Results from the survey of career trajectories of astronomers who have switched to industry. Designed to help current grad students/post-docs to make their own career choices. Survey was created by Chris Curtin and Manodeep Sinha from the AAS career profiles (https://aas.org/careers/career-profiles), on behalf of the Early-Career Researcher Chapter of Astronomical Society of Australia.

Daniel Yardley (PhD 201x)

  • What field do you currently work in? *
    Finance (statistical arbitrage)
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received? *
    PhD
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics? *
    None
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree? *
    Working in family finance business
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia?
    Availability of jobs in my native country, a unique opportunity for a family finance business
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Sydney, Australia
  • What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
    Collegiate atmosphere, cheap delicious social lunches
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    Computer coding in C, a natural skepticism of results and attention to detail
  • Describe a typical day at work.
    Very similar to a day during my PhD
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    High

Loren Bruns (PhD 201x)

  • What field do you currently work in? *
    Academic Software Development and Data Science
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received? *
    PhD
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics? *
    PhD Student
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree? *
    Straight into software development and data science.
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia? *
    The environment, the mental and emotional struggles many of my PhD colleagues and I were going through without, what we perceived to be, adequate support. The constant push of the faculty to publish and apply for grants at the cost of properly training PhD students as mentors.
  • What is the job title for your current position?
    Senior Software Developer in eResearch
  • What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
    Melbourne eResearch Group
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Melbourne, Australia
  • What is your social background? Are there any identifiers that you think are particularly relevant?
    Originally from Portland, Oregon, USA.
  • What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
    Cook, discuss public policy, video games, brewing coffee, home improvement
  • List your favorites. Band (or singer/composer/etc.), recent film, current TV series, food, color, pet.
    The Dandy Warhols (Band), Beauty and the Beast (Movie), Outlander (TV), Mexican inspired (Food), Black (Colour), Dogs (Pet)
  • What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
    I miss the stimulating conversations with all my colleagues about science and society. I definitely don’t miss the existential dread of the thesis process.
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    30
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    Presenting complex ideas succinctly and an understanding of the academic process and mindset.
  • What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
    A blunt discussion of the global numbers game about advancing in academia and an upfront outreach program to get students interested in other careers early enough so that the last year of the PhD isn’t such a nightmare.
  • What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
    Prior to my PhD I had roughly a decade of software development experience, some of it in academia, so that I was already qualified for my current position
  • What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
    Mailing lists associated with the various computer services I had volunteered for around the university.
  • Describe a typical day at work.
    Very chill, mostly independent consultation with clients and software development. My officemate and I mostly work on different projects so its very similar to sharing a thesis office during my degree. Without most of the existential dread.
  • How many hours do you work in a week?
    25-45, depending on deadlines.
  • What is your salary?
    ~$110k AUD
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    8/10
  • What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
    Most enjoyable aspects are learning new things and interacting with clients (who are mostly scientists). Least enjoyable would be rewriting the same piece of code multiple times.
  • What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most?
    The flexibility for both. It’s great with a young family but it also means you can spend too much time without focusing deeply on your work.
  • What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
    I’m the technical lead on all of my projects, and the only developer for most of them. This gives me incredible flexibility to be creative with finding software solutions and learning/trying new things.
  • How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
    Incredibly satisfied.
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    Incredibly family-friendly.
  • What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
    Find a place to work doing something you don’t hate that is mostly about outcomes rather than procedure.
  • Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
    I’m very close with all of my PhD cohort and we hang out socially all the time (when we’re in Melbourne and not globetrotting for science). Only two of the ten are still in astronomy, and only one of those two has a full-time position lined up for the next year. I consult with a few folks about computation in astronomy, and given the right incentives and environment wouldn’t rule out going back to astro.
  • Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects?
    Be too stupid to say no. If someone offers you a job and it sounds challenging and interesting, it probably is. It’s true that it can be difficult to wade back into the narrow field you did your PhD in, and that your PhD only has a short half-life of relevance in your own field. The flip side is that there’s always someone somewhere looking to hire the smartest people in the room, and if you have a PhD in astronomy there are plenty of rooms in the world where you are the smartest.

 

Jennifer Piscionere (PhD, 201x)

 

  • What field do you currently work in? *
    Data Science
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received? *
    PhD
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics? *
    Postdoc
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree? *
    Soft-money postdoc -> Soft-money Postdoc -> Data Science
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia? *
    Wanting to live in the same place as my husband
  • What is the job title for your current position?
    Data Scientist
  • What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
    Centre for Transformative Innovation, Swinburne University
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Melbourne, Australia
  • What is your social background? Are there any identifiers that you think are particularly relevant?
    I’m a laaaaaddyyyyyy. Also a white lady who came from a relatively stable family structure, aka my parents could help me out when I was poor in grad school, among the many other benefits being white affords me.
  • What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
    Yoga, Cooking, Watching cat videos
  • List your favorites. Band (or singer/composer/etc.), recent film, current TV series, food, color, pet.
    Titus Andronicus (band, not the play), Stranger Things, American Gods, All pets forever, everything should be dogs.
  • What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
    Being in the same place for 7 years and able to build a social structure around that. Camaraderie with fellow grad students.
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    31
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    Programming, statistics, ability to google things.
  • What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
    You are getting a PhD in creative problem solving. Learn how to code. Learn how to ask for help.
  • What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
    I did a NSF PIRE Data Science fellowship. I also kaggled, code academied and utilized other online resources. Also, the Penn State school for Astrostatistics for R coding.
  • What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
    I knew a guy who knew a guy who got me this job. It helps to know people. And the best way to know people you don’t know yet is to email them. Don’t give up after the first email to a person doesn’t immediately land you a job. These things take time.
  • Describe a typical day at work.
    Get in around 9, Leave around 5. I require extra time in the morning now because people here dress like adults with actual jobs (things they don’t tell you when you leave astronomy!). Right now, I’m working with MySQL databases of patent information.
  • How many hours do you work in a week?
    40ish
  • What is your salary?
    A8
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    High
  • What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
    It’s up to me what projects I want to take on.
  • How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
    Very
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    I don’t know, but I’m guessing good. My office is right next to the child’s play room.
  • What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
    Leave astronomy.
  • Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
    Yes. My husband is an astronomer so I would have to even if I didn’t want to.
  • Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects?
    It was hugely emotional for me to leave astronomy. I’d been doing astronomy research since I was 17, so that’s 14 years of astronomy. It definitely felt like an identity crisis. What do you say to the person on the plane? Not astronomy anymore! I honestly don’t have an answer on how to make this better besides talking about the emotional cost of changing careers.

