I'm a physicist by training but became an observational astronomer after obtaining my
PhD. I used my physics background to help design instruments for ground based telescopes
at the University of Arizona and moved up into more research management positions. I took
a position as Branch Chief for research support and engineering at the ST ScI and became
involved in the latter stages of the Hubble Telescope Development and preparing the
Institute for running HST. I was chosen to be the Deputy Director in 1988 and worked with
Riccardo Giacconi for 5 years and Bob Williams for two. I've resigned that position to
return to research and am the ST ScI scientist responsible for supporting NASA in studing
an observatory to follow Hubble -- the Next Generation Space Telescope. In this role, I
have formed a group of volunteer scientists to define the likely science program for the
new telescope, about 12 years before it actually flies!
I have always liked Math, physics, and understanding how things work. The transition
from physics to astronomy was fortuitous -- basically I followed my these advisor into
the field and have never regretted it. The first four years in astronomy were tough since
I lacked a formal background in the field (I had taken two undergraduate courses in
astronomy but no graduate courses). I have always learned best by doing, not course work.
As Deputy Director, I enjoyed the challenge of anticipating future events and planning
for them. The Hubble optical problem was a shock for all of us -- but planning and
participating for the first servicing mission and the first data releases following the
mission were thrilling.
At this point, I enjoy a fair degree of independence in terms of personal research and
independent judgment in my support roles.
What I did as a kid to prepare myself for my career was pretty routine for those days
(Hardy Boys, Tom Swift Sr. & Jr., I used to doodle car and jet designs during my 7th
Today, students have terrific computer resources to study physics, structures,
designing cities, etc. On the other hand, it must be intimidating with everything
becoming so professional and efficient.
I liked to fool around with guitar amplifiers when I was in High School but was a
total klutz when it came to Science Fair Projects (!). So prior to college, I would
recommend a few good shop/architecture electives to develop an intuitive understanding of
real life engineering. In late high school or college, I would recommend summer
internships in labs (soldering, circuit and mechanical design) and maybe research (data
analysis and modeling). I have always strived for breadth and conceptual understanding
rather than a world of details which will change in ten years.
I had several enthusiastic math teachers and a wonderful PhD thesis advisor. I still
collaborate with him and have always admired his optimism, independence, and hard work.
Once, when my thesis project -- a rocket experiment was literally falling apart, he and I
worked around the clock to fix what seemed to be insurmountable problems. Do that a few
times and you'll begin to think anything is possible.