W. M. Keck Observatory

This position is open until filled


Under the general supervision of the Observing Support Coordinator, the Observing Assistant provides observing support and oversees the safe operation of the observatory during night-time operations.

Essential Functions

  • Control the telescope and related equipment during the observing period to provide support to astronomers in making optimum use of the facility.
  • Serve as the person in charge of the safety of the telescope and facility during night-time observing with responsibility for terminating observing if conditions warrant ensuring that persons and equipment are not placed in jeopardy.
  • Document any problems that occur during observing operations and communicate those problems to the technical staff.
  • Help configure the facility, telescope, and related equipment to prepare for observing.
  • Participate in testing and calibrating the telescope and related equipment to provide support to astronomers in readying equipment for observing.
  • Participate in service and engineering observing as required.
  • Perform other tasks and projects to enhance the overall observing capability.
  • Participate in training new observing assistants.
  • Attend observing meetings and training sessions, some of which will be at headquarters in Waimea.

Additional Responsibilities

  • Drive WMKO vehicles as necessary to carry observers, staff, and self to and from the observatory in a safe manner.
  • Assist in essential daytime tasks appropriate to skills and training, e.g., processing instrument and optical test data, setting warping harnesses, and developing documentation.
  • Train in the operation of the scientific instruments to better support astronomers in the absence of a Support Astronomer/Instrument Scientist.
  • Perform other duties consistent with the scope of this position.

Required Qualifications

  • Bachelor's Degree in a physical science or two years technical or operations experience at an astronomical observatory.  May consider bachelor's degree education in lieu of work experience.

Preferred Qualifications

  • Experience at an astronomical observatory.
  • Knowledge of astronomy and astronomical observing procedures.
  • Mechanical/electronic skills.


  • Computer literacy sufficient to adequately work with WMKO software tools.
  • Motivated, self-starter who can manage multiple tasks and priorities within a fast paced environment.
  • Ability to work a flexible schedule to support Astronomers in the night-time operation of instruments. 

Certificates and Licenses

  • Valid driver's license and clean abstract.


To perform the job successfully, an individual should demonstrate the following competencies:

  • Communication: Ability to communicate effectively and concisely at all levels.
  • Interpersonal skills: Ability to build collaborative, effective relationships with staff.
  • Professionalism: Approaches others in a tactful manner; reacts well under pressure; treats others with respect and consideration; accepts responsibility for own actions; follows through on commitments.

Other Requirements

  • Willingness to commit to WMKO core values: Safety, Integrity, Respect, Discovery and Service.
  • Willingness to commit to WMKO cultural values: Education/Learning, Communication, Teamwork, Rewarding Work Environment, Excellence, Community Involvement.
  • Willingness and ability to work nights, weekends, and holidays.
  • Ability to work in a constant state of alertness and in a safe manner.
  • Ability to work long night hours ten (10) to fourteen (14) hours at 14,000 feet elevation, typically in five (5) night shifts with five (5) to ten (10) days between shifts.
  • Must stay at the mid-level (9,000 feet elevation) facility between adjacent work nights or occasionally stays at the headquarters facility for the duration of the observing shift.

Physical Demands

These physical demands are representative of the physical requirements necessary for an employee to successfully perform the essential functions of the job. This is not a complete list of the physical demands that may be required.

  • Sit: Remaining in the seated position continuously.
  • Use Hands/Fingers: Picking, pinching, or otherwise working primarily with fingers rather than with the whole hand or arm as in handling.
  • Talk: Expressing or exchanging ideas by means of the spoken word to impart oral information to clients or to the public and to convey detailed spoken instructions to other workers accurately, loudly, or quickly.
  • Vision: Color vision - Ability to identify and distinguish colors.
  • Hear: Perceiving the nature of sounds at normal speaking levels with or without correction, and having the ability to receive detailed information through oral communication, and making fine discriminations in sound.
  • Stand: Remaining on one's feet in an upright position at a workstation without moving about.
  • Walk: Moving about on foot.
  • Lift: Raising or lowering an object from one level to another (includes upward pulling) up to 75 lbs.
  • Carry: Transporting an object, usually holding it in the hands or arms, or on the shoulder.
  • Push: Exerting force upon an object so that the object moves away from the force (Includes slapping, striking, kicking and treadle actions).
  • Pull: Exerting force upon an object so that the object moves toward the force (includes jerking).
  • Climb: Ascending or descending ladders, stairs, scaffolding, ramps, poles using feet and legs or hands and arms. Body agility is emphasized.
  • Balance: Maintaining body equilibrium to prevent falling when walking, standing, crouching, or running on narrow, slippery, or erratically moving surfaces.
  • Stoop: Bending body downward and forward by bending spine at the waist, requiring full use of the lower extremities and back muscles.
  • Handle: Seizing, holding, grasping, turning, or otherwise working with hand or hands. Fingers are involved only to the extent that they are an extension of the hand, such as to turn a switch or shift automobile gears.
  • Ability to pass a high altitude physical.
  • Ability to work at the observatory (14,000 feet elevation).

Work Environment

This job operates in a professional office environment.  This role may use standard office equipment such as computers, telephones, photocopiers, filing cabinets and fax machines.

Environmental Conditions

These environmental conditions are representative of what an employee will encounter while performing the essential functions of the job. This is not a complete list of the environmental conditions that may be encountered.

  • Exposure to weather: Subject to extreme cold.  Temperatures can be below 32 degrees for periods of more than one hour.  Consideration should be given to the effect of other environmental conditions such as wind and humidity.
  • Subject to Noise:  There is sufficient noise to cause the worker to shout in order to be heard above the ambient noise level.
  • Subject to Hazards: Moving mechanical parts.
  • Subject to constrained spaces: Required to function in narrow aisles or passageways.

The above information on this job description has been designed to indicate the general nature and level of work performed by an employee in this classification.  It is not to be interpreted as a comprehensive inventory, or all duties, responsibilities, and qualifications of employees assigned to this job.  Management has the right to add to, revise, or delete information in this description.  Reasonable accommodations will be made to enable qualified individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions of this position.


W. M. Keck Observatory
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