M i k e  G a r c i a
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics

What got you started in science and astronomy?

Mike Garcia:
I started in astronomy when I was in high school. I grew up during the Space Race and that got a huge number of people interested in science and astronomy. And when I was a high school student I built a telescope. I had a high school physics teacher who was great and really encouraged me to do it.

I watched a lot of "Star Trek" when I was young and that made me really want to study the stars and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed going out late at night and on a clear, beautiful, pristine night, and going somewhere where the sky was dark and where you could see the stars, and it's just beautiful. To look out late at night… and I was lucky enough to get to go to a good university and to do reasonably well in astronomy and physics and eventually end up with a job doing astronomy. It's sort of a hobby that turned into a career and it's great, great fun. It's almost like not working!

What do you like most about your job?

Mike Garcia:
A lot of things about doing astronomy, astronomy research, I find fun. Going observing is great fun. Telescopes are always on top of these huge mountains. They are always in the middle of nowhere. So if you like the outdoors, if you like to hike, telescopes are great You know, the sky looks beautiful. They are perched on cliffs, on the tallest mountains of the world.

When you go down to Chile, America's observatory in the Southern Hemisphere is at Cello Tollolo, it's in Chile, and it's in the Andes and it's literally perched on a cliff and you go out there and you eat dinner in this big common room, and there are these plate glass windows, and you just take 10 steps further and you are right over the edge of a cliff. The condors just hover, they are right in front of you as you are eating dinner, and it's incredibly spectacular. From the mountain top you just look another 50 miles out the West and you see the Pacific Ocean and all the cities on the shore, so that's one of the great things about astronomy.

Doing the research itself is great fun, when you find something new, it's really exciting, really gets you jumping up and down. The people in the field are really great too: I've met some wonderful people. They are incredibly bright and they are fun to work with.

And the worst part?

Mike Garcia:
The worst part of the astronomy is that there's always too much to do. There's always another paper that needs to be written, another proposal that needs to be written, and deadlines are always looming and they come up faster, and quicker than anybody can deal with, so it's knowing what things to do, and what things not to do. That's really hard.

You have to not do some things, and some of things that you have to not do are really interesting and someone else is going to do them, and will study them and they may discover something you wish you had, and you're not going to do it because there is literally not enough time. There's not enough time to do it all, and that's really the worst thing about it.

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