Career advice in astronomy & astrophysics for postgraduate students is often aimed at those working on astronomy research projects, wanting work in academic research. The career path in instrumentation work shares some commonalities with a career in astronomy research, but provides a wider range of options and possibly different criteria for success. In this guide we capture some collective wisdom of junior and somewhat more aged astronomer-instrumentalists to provide guidance for students interested in a career in instrument development for astronomy.

What about software?

Software development is an integral part of many aspects of instrumentation: performing simulations, developing instrument control software, building adaptive optics real time control systems, or writing calibration pipelines and analysis tools. In that sense, software development is definitely a component of instrumentation work. Software is increasingly becoming an instrument for science in its own right, so can increasingly be considered a discipline of astronomy in its own right. In this guide, our treatment software development is specifically in the context of a hardware project rather than specific astrophysical simulations or analysis work. We have included a dedicated section on the types of software skills that are in demand in this field.

Who is this guide for?

These notes are aimed at Bachelors, Masters or PhD students in physics or astronomy, who are working or are interested in working in the hardware side of astronomy.


What does instrumentation work look like?

The skills of a successful instrumentatlist

Graduate programs in instrumentation

Employment potential

Links and Resources


Contributors to this guide

Sarah Kendrew (European Space Agency, Baltimore)

Tom Donaldson (Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore)

Briana Indahl (University of Texas at Austin)

Keira Brooks (Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore)

Shui Hung Kwok (W.M. Keck Observatory)

Bruce Macintosh (Stanford University)


This guide was started at the hack day at the 2018 SPIE conference on Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation in Austin, TX (June 2018). The website was created at the 2018 .Astronomy conference in Baltimore, MD (September 2018).