Giulia Savorgnan (PhD 201x)

  • What field do you currently work in? *
    Digital marketing
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received? *
    PhD
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics? *
    Postdoc
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree? *
    A few months of postdoc, then switched to data science in industry
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia? *
    Publication driven process, job security, career opportunities
  • What is the job title for your current position?
    Senior Data Scientist
  • What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
    OMG
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Sydney
  • What is your social background? Are there any identifiers that you think are particularly relevant?
    Italian
  • What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
    Rock climbing and other extreme sports
  • List your favorites. Band (or singer/composer/etc.), recent film, current TV series, food, color, pet.
    Green
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    31
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    Stats and programming
  • What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
    Learn and use programming languages, software, algorithms and solutions which are popular in industry.
  • What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
    None
  • What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
    Seek and LinkedIn
  • Describe a typical day at work
    Data analysis, meetings
  • How many hours do you work in a week?
    Less than 40
  • What is your salary?
    110000 including super
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    Happy
  • How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
    Happy
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    Flexibility is taken into account
  • Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
    No

Neil Crighton (PhD, 200x)

  • What field do you currently work in? *
    Data analytics
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received? *
    PhD
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics? *
    Postdoctoral fellowship at the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University.
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree? *
    Three astronomy postdocs and then working in the Australian public service.
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia? *
    There were several important factors, including a desire to stay in Melbourne and the difficulty of finding permanent jobs in astronomy.
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    40
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    Very

Iraklis Konstantopoulos (PhD 200x)

  • What field do you currently work in? *
    Technology
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received? *
    PhD
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics? *
    Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree? *
    Data Science
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia? *
    Work-life balance; income; career prospects; constant need for relocation.
  • What is the job title for your current position?
    Senior Data Analyst
  • What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
    Atlassian
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Sydney, NSW, Australia
  • What is your social background? Are there any identifiers that you think are particularly relevant?
    Middle class Greek country bumpkin
  • What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
    Karate, lute and guitar playing, board games, movies
  •  What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
    I miss observing runs. I miss nothing else, really.
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    32
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    Data wrangling; search for truth; data exploration; data visualisation
  • What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
    That, by numbers, it is a professorship is an ‘alternative career path’, not industry.
  • What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
    Free Data Science courses online.
  • What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
    LinkedIn, connection from astronomy.
  • Describe a typical day at work.
    Lots of data, lots of plots, lots of coding, lots of time spent finding what questions need to be posed.
  • How many hours do you work in a week?
    37.6 as per my contract
  • What is your salary?
    About twice my Postdoc salary when tallying all bonuses and perks.
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    Maximum.
  • What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
    Communication with team. Esteem of colleagues. Great office space and perks. Here is nothing I’d identify as less enjoyable, we have a great balance.
  • What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
    ‘Be the change you seek’ is one of our values and we definitely live by it.
  • How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
    Super pleased. Have never worked a minute on an evening or weekend.
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    Very flexible.
  • What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
    Only work the hours you are paid to work.
  • Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
    Mostly socially, plus I am still in collaboration papers.
  • Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects?
    It was so, so easy. It seemed like a really difficult decision since I decided to become an astronomer at age 8 and never doubted my commitment. But when I realised how badly academics are treated by the system I switched in a heartbeat. It was the best decision I’ve ever made professionally.

Paul Brooks (PhD 199x)

