As the title of my post suggests, I am interested in hearing others’ perspectives on the differences between professional and amateur astronomy, as I am trying to decide whether I should pursue a career in astronomy or remain an amateur. I hope that you will bear with me as I provide a brief outline of my predicament.
I am currently a law student in the US, but ever since I was 12, my real passion has undoubtedly been astronomy. I got started with visual observing and then astrophotography as a teenager, but over the past four years, I've immersed myself in photometry, spectroscopy, and other more research-oriented aspects of astronomy. I regularly submit photometry to the AAVSO, I’ve worked closely with several of my school’s astronomers, and I’ve started to publish papers. At the same time, I detest law school, and I no longer see how it fits into my long-term plans. Indeed, a law degree would only take me away from what I truly enjoy: astronomy.
From my experience with doing research and with teaching, I know that I would love to be a professor of astronomy. However, my undergraduate degree is in political science. (It’s a long story.) I tried to switch into astronomy this past summer, and two schools accepted me so that I could take some of the physics courses that I’d need for a graduate program in astronomy. I attempted to enroll in one of them, but due to several clerical errors and my own mishandling of the resulting chaos, that plan fell apart at the last minute, leaving me mired in law school. Considering that I am almost 24 with no coursework in physics, several people have told me that this might have been my very last chance to switch into astronomy. This news is truly heartbreaking to me, but ultimately, it’s my own fault.
At this point, I’m trying to figure out whether I would be content to remain an amateur astronomer for the rest of my life. This is where I’d welcome input from the AAVSO community—in particular, from observers who once thought about becoming professionals. Why didn’t you pursue a career in astronomy? Are you satisfied with your current involvement in astronomy, or do you regret not becoming a professional astronomer? Of course, if anyone—amateur or professional—has any insight on this general topic, I’d be grateful for it. Thanks in advance!