What field do you currently work in? *
Academic Software Development and Data Science
What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received? *
What is/was your most recent academic position in astronomy/physics? *
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?
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?
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?
What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
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?
How family-friendly is your current position?
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.