  • What field do you currently work in? *
    Telecommunications
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received? *
    PhD
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics? *
    PhD student
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree? *
    Software developer of Internet software and applications, Internet network engineer (several networks and firms), Telco network designer, business founder/owner of consultancy practice, head engineer/chief technology officer for telcos, startup business entrepreneur, mentor
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia? *
    From working part-time during PhD studies to fund living expenses, it was easy and more secure to move to full-time work with the same company following completion compared to moving to a post-doc role. Became disillusioned with the funding/no funding cycle that prevented multi-year academic projects from being completed effectively, and caused contract support staff to have to be terminated.
  • What is the job title for your current position?
    Head of Technology & Networks
  • What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
    Trident Subsea Cable
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Sydney, Australia, working all over Asia-Pacific
  • What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
    Astronomy (Amateur), remote control aircraft, playing and researching cool Internet things, holidays with family and kids
  • What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
    I miss the interaction with seriously smart young people. I definitely don’t miss having projects de-funded before the equipment has been finished being built.
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    I have made several career changes over the years – switching to full-time employment after completion of PhD at age
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    Being able to research and recognise authoritive references from derivative pseudo-sources, and constructing business cases, consultancy reports and legal expert reports based on clear foundations, clear arguments, well referenced, so that the ultimate conclusion is easily seen to be derived from the initial assumptions and known facts. Creating business reports and analysis using similar methods as constructing a scientific paper for publication is a highly valued skill in business.
  • What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
    Don’t just look at the subject matter you have been working on, when thinking about the next step or industry. Think about all the false steps you have had to investigate, difficulties you have had to solve and work around – the problem-solving steps you had to do to get to do the thing you thought you were trying to achieve. Often solving those problems along the way will be just as satisfying, and point to a possible future career or passion, as the original outcome you thought you were trying to investigate or solve.
  • What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
    A smattering of vendor certification courses – however time on-the-job training working next to experienced experts and learning from them was probably more valuable. Doesn’t matter how much education you have under your belt, you’re never too old or too experienced to learn something from time as an apprentice to an even higher expert.
  • What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
    Past and present colleagues from previous jobs introduced me to this role. Never ignore your past workmates and colleagues, that growing professional pool of recommenders is gold!
  • Describe a typical day at work.
    Deal with overnight email, find out what colleagues are up to, sometimes work from home, sometimes work from city office. Deal with suppliers questions, learn more about technology, visit and call customers, build something they need and want to buy. Plan next week’s international travel across the globe.
  • How many hours do you work in a week?
    30 – 60
  • What is your salary?
    Variable/lumpy as a consultant – some months little, some months are very good as customers pay their consulting bills. Up to $300k/year is achievable.
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    Very high
  • What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
    Enjoyable – international travel, respect as an expert in my field, and working with seriously smart and fun people who are experts in their fields, at the forefront of technology (in my case, fibre-optic networking technology). Least enjoyable – the startup business scene can be difficult to deal with the uncertainty of working out if the business will go ahead or have to be wound up if not successful. Exhilarating when a business is successful and grows, but gut-wrenching for a while when it can’t be successful despite pouring so much effort in.
  • What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
    I am a senior executive, investor and part owner of the business, and a number of other start-up businesses – I take the initiative on everything I want to become involved in, and every aspect I choose to inject myself in, either because I can help lead the solution, or I want to learn more from the people I work with and respect who know more about the aspects I don’t know much about. Ultimately, I use my experience and knowledge to build networks and services and solutions that are better than what was available before – that is very satisfying.
  • How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
    Fairly satisfied – more work than home life, but not unreasonable.
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    Fairly family-friendly, as I can somewhat choose my hours, or work from home – except when travelling internationally which requires a week or two away from home occasionally.
  • What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
    Target roles with lots of international travel and activity early, before family and young children have you wanting to spend more time at home, and not tying up evenings with international conference calls. When family and young children are factors, target smaller institutions and businesses with more of a local/national focus, where work occurs during daytime and nights and weekends are clear to spend time with family – always family should come first before work.
  • Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
    Yes – I’m involved with the Square Kilometre Array, and recently spent time at a workshop in Shanghai with Chinese and Australian big data experts looking at solving SKA problems. I’m also involved in designing the next generation of Internet protocols for interplanetary communication, working with colleagues from NASA and other space institutions.
  • Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects?
    I sometimes miss academia, but I don’t miss the funding and remuneration uncertainty. I feel I’m more in control of my own destiny in industry. The best advice when considering a change is to think “whats the worst that can happen if it doesn’t work out?” – usually its nothing more than maybe spending a couple of months out of work until the next role comes up, and if you have some savings to tide you over in the unlikely event that comes about, thats not so scary – you don’t want to spend the next few years wondering “if only I jumped and seized that opportunity”.

Russell Jurek (PhD 201x)

  • What field do you currently work in? *
    Scientific instrumentation
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received? *
    Ph.D.
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics? *
    Previously a post-doc at CSIRO; Currently an adjunct lecturer at UQ (unpaid)
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree? *
    Post-doc at CSIRO; Computational physicist at ETP Ion Detect + adjunct lecturer at UQ + Rhee Tae Kwon Do instructor
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia? *
    Grant/fellowship writing sucks. The hours are ridiculous. I get paid so much more in industry.
  • What is the job title for your current position?
    Computational Physicist
  • What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
    ETP Ion Detect
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Sydney
  • What is your social background? Are there any identifiers that you think are particularly relevant?
    I grew up a dirt poor kid in the bush. I’m descended from convicts, free settlers, ten pound poms and holocaust refugees.
  • What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
    Movies. Video games. Power lifting. Martial Arts. Open source projects.
  • List your favorites. Band (or singer/composer/etc.), recent film, current TV series, food, color, pet.
    If you’ve never seen `Big Trouble in Little China’, then you haven’t lived.
  • What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
    I miss the unfettered intellectual freedom to pursue what interests me.
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    29
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    Programming experience. Statistical modelling and analysis skills. Data mining. My knowledge of physics.
  • What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
    The best advice I was given was, “If you’re going to be paid to research someone else’s ideas, then you might as well do it in industry for more money and a permanent position”.
  • What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
    None.
  • What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
    Seek
  • Describe a typical day at work.
    I really don’t have a typical day. I might spend it building a database with a webpage front-end. Otherwise I might spend it discussing how to model condensed matter physics with other scientists. On other days I might spend most of my day in the clean room setting up experiments to run over the weekend.
  • How many hours do you work in a week?
    36
  • What is your salary?
    110k
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    Good.
  • What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
    I hate writing documentation for software. I also hate that I can’t publish most of my work. I do enjoy that I don’t have to waste 30-40% of my time writing grants and fellowships that are unlikely to be successful. I also enjoy that I get to spend most of my time doing research.
  • What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most?
    It’s very similar to being a post-doc at CSIRO. Except without everyone worrying about our budget for next year.
  • What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
    Lots. I now run my own advanced concepts R&D team.
  • How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
    Good.
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    Great.
  • What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
    I once read, “there’s no such thing as a lack of time, only a lack of priority”. I have embraced this philosophy and made sure that my wife and my son are my priority. I’ve found that work never stops screaming at me for my attention, and there’s always more of it. So I make sure to give my family what they need first, because they’re my first priority. That has made all the difference for me.
  • Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
    Yes. I still actively publish papers in my now ample free time and am involved in several ASKA surveys.
  • Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects?
    Not for me.

