Career Panel

May 29, 2015

This session is our “Alternate Career Panel,” where we’ve invited three speakers who have all completed an astronomy PhD and then chosen to enter a career outside of a large, research-based academic environment. Our three speakers will be providing their perspectives on careers in a smaller academic environment, industry, and science policy.

Note: as Kimberly is moderating this panel, your blog post for this session is written by Robert Morehead.

Our speakers are:

Eric Jensen (EJ): is a Professor of Astronomy at Swarthmore College. He holds a BA in Physics from Carleton College, and a PhD in Astronomy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Josh Shiode (JS): completed his PhD research at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently the Senior Government Relations Officer at the AAAS. Josh was also the John N. Bahcall Public Policy Fellow of the AAS.

Daniel Angerhausen (DA): received his PhD from the German Sofia Institute. He then moved on to a postdoc at RPI, and is now an NPP fellow at Goddard. He in the n the process of starting up a company that he will tell you more about.

Dave Spiegel (DS): received his PhD in Astronomy from Columbia University, and subsequently took postdocs at Princeton and at the Institute for Advanced Study. He now works as an R&D Data Scientist at Sum Labs.

Last minute substitution - Daniel Angerhausen (DA): has graciously agreed to join the panel at the last minute to fill-in for Dave Spiegel, who was not able to join us.

Opening Remarks

(JS) Decided that research wasn’t a good fit. Looked for science education, communication and policy after grad school. Won the Bahcall Fellowship and got into science policy. Works primarily on policy for science, basically how we get our funding. If you are good at communication, policy can be a great fit for you. .

Q:What did you wish you had known before you got on your current path?

A:How to apply for jobs and what career options were available.

(EJ) Feels a little strange being on alternate career panel, since he is a college professor. He works at 1,600 undergraduate institution, no grad students. Balance between research and teaching can vary greatly over the continuum of academic jobs from small colleges to R1.

It’s a challenge to balance out time between teaching and research. Time management is very important and a continuing challenge.

(DA) Almost left science at the end of his graduate program. Don’t be too focused and try for broad opportunities. Networking is vital, get your name out there! Currently in the early field of starting a business in science communication.

(JS)back to what did you feel was most helpful to you in crystallizing your decision to pursue the career path that you choose?

A: I got several mentors outside of my department. They helped me broadening my horizons, outside voices may not be as invested in you staying in academia. Informational interviews are great to cultivate other opportunities.

What are skills that you learned in your education that have been really useful to you later?

(EJ) Writing and communicating

(JS) I agrees, also how to collaborate with others, but as a leader and a follower. Your critical thinking skills will be better than average.

(DA) Communicating. Also don’t worry.

Teaching at liberal art colleges, what are the ranks and what is the typical teaching load?

(EJ) Most US institutions have the three typical ranks, assistant, associate, full. Teaching loads vary. At Swarthmore it is two classes a semester, community college can be as many as five a semester, R1 often one per semester.

How important is prior teaching experience?

(EJ) First I look of that the candidate knows what they are getting into. Teaching experience is valuable, especially if you can narrate you own role. Leading your own class is better than just being a TA. Multiple years have diminishing returns.

How many applications are rehashed R1 applications and do you have to do a post doc?

(EJ) Strongest applications are those that have done a post doc. Shows you can do a post doc. Maybe a quarter look like rehashes.

How much is there an expectation that you are doing research or is there a range?

(EJ) There is a trend towards more research at 4-year liberal arts colleges, but the criteria is often showing evidence that you are engaged in scholarship, rather than bringing in grant money.

What is the best way to network to get a post doc?

(DA) Communication and start early. Go to meetings, talk to people. Not all of the jobs are on the AAS job register a lot are word of mouth.

Post docs often have teaching experience early as a grad student, is lack of recent experience a problem?

(EJ) Being a lead instructor once while in grad school or as a post doc is one of the best things you can do.

For JS, how is my AAAS different from AAS?

(JS) The AAAS position is not a fellowship. But AAAS has a large fellowship program. A lot do program management. 30 go to congress as aids. My job is now a senior government relations position. I talk to policy makers.

For JS, are there positions with research and science communication?

(JS) The Bachal fellowship can be up to 20 percent your own research. There are other jobs like that as well, and also the NSF post doc fellowship. 40 percent of AAAS fellowships go back to research.

(DA) Most NASA missions have Education and Public Outreach positions. 50/50 research and science communication.

Is it harder to teach politics to scientists or science to policy makers?

(JS) That’s the wrong way to think of it, we tend to talk AT people. Policy makers need the advice of experts. They can’t be an expert on everything. They are ready, they need to be communicated with.

(EJ)This applies to teaching too, the best approach is to motivate others to learn.

For JS, what other jobs are available at non-society groups, like NGOs.

(JS)There are many places you can work in policy, university institutes, think-tanks, etc.

How can students and advisors find contacts out of academia.

(JS) The alumni association/fund-raising office may be an useful resource to keep in contact with people who have moved out of academia.

For students, ask the people you do informational interviews with for more contacts.

(DA) Be sure to be honest about your actual skill sets. You know a lot!

(EJ) For faculty, keep in track of our former students. It gives a range of trajectories and contacts.

Do you feel you have let people down by leaving academia?

(JS) My advisor/committee was very supportive, but there are probably others who look down on the choice.

(EJ) Most people have been supportive

(DA) Your supervisors are aware of how hard it is to navigate the academic job market.

Comment from Audience The AAS has a lot of alternative career resources. Also Jobs for Astronomers Facebook group, and Astronomers Beyond Academia on linkedin.

(EJ) Please feel free to contact me

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