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Opportunities in doing voluntary scientific work in astronomy?


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Hi all of you out there in particular those reading who are professional astronomers or anyone else who can help me.

I was considering going back to university to do a post-grad in astronomy/astrophysics in the autumn - probably an MSc followed by a PhD. However the university fees are now so high that I don't really want to remortgage my house or take out a lot of debt to pay for the course at my age.

I really want to do some serious work in astronomy - I am not interested in being paid for it and am looking for some opportunities to contribute.

I have a maths degree and am IT literate (worked 24 years in IT with IBM and Logica).

I am interested in spectroscopy and WR stars but would be happy to work in any area in astronomy/astrophysics.

If anyone can point to some work I can do - the more challenging the subject the better then please let me know.

cheers

John

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Hi John,

Since nobody has answered your question yet, I'll suggest the American Association of Variable Star Observers who can be found online at: AAVSO | American Association of Variable Star Observers

It might be worth a start, and the data reported by trusted amateurs has been and continues to be used by professional researchers.

Clear skies,

Mike

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Hi John,

There have been a few very successful collaborations between professionals and amateurs over the years. Mainly in photometry, i.e. the AAVSO that Mike mentioned to date, but it seems that amateur spectroscopy is evolving to the level where this is becoming feasible.

The main area where "small" telescopes can make a contribution is in studying time-variable phenomena -- because there it is often more important *when* you look, than what you look with! I'm not aware of any WR projects on-going; but it's not my science area at all, so that is probably just ignorance. There are a few high-mass star people on here who might be able to offer better input (i.e. Ben Ritchie).

If you are interested though, we do have a monitoring programme looking at spectroscopic variability of micro-quasars. That needs spectra every few nights for as long as possible. We haven't tried involving any amateurs in this project so far, but it might be an interesting route to follow. PM me if you think you'd be interested in looking at that. The targets would be challenging for a 14-inch telescope, but hopefully feasible.

Many thanks,

Fraser

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First option I can think of for scientific work is to get on the web and see which universities around you offer an astronomy course then enquire if there is an form of voluntary work that you could do.

After that comes places like Herstmonceux which have the observatory open to the public and run courses. You may find that they have opportunities for voluntary work.

Don't know which observatories etc are around you for you to make enquiries at.

By the way Queen Mary's do an MSc on a part time basis, which may be relevant.

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Thanks Mike, Fraser and Ronin for your replies it is appreciated.

In response:

Mike the AAVSO is indeed an excellent organisation for amateurs and allows them to provide photometric data. However I want to do more than just provide data and I would prefer to do spectroscopy if possible - its a shame that there is not as far as I am aware an equivalent organisation which deals also with spectroscopy.

Fraser I will send you a pm.

Ronin I have looked at what a lot of the universities have to offer and was considering doing the MSc at QMUC - I had already downloaded the course notes on their website - and have studied three of their modules:introductory GR, Stellar Structure and Cosmology. As stated in my original note I find the course fees now to be prohibitive - I would have to work for 4-5 years to pay for doing the MSc and PhD. I'll have a look at places like Herstmonceux online.

cheers

John

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Probably too late and may well be too far.

The BAA have a meeting at Norwich, UEA, on Saturday to discuss collaboration between amateurs and professionals in astronomy. One topic it seems to cover is spectroscopy.

Think you have to book it via BAA and there is only a few days before it is on, tickets may not be available.

It could however open a few ideas and you may be able to make further enquiries.

Didn't think the QMUC MSc was that bad a cost on the part time option. Hatfield do one but that I would say was not accessible for you. I am only thinking of the MSc here, not a PhD.

Is it worth considering a PhD? Another 4-5 years minimum and by then will it be useful to you?

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Thanks for the info Capricorn. Unfortunately I am working on Saturday otherwise it could have been worth attending. I'll try to find out what the output is.

In terms of doing MSc/PHd I spoke to my (identical twin) brother who is head of teaching physics at Aberdeen University and with the degree I got (a 2.2 in Maths) he said I would normally have to do a taught MSc before I did a PHd unless I was able to release my own papers on a specific astronomical subject

So I looked around for an MSc to do. QMUC have one which can be done part time but they are putting up their costs from next year like virtually all universities to 9k a year.