Sean Farrell (PhD, 200x)

  • What field do you currently work in?
    Data Science
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received?
    PhD
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics?
    Postdoc
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree?
    PhD -> 2 yr Postdoc -> 2 yr Postdoc -> 3 yr ARC Postdoctoral Fellow -> 0.5 yr Postdoc -> 7 months Data Scientist -> 1 yr Data Scientist -> Unemployed (present)
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia?
    Lack of jobs/opportunities, unwilling to move overseas again, lack of job security
  • What is the job title for your current position?
    Unemployed
  • What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
    nan
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Canberra, Australia
  • What is your social background? Are there any identifiers that you think are particularly relevant?
    White middle class Australian. No particular identifiers that I can think of.
  • What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
    Tennis + sports analytics
  • List your favorites. Band (or singer/composer/etc.), recent film, current TV series, food, color, pet.
    nan
  • What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
    I miss the freedom to pursue things that interest me in astronomy.
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    37
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    Creative problem solving
  • What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
    Be clear that the vast majority of astro PhD grads will end up working in a different field.
  • What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
    None.
  • What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
    None.
  • Describe a typical day at work.
    Watching Netflix, building sports prediction models
  • How many hours do you work in a week?
    None
  • What is your salary?
    None
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    I’m semi-retired at the moment but looking for work.
  • What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
    nan
  • What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most?
    I get to work from my couch 🙂
  • What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
    nan
  • How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
    nan
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    nan
  • What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
    nan
  • Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
    Yes. I still have a lot of astro friends that I keep in touch with, and I’m still kind of supervising a PhD student. I’m also still on a few papers a year as a co-author.
  • Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects?
    Yes. It was extremely hard for me as I had spent so much time striving to stay in astronomy. My decision to leave was not so much a decision but a necessity, as I suddenly hit the end of my fellowship and didn’t have a job (and at the same time my partner was retrenched). Leaving astronomy was losing my identity and it had a very negative (and continuing) impact on my mental health.

    My advice is to leave as early as you can, as it is very difficult once you’ve become a senior postdoc (both leaving and finding a new career path). Don’t let the reality sneak up on you, but take control of your life and career and choose the right time to jump off the academic train. Don’t find yourself forced to leave.


Jonathan Whitmore (PhD, 201x)

  • What field do you currently work in?
    Data Science
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received?
    PhD
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics?
    Postdoc
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree?
    Data Scientist -> Senior Data Scientist
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia?
    Lack of viable & attractive academic career path; Viable and attractive non-academic career path.
  • What is the job title for your current position?
    Senior Data Scientist
  • What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
    Silicon Valley Data Science
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Mountain View, California, USA (Silicon Valley)
  • What is your social background? Are there any identifiers that you think are particularly relevant?
    nan
  • What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
    Play piano, create art, code side-projects
  • List your favorites. Band (or singer/composer/etc.), recent film, current TV series, food, color, pet.
    nan
  • What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
    nan
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    31
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    Computer programming, critical thinking, and communication skills
  • What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
    By far: have them speak to people currently doing the job they want. Don’t assume that you know what you need to work on to prepare yourself.
  • What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
    Lots of time on the side learning programming, computer science, and statistics knowledge.
  • What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
    Insight Data Science
  • Describe a typical day at work.
    I work about 9 hours a day at a small startup with a bunch of other PhDs, we have very short daily meetings (< 10 minutes) and work in a very collaborative environment.
  • How many hours do you work in a week?
    45
  • What is your salary?
    $150,000/yr base salary + bonus
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    High
  • What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
    The variety of technology stacks that I have to learn and become useful in — I feel like I’m learning more than during my time in academia.
  • What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most?
    Working with other smart PhDs from other disciplines; not much actually.
  • What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
    Tons, I’m given different challenges and have to come up with a viable path forward for solving them, using quantitative methods.
  • How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
    Highly
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    Highly
  • What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
    Make it your priority.
  • Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
    Yes, and occasionally dabble in astro research on the weekends.
  • Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects?
    Talk to people who are on the other side — I find they seem to be very happy, and people who imagine it must be terrible are people worried about switching over but haven’t.

Dinuka Wijesinghe (PhD, 201x)

  • What field do you currently work in?
    Consulting
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received?
    PhD
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics?
    PhD candidate
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree?
    Joined Accenture as a Management Consultant, then joined Woolworths to work as a Strategy Manager in their corporate strategy division (current position). I own and run an Edu Tech startup alongside my regular job.
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia?
    Diversity of work and problems that I would get to solve and financial security
  • What is the job title for your current position?
    Strategy Manager
  • What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
    Woolworths
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Sydney
  • What is your social background? Are there any identifiers that you think are particularly relevant?
    nan
  • What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
    Snowboard, cricket, travel etc..
  • List your favorites. Band (or singer/composer/etc.), recent film, current TV series, food, color, pet.
    nan
  • What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
    nan
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    25
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    Quantitative analysis, problem structuring and solving and written communication
  • What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
    There are genuine options for careers outside outside Astronomy and the skills you learn are in demand.
  • What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
    Required a lot of case interview practice. Nothing other than that.
  • What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
    Go to as many company meet and great sessions at universities
  • Describe a typical day at work.
    nan
  • How many hours do you work in a week?
    45 to 60. Varies depending on projects.
  • What is your salary?
    nan
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    High
  • What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
    Highly dynamic and fast paced. The consequences of my work become apparent in the real world very quickly.
  • What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most?
    nan
  • What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
    High level of independence in creativity and taking initiative.
  • How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
    Very
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    Very
  • What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
    You need to have clear expectations with your bosses about working hours and be able to bring it up with them if expectations are not met.
  • Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
    Yes
  • Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects?
    Just do it! There would be a small adjustment to the culture change but nothing that can’t be overcome with an open mind and a bit of effort.

