunate in that I don’t have a stern boss forcing me to perform tasks. I am left up to my own to decide what aspect of the Milky Way I want to scrutinize and what tasks to perform to ensure that the Mosaic camera on the Blanco 4m telescope is behaving like a grown up and not like a teenager. Perhaps when I am more important, I will have major tasks that are required for me to perform. At the moment, I make sure I publish my results and keep the observers that use the Mosaic camera as happy as possible.
What jobs do you recommend as steps to get to this career? What training or education is required for this job?
I recommend taking Physics and Math courses in school and college. After obtaining an undergraduate degree, it is necessary to obtain a PhD in astronomy.
What do you like most about your job?
I really enjoy having my own projects to work on and being able to publish a new something that was learned about the Milky Way galaxy. I also like working with the CTIO Staff Members a lot—they are all quite different and interesting and really an excellent group of people.
How does your job affect what you do or don’t do in your home or social life?
Because I sit in front of a computer all day, when I come home I feel the need to move a little. My husband and I are part of a Chilean running club, and we run on the beach, practice our Spanish and do 180 sit-ups (well, I can only do about 80 sit-ups, but no one cares). Going to conferences is a big part of being an Astronomer, so my husband and I travel to a variety of different places in the world together.
If you could do it all over again, would you still select this kind of work?
I would probably become a particle physicist if I had to do it all over again. Unfortunately I was a little late getting into astronomy and it wasn’t until grad school when I realized how interesting particle physics is!
What gives you the most satisfaction in the work you are doing?
For me, I get the most satisfaction out of knowing that I am doing this work because I really enjoy it and not for financial gain. I am excited to go to work every day, and I am proud to be an Astronomer at CTIO.
What future career goals do you have?
I would like to find an RR Lyrae star in an eclipsing binary system. It has not been possible to perform any observational studies on the masses of RR Lyrae stars, and if I could find an RR Lyrae in an eclipsing binary system, I could place powerful constraints on the mass of an RR Lyrae star. This would yield important implications on stellar physics and distances.
What information about this kind of work would be important for a person if he or she is considering going into it?
Astronomy as a career can be difficult. It requires a lot of education (a PhD) but you do not get paid nearly as well as a lawyer, doctor or even a measly economist like my sister earns more money than I do. More importantly, though, I find it very difficult to a find a job that fits both geographical and professional desires.
What is a normal day like for you?
I get into the office at 8 AM, check e-mail and then proceed to meticulously work with observational data that I have collected from various telescopes. I take breaks to look at recent publications that have come out, or think about new ideas that I would like to pursue. I make scatter plots that describe what I have determined and discuss potential trends with CTIO scientists. Once or twice a week I may have to attend a meeting. My husband is eager to leave at 5 PM, so he comes and gets me and we head home.
What kind of great discoveries would you like to make?
Do you have a favorite constellation?
I like Scorpio because it lies near the center of the Milky Way galaxy—the most fascinating part of the Milky Way!
Are computers important in your field?
Computers are very important as astronomy. Computer programming is very useful and almost essential skill to have as an astronomer.
Do you have much free time in your day?
I work 8 hours a day, and whatever time is left after that is free time.