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.