Richard Scalzo (PhD, 200x)

  • What field do you currently work in?
    Data Science
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received?
    PhD
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics?
    SkyMapper Postdoctoral Fellow at ANU/RSAA
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree?
    After my PhD, I went through a total of three postdocs spanning 11 years of academic work in physics and astronomy. I struggled in my first two postdocs to balance mission-critical software infrastructure work with publishing in a large collaboration, and watched as over the years the competition for jobs grew and grew. I got more opportunities to publish work I was proud of in my third postdoc, but even still I found that I wasn’t able to publish at the rate needed to compete for continuing positions, or even for independent research fellowships. Faced with the prospect of doing yet another postdoc, becoming the software lead for a large astronomical survey, or trying something new, I chose door #3.

    I took my current position at the University of Sydney’s Centre for Translational Data Science in order to gain broader exposure to applications of data science and machine learning techniques outside astronomy. The Centre is a dynamic and interdisciplinary place, and I’ve had the opportunity to take on analytics projects in molecular biology and social sciences (as well as astronomy), to supervise students and engineers, and to experiment with external consulting opportunities. My next steps will probably take me closer towards analytics-driven consulting, hopefully with an engineering or environmental focus such as renewable energy.

  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia?
    Competition pressure for continuing positions. To a lesser extent, the dawning impression that those rare continuing positions might not be very enjoyable, given the historical trend of growing competition for scarce funding and increasing time spent on administrative duties.
  • What is the job title for your current position?
    Research Engineer in Data Science
  • What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
    Centre for Translational Data Science (CTDS), University of Sydney
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Sydney, Australia
  • What is your social background? Are there any identifiers that you think are particularly relevant?
    nan
  • What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
    Social dancing (blues, lindy), birdwatching
  • List your favorites. Band (or singer/composer/etc.), recent film, current TV series, food, color, pet.
    nan
  • What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
    nan
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    40
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    Basic data analysis skills (probability + statistics), high-level mathematics (multivariable calculus + measure theory), creative problem-solving skills, programming (C++), communication (effective writing + speaking)
  • What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
    To advise their students effectively, advisors need to make their students aware of overall success rates for applications to continuing academic positions, de-stigmatize non-academic career paths, and keep track of trends in the broader job market for recent alumni. Ideally the advisor would also provide some mentorship to help the student reason through their own goals and desires for the future. A robust alumni community can assist.
  • What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
    In my post-PhD positions I continually taught myself new skills to meet the demands of the collaborations in which I found myself: parallel computing, programming in Python and SQL, standard machine learning methods including clustering and random forest, and Bayesian inference methods including Monte Carlo Markov chains were all useful for my research and my critical infrastructure contributions. By the time I applied for my current position, I could make the argument that I had already been doing data science with astronomical data, and had many of the skills I would need to be successful.

    In my current job I’ve had to learn even more new things, some technical (data science tools and libraries) but mostly interpersonal — for example, how to lead a productive discussion about a project in a domain area I know nothing about, how to spot warning signs for poorly defined/supported projects early on, and how to identify cultural or systemic issues that may make projects more or less successful in order to craft an engagement strategy with clients. I find I’m now operating at a much higher leadership level than I was in my PhD or previous postdoctoral positions, and I expect these skills to translate well to industry.

  • What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
    An ad in the ResearchCareer newsletter and an enthusiastic reference from my supervisor. Prior to that, the support of a wide group of friends — many of whom work in tech — to help me sort out what I wanted from my new position. I expect personal networks to be my first port of call in hunting for future positions.
  • Describe a typical day at work.
    My broader mission is to help make the Centre a success, including low-level work (individual analytics projects in collaboration with other academics) and high-level work (supervising engineers, strategic planning for the Centre). There isn’t really a typical day, but some days are spent mostly working on my own (keeping up with the literature, writing code, planning projects) and some mostly in meetings with others (seminars, project reviews). The broad variety of activity is part of the fun.
  • How many hours do you work in a week?
    Not more than 40 on average; however, I select my activities carefully, saying no to many things and delegating what I can. I’ve logged my hours before and I know how hard I can push myself without getting burned out.
  • What is your salary?
    nan
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    I’m pretty happy with my job, but I also know I’ll have to move on soon so I’m trying not to become complacent!
  • What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
    Most enjoyable: Being part of, and becoming a leader within, a intellectually stimulating, supportive environment with people from a wide variety of backgrounds to learn from; having a broad variety of projects to which I can contribute, not just in astronomy; having 20% time to continue work on astronomy projects; having a more direct impact on the broader world (for good, I hope!) than in previous positions.
    Least enjoyable: Still technically being considered a postdoc and being judged by conventional academic yardsticks such as number of papers. This has become less of an issue over time, as I’ve been encouraged to broaden the scope of my activities and write my own job description within the Centre.
  • What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most?
    Like: Friendly, supportive supervisors and colleagues from various intellectual backgrounds. Flexible work arrangements.
    Dislike: Very gender-skewed even compared to astronomy, as one might expect for an engineering department. We’re working on this but we have a very long way to go.
  • What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
    This job demands creativity and initiative. I’m struggling to think of a part of my job that doesn’t demand high-level independent thought.
  • How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
    Very satisfied, in part because I defend that balance carefully.
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    Many of the engineers in the Centre have children, and at least one works part-time in order to balance caring for his kids. I feel reasonably certain that if my partner and I had kids, my colleagues would support our decision and help me figure out how to balance parenthood with the responsibilities of my position.
  • What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
    First of all, I think I would feel a lot more pressure if I was planning to compete for a continuing academic position. So I removed that pressure in part by actively seeking a less competitive career track, and by defining my role to make the best use of my strengths, talents, and aspirations. I feel lucky that this has worked so far; I think good work-life balance depends critically on having a supportive workplace that allows you to set, and defend, realistic expectations.

