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 judgement 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 grade classes).
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.