Co-authors: Prof Christopher Fluke, Dr Lisa Wise, Dr Sara Webb
In some observationally oriented fields, like medical imaging and aviation, a crucial part of the training process is learning how to look at medical scans or inspect the sky and instrumentation for possible concerns. This training falls into two categories: (1) developing the background knowledge required to interpret the information being presented; and (2) developing the skills and strategies of looking to find and identify features of significance. Surprisingly, in the development of the professional or research astronomer, we have literature on how the knowledge-based information might be taught most effectively, but there is an apparent dearth of information on how the skills of looking at images – i.e. visual inspection – are taught. We present the results of a first of its kind survey, supported by pilot interviews, conducted between 2021 and 2022 to study how astronomers are trained in visual inspection. Survey respondents comprised 70 observational astronomers, ranging from postgraduate students to senior researchers with more than 20 years of experience in observational astronomy. We found that most respondents (60%) received informal training with a minority of respondents (21%) having received formal training. Additionally, most informal training providers identified were PhD supervisors (36%) or academic researchers within a specialty field (31%). The most surprising result was the 27% of respondents that could not identify having received any training in visual inspection. This research presents a unique insight into how observational astronomers learn a highly important aspect of observational astronomy that appears, until now, to have been overlooked within academic literature.