    Based on this foundation, I start from the premise that I can’t do everything, and from there try to decide which things are most important for me to do personally, which can be delegated to others and which can be deferred till a better time. I take into account knowledge of what I want out of the position and of what things I can do that nobody else can. I also try to structure my activities according to how much energy and focus I have — there is no point in staying at work past the point of being useful.

  • Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
    Absolutely — several data sets I’m working with come from astronomy, and my approach to them hasn’t changed that much from when I was working in astronomy, although the main challenge is now in crafting an elegant and successful model as much as in making new astronomical discoveries. I also raise my hand whenever I can to engage with CAASTRO or ASA alumni activities, since I feel an active and engaged alumni community is critically important to the long-term career outcomes of our junior scientists.
  • Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects?
    The biggest obstacle to leaving astronomy, for me, was the enormous claim that academia laid on my identity, and the identity threat posed by changing careers. I was aware intellectually for years that I was unlikely ever to land a continuing position given the increasing competitiveness of the landscape. But it took me some months, upon facing up to it, to convince myself that this was not a judgment about my worth as a person, and that I could be happy elsewhere. This is another area in which I think engaged alumni can make an important contribution to the well-being of junior people — just providing a support network, a normalizing influence, some examples.

David Morgan-Mar (PhD, Late 90s)

  • What field do you currently work in?
    Imaging science
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received?
    Ph.D.
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics?
    None.
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree?
    Moved into computer programming for a few years, which I did not enjoy, before finding a job in industry research.
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia?
    Demand for long hours. Requirement to uproot and move, possibly overseas, every few years. Publish or perish mentality. Low job security.
  • What is the job title for your current position?
    Principal Research Engineer
  • What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
    Canon Information Systems Research Australia
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Sydney, Australia
  • What is your social background? Are there any identifiers that you think are particularly relevant?
    nan
  • What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
    nan
  • List your favorites. Band (or singer/composer/etc.), recent film, current TV series, food, color, pet.
    nan
  • What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
    I miss the social opportunities, of meeting new people and having a common suite of experiences. I don’t miss the hard work!
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    I moved from programming to industry research at 36.
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    Knowledge of optics and physics in general, including aperture synthesis imaging and medical imaging. Statistics. Research methodology and experimental science methodology.
  • What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
    Don’t work yourself to death. Find a job where you’re comfortable with the working hours and demands.
  • What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
    None prior to starting work, but I’ve done leadership and technical training courses during my current employment.
  • What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
    A friend recommended the job opening to me.
  • Describe a typical day at work.
    I might spend some time doing an experiment or simulation and analysing results. I prepare presentations to summarise and report on my work to colleagues in technical development and management. Every so often I work on patents, performing searches for prior art, and writing up our inventions to be patented. I also work on international standards related to photographic imaging, so spend time reviewing proposed standards drafts, or discussing them with other technical experts from around the world.
  • How many hours do you work in a week?
    37.5.
  • What is your salary?
    Very comfortable.
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    I enjoy the work and am very happy in the position. But I have some frustration that as commercial research my work is not published or disseminated to the public.
  • What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
    I enjoy performing experiments in our imaging labs, analysing results, coming up with new ideas and testing them out. I also enjoy writing up my work in reports. I get to attend a few scientific conferences related to imaging science.
    I don’t enjoy searching through published patents looking for prior art for inventions that we wish to patent.
  • What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most?
    I get to work on interesting research topics, which intersect with my own interests in photography.
    I dislike that it is so difficult for me to publish my work because of corporate secrecy. I also dislike that our work is regulated on a strict annual timetable imposed by our parent company.
  • What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
    The company appreciates efforts by staff to come up with initiatives that will improve the working environment, efficiency, or camaraderie of the staff. Many staff have ideas which are adopted, and people know that they won’t be dismissed out of hand.
  • How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
    I feel as satisfied as I think I could be in a full time job, though I dream of not having to work for a living and to be able to engage more in artistic and hobby pursuits.
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    I believe it is very accommodating to the needs of individuals, with flexible working hours and a tolerance for needs that arise from family connections.
  • What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
    Work to live, don’t live to work. Don’t work more hours than you have to. If a job is demanding more hours than you are comfortable with, then find something else to do. It’s not worth it.
  • Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
    Yes, a little. Some of the challenges of photographic imaging science are shared by astronomy, and I have collaborated with astronomers to try to find some common methods and technologies that we could leverage together.
  • Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects?
    Ultimately, to me a career is just a way to get food and shelter while you live your life. I don’t believe it should be an end in itself. I’d encourage others to think about that and see if it applies to them as well. It may not, but perhaps it will open some eyes and reframe perspective on what a career should be about. Switch careers if you’re unhappy, and you will have a chance of becoming happier.