So I would be looking at about 40-50k in costs for MSc and PhD with no certainty in this field of getting a paid job afer it. At my age I don't want to be taking out loans/ remortgaging the house to pay for this. Unfortunately I can't get a well paid job in IT at the moment (I have applied for over 600 jobs) so I am currently doing a hard physical job as a Delivery driver where I also have to load and unload the vans myself and this pays £7.30 an hour so I'll let you do the maths to work out how long it will take to earn £50k

cheers

John

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Well the QM MSc is classed as taught.

Cannot locate a cost but guessing at £4900 a year.

There is one odd possibility.

The School of Mathematical Sciences are advertising for an Administrative Officer. Salary isn't great 24K-30K.

They run the Astronomy/Astrophysics MSc.

However I wonder if you may be able to do the MSc as member of the Uni?

For the rest of what they ask for as Admin Officer you are over qualified and have all the experience. Perhaps if you say about your interest and willingness they could get someone better then the run of the miill and you may get a course.

Other option is contract work, hows your C++, Java etc? But that may well not leave time free.

From meeting with the OU at places their MSc is classed as an MSc in Science. The last time I saw it it seemed very non specific, was never sure how well this would be taken elsewhere.

Edited by Capricorn
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Thanks for your posts Mike and Capricorn.

I have applied for the QMUC administation job.

In terms of cost of courses in QMUC they will be 4900 for 2011 but will be the 9k from 2012 onwards.

Although I had worked all my career in IT I have not spent very much time at all programming - I am a Project Manager and I don't seem to be able to get a contract doing this role as there are so many project managers out there - and most of the jobs are in the Finance sector which I have not worked in

cheers

John

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In terms of cost of courses in QMUC they will be 4900 for 2011 but will be the 9k from 2012 onwards.

Ignoring any thoughts about whether this is right way to deliver higher education to the country or not -- my understanding of the new fee structure is that you do *not* have to pay this money up front. Rather you take on a debt of 9k/year, which you pay back from future earnings. So you don't have to have 27k available up front, but you do have to be willing to take on that debt.

That may be different for second degrees or post-graduate degrees though.

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I couldn't work out what the QMUC cost of the part time MSc was. Their site isn't very clear. So if you are assuming £9K next year for a part time course I would check first. I had the feeling they only considered the full time courses. Do Birkbeck offer anything?

Cannot help on the project management side of IT, background is software development in the real time embedded area. Presently doing software test, seems to be work in that area. Also worked on the contract market and happy to move to where the work is.

There are a few part time MSc courses that are available. Back in 2000 UCLAN were looking at doing a distance learning one, they pulled it. Which I think was a shame as there are lots of people at Astro clubs to who it may well have been relevant. You could ask at JMLU, they were also looking at a distance learning MSc but I have heard nothing about it for about 4 years. They were however talking of having some ideas about now.

Looks like either part time, and earning something in the mean time, or 9 months full time and no income. Other question is What when you get it? An Msc might get you on a PhD course but that PhD will be costly. So say 2 years for the MSc (part time) then 4 years for the PhD means 6 years. In 6 years time how much use will it be to you?

A part time MSc seems to be the most flexible, then decide what to do. Better still may the be Admin Officer position if it comes off.

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All I can offer is tea and biscuits if you ever feel the need to help me with my spectroscopy processing and calibration!

I'm sure the fees are similar to those for degrees in that you run the debt up on student loans and then pay them back once you're earning over a set amount with interest at the rate of inflation?

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John,

This is why I said to find out:

Masters | Postgraduate Course - MSc Astrophysics (part-time) at Queen Mary, University of London

That would imply that the part time Masters is £1625 a year, Astrophysics.MSc.

Had this site at work:

Find A Masters - Postgraduate Masters Degrees in Europe - MSc MA MBA MPhil MEd MRes MBA & LLM Courses

Pretty good for locating MSc courses of all types, full time, part time and it will list DL ones if they exist. Enjoy searching.

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Teadwarf, Capricorn and TheThing

thanks for your input.

If I manage to stick my current job till September I should have the cash to pay for the part-time MSc at Queen Marys

So I'll apply for that when I have the cash.

And Hugh if you need help with calibration I'm always up for tea and biscuits!

cheers

John

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