Elodie Thilliez (PhD, 201x)

  • What field do you currently work in?
    Data Science
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received?
    PhD
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics?
    PhD
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree?
    Data Scientist
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia?
    1) Lifestyle: was looking for a more 9 to 5 type of job, less invasive.
    2) Location: didn’t want to move abroad for a postdoc, and more likely move again afterwards.
    3) Pace: wanted a more dynamic environment by working on shorter projects with a faster outcome
    4) Work environment: wanted to work within a team and do collaborative work on a daily basis
  • What is the job title for your current position?
    Data Scientist
  • What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
    Deakin Innovation Software Technology Lab
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Melbourne, Australia
  • What is your social background? Are there any identifiers that you think are particularly relevant?
    European, LGBTQ
  • What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
    Basketball, Drawing, Movies, Travels
  • List your favorites. Band (or singer/composer/etc.), recent film, current TV series, food, color, pet.
    Nightwish, Epica, Linkin Park
  • What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
    I like being part of a student community. I don’t miss anything else.
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    28
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    – Writing skills: writing reports
    – Presentation/Teaching skills: preparing meeting and presenting something to clients
    – Programming: Scripting, C-Shell, Fortran
    – General: data analysis, problem solving, linux
  • What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
    They should encourage the students to:
    – explore all different type of opportunities,
    – explore different fields of work,
    – encourage the students to do short-term internships in different environments
  • What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
    I took several online courses to learn R, Python and (basic) SQL.
  • What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
    Former PhD student who already made the transition
  • Describe a typical day at work.
    – 1h meeting with teammates/clients
    – 1-2h working with teammates
    – 5h of programming/debugging
    – 1h reading through scientific paper/ looking for online ressources
  • How many hours do you work in a week?
    45
  • What is your salary?
    As a Master graduate, it was 62k/year. As a PhD graduate, it will be 80k/year.
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    Satisfied
  • What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
    Most enjoyable:
    – learning new things and using new technology every day !
    – working on modern problems
    – fun, youthful team
    Least enjoyable:
    – not always have the choice on what you work on
  • What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most?
    nan
  • What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
    Creativity is the main drive to my current job. Clients come to you with a problem, and it is up to you to design a system to solve their problem.
  • How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
    More satisfied than when I was doing my PhD
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    nan
  • What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
    Learn to say no. Learn that it is ok to leave on time. Learn that it is ok to take sick leave when required.
  • Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
    Do media interview for astronomy outreach
    Catch up with my former colleagues
  • Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects?
    Although most of my astro coworkers were supportive with my career transition, I did feel a bit like an outsider at the time. This is no clear road to follow when switching careers, you have to be very pro-active to make it happen: contact people who did the transition before you, go to meet-ups to meet other professionals, attend internship/career fairs.

    It is clear that it will be difficult to go back to a classic researcher position after doing the transition to data science (not having followed recent publications etc..), however future ‘hybrid’ positions with astronomy+data science would perfectly suit my profile.


Peter Jenson (PhD, 201x)

  • What field do you currently work in?
    Data Science
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received?
    Master of Science (Research)
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics?
    Casual lecturer/tutor
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree?
    2014: tried a Master of Teaching at University of Melbourne immediately after getting my MSc but I didn’t enjoy it.
    Jan 2015: accepted an entry-level data science role with The Brand Agency, Melbourne in Marketing/Advertising.
    Mar 2016: moved into a senior-level data science role with CHE Proximity, Melbourne in Marketing/Advertising.
    May 2017: about to move into a lead data science role with 7-Eleven Australia in customer analytics.
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia?
    1. Work-life balance. 2. Didn’t get my PhD (submitted as a MSc thesis) because I developed major depression and ran out of time.
  • What is the job title for your current position?
    Lead Data Analyst
  • What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
    7-Eleven Australia
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Melbourne, Australia
  • What is your social background? Are there any identifiers that you think are particularly relevant?
    Privileged, middle-class white guy
  • What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
    Sailing, photography, music
  • List your favorites. Band (or singer/composer/etc.), recent film, current TV series, food, color, pet.
    Beethoven, Arrival, Black Mirror, Thai, red, my pet cat Comet
  • What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
    I miss all the smart people and the camaraderie among the grad students. I do not miss the pressure to meet research milestone deadlines or the pressure to publish.
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    34
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    Statistics, coding, mathematical modelling, public speaking, skeptical world view
  • What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
    There are many high-paying jobs available in data science. The market is unable to meet demand and it is fairly easy to find a 100K+ job upon graduation.
  • What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
    I did a few Coursera courses to learn R
  • What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
    LinkedIn, SEEK, Indeed, Glass Door, Melbourne Data Science Meetup Group. Sign up for daily job emails. Pimp out your LinkedIn profile, it is your number 1 personal marketing tool. Meet as many recruiters as possible – I have received interviews at companies that I wouldn’t have gotten by applying directly.
  • Describe a typical day at work.
    I start the day with a coffee and a chat with co-workers. Next I check and reply to emails – I usually spend about an hour answering emails in the morning and sporadically throughout the day. I usually have 1 to 2 hours of meetings with clients and co-workers throughout the day. The rest of the time is spent doing project work and planning. Typical project tasks include coding, solving technical problems, researching, making data visualisations, writing documents and presentations. Occasionally I will attend an industry event/talk after work.
  • How many hours do you work in a week?
    I left my last role because I was typically doing 60 hours per week. A good job should be 40 hours per week but I expect to occasionally do long hours when approaching a deadline.
  • What is your salary?
    150000
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    Happy
  • What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
    I’ve always enjoyed coding and dreaming up technical solutions to problems. I like reading outside of my narrow field of astrophysics, synthesising ideas from fields such as statistics, machine learning, and economics with my own knowledge to solve novel business problems. I also enjoy the mentoring aspect of the role. I dislike time constraints and deadlines – this is something that has not disappeared since my time as an astrophysicist.
  • What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most?
    My last workplace had a really awesome cafe-style meeting area with 2 authentic espresso machines and it was a dog-friendly office. I dislike that my new job is situated in the suburbs. My previous jobs had city offices and there was always something interesting to do/see on lunch breaks and after work.
  • What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
    There’s plenty of opportunity to be creative so long as you are prepared to take the initiative. There are many creative solutions that you can pioneer in data science as opposed to academia where many of the techniques have become standardised. To implement your own creative vision on a new project you to think more like a business person to be able to sell your ideas in terms of the monetary benefit provided – key transferrable skill here would be research proposal writing.
  • How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
    I left my last role due to dissatisfaction with my work-life balance. Based on my research and the questions I asked during my job interview, I expect the work-life balance to be much better in my new role.
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    My last role wasn’t very family friendly – the hours were long and inflexible. This wasn’t a huge issue for me because I didn’t have a child when I was working there, however, it has become more important recently as I am expecting my first child in September. I expect my new role at 7-Eleven will be much more family-friendly based on my research and questions asked during the interview process.
  • What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
    Don’t accept poor work-life balance. It’s a seller’s market in the Data Science labour market so you can afford to be choosy amongst employers.
  • Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
    I keep in touch with my astronomy friends via social media. Sometimes I have specific technical questions I like to ask them.
  • Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects?
    I was in a bad emotional place toward the end of my postgraduate studies and right after submission. I realised that I placed all my self-worth on getting a PhD and this resulted in me developing major depression and ultimately not getting a PhD. Getting a job as a data scientist actually made me feel like a worthwhile human again because I was doing something interesting and well-paid that I didn’t place all my self-worth into.

James Murray (PhD, 199x)

  • What field do you currently work in?
    Finance
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received?
    PhD
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics?
    adjunct researcher
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree?
    three postdocs then tenured position.. then untenured position then finance
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia?
    A change of scene…. improved pay!
  • What is the job title for your current position?
    manager
  • What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
    NAB
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Melbourne, Australia
  • What is your social background? Are there any identifiers that you think are particularly relevant?
    none
  • What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
    Run Mount Burnett Observatory
  • List your favorites. Band (or singer/composer/etc.), recent film, current TV series, food, color, pet.
    Parks & Recreation
  • What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
    The freedom to explore what you wanted. On the other hand the freedom brought a terror of failure with it
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    35
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    Independent thinking and the ability to break down a mathematical problem into component parts
  • What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
    Advisors should be more open minded about careers outside academia and advise students to develop their soft skills
  • What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
    none
  • What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
    networking through colleagues
  • Describe a typical day at work.
    1/3 maths, 1/3 people management and 1/3 meetings
  • How many hours do you work in a week?
    40
  • What is your salary?
    nan
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    high
  • What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
    Working with a diverse team in a challenging environment. The down side is lack of job security
  • What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most?
    I love the friendships and collegiality of my team
  • What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
    I am a mathematical modeller so the opportunity is always there
  • How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
    I work from home one day a week
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    Very
  • What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
    Don’t wait…
  • Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
    Very much so
  • Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects?
    Yes I still love astronomy and occasionally miss the research

Madhura Killedar (PhD, 201x)

  • What field do you currently work in?
    statistical support for medical research
  • What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received?
    PhD
  • What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics?
    postdoc
  • What has been your career path since you completed your degree?
    2 postdocs in astronomy, 1 job in computational modelling (public health), beginning new job in statistical support for medical research
  • What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia?
    dissatisfaction with project work opportunities and lack of collaboration
  • What is the job title for your current position?
    Research Engineer
  • What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
    Sydney Health Data Coalition (University of Sydney)
  • What city and country do you live in and/or work in?
    Sydney, Australia
  • What is your social background? Are there any identifiers that you think are particularly relevant?
    Australian upper-middle class woman
  • What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
    Rock climbing, singing.
  • List your favorites. Band (or singer/composer/etc.), recent film, current TV series, food, color, pet.
    listen to all genres of music; currently watching Master of None; will eat any amount of pasta offered; dog person
  • What’s something you greatly miss about grad school? What about something you definitely don’t miss?
    I miss discussions about academic and non-academic matters with colleagues and office-mates. I don’t miss the constant pressure and feelings of guilt about time spent working.
  • If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
    29
  • What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
    computer programming, statistics, public speaking, report writing, management
  • What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
    Advisors should speak with genuine respect of non-academic professions; allow students to consider matters other than their professional success when making decisions; teach them to understand their own worth.
  • What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications of your current position?
    on the job training only. Reading up on new field, learnt to use collaborative tools/software.
  • What job hunting or networking resources or other advice/resources did you use to land your current position?
    Made public that I was looking for work, and spoke to other colleagues who had also left the field.
  • Describe a typical day at work.
    Skyping with colleagues regarding task-planning, coding & debugging & testing, writing documentation, creating visualisations and presentations for stakeholders
  • How many hours do you work in a week?
    45-50
  • What is your salary?
    90-100K AUD (70-80K USD)
  • What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
    Previous job: OK
  • What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
    Previous job: I enjoyed the teamwork involved in the project-work. The least enjoyable aspect was negotiating deadlines with management.
  • What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most?
    See above
  • What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
    Can suggest new approaches to a task, and opportunities for management, but there are external constraints from stakeholders
  • How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
    Only recently started this job, previous job had better day-to-day balance, but there were several requests to be available at odd hours for meetings with overseas stakeholders.
  • How family-friendly is your current position?
    see above
  • What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
    Everything outside work also deserves some priority.
  • Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
    Yes, but as a hobby, research done in my spare time paid for by me.
  • Were there any emotional difficulties or social consequences to your career choices? Do you have any advice for those who are thinking of switching careers, but are wary of the side effects?
    You may miss your research field and colleagues (our professional life was a big part of our social life too), but there’s plenty of interesting and challenging work outside astronomy – make sure you’re engaged with whatever you do, know your skills, and be valued by your colleagues!
    https://truthbeautypictureofyou.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/10-steps-to-quitting-astro/