How to get a job in Astronomy

I’ll be finishing my PhD soon and as this approaches, let me tell you this… STRESS. I should be focussing on writing up right now, NOT worrying about the stability of my future. But if you find yourself in a similar situation then hopefully this post can come in helpful.

When I first started my PhD, my supervisor warned me I probably couldn’t stay in academia. In general academia employs a fixed number of staff, so if you want to stay in academia, then you will be waiting on a faculty member to leave. My supervisor had over 50 students before he retired, this means that on average 1/50 PhD students would get a job in academia. What’s worse is that of the 15 faculty in my research group, 0 are women.

I recently attended a student research conference and it was really nice to see the lined up keynote ‘Post-doc jobs in Astronomy’ – it lied. The entire talk was focussed on how I will ‘never’ get a permanent job in Astronomy. According to the talk out of 120 PhDs, 60 will go on to have post-docs, and <10 will get permanent positions. People are now spending longer in post-docs so expect to spend 6+ years without a permanent position and moving jobs every few years, that is if you can get one. Longer post-docs mean that we are competing against more people with more experience.

So I am going to tell you the opposite. You will get a job in Astronomy if you want one, and I will help you make that decision, with the following guide:

Choice making time:

Academia

PROS:
– You survived and proved all those who doubted you wrong.
– You can work your way up to Professorship
– Flexible work hours
– Outreach is encouraged!

CONS:
– If you like research, then this one isn’t the choice for you. Academics do most of their research through their students. Most of their time will be spent on teaching and paperwork.
– It will take along time to work your way to your top, and you will spend a long time in contract before you get the permanent position
– You may have to relocate several times before you settle down.
– It may be difficult to buy a house without a credit rating with all the moving around

Routes:
Fellowships – These are highly competitive, usually the more prestigious ones will lead to permanent positions. Some are assigned to a specific institution but some allow you choose where you do the research. The great thing about fellowships is that you have the freedom to do the research you want to do, and are in charge of your money. The not so great thing is that the applications involve a lot of input and you need to be self-dependent. The fellowships that allow you to choose universe will usually also require you to first contact that University and you will need to rely on them to help you complete the application.

Examples: Marie curie, Astrofit2, STFC Rutherford, NASA Hubble, ESA, ESO, Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, Newton international, Leverhulme Early Career, Royal Society, Junior research fellowships at Universities such as Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial.

Research Associate – Positions advertised by individual university departments. These usually involve you working on specific research set out by your boss. These are advertised at each University approximately every 3 years when their consolidated grant round comes in.
These jobs are usually advertised on the AAS job register https://jobregister.aas.org

Research

PROS:
– No teaching
– Full time research
– Usually get to try out lots of areas of science
– Easier to climb to equivalent of Professor role
– Usually higher salary than post-docs

CONS:
– Won’t get Professorship
– 9-5 job
– You won’t be an expert in any one thing
– Many are located abroad where the research is collected

Examples:
Try the AAS job register, STFC, Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

Industry

PROS:
– Won’t need to relocate
– High salary
– Your work will probably be more applied
– Permanent position

CONS:
– 9-5 job
– May or may not be in your research area but will utilise the skills you picked up

Routes:
Finance
Computerscience
Consultancy
Aerospace

Other things to think about:
Relationships:
– Its difficult to stay in academia if you have a partner because you will be moving every few years. It will be even harder if you are both in academia…

Relocation:
– Will you be happy to start a life somewhere away from your friends and family?

Tips:
– Make sure your CV is optimised for your job. Don’t include too much public engagement activities unless outreach is part of the job description.
– Apply for as many things as you can, but only the ones you want. Usually this will take a month out of your life!
– Use your networking to your advantage. Contact people you know to ask if they know any jobs going? They will usually help you out.
– Ask your supervisor/collaborators to look over your research proposal, they can help you improve!

I will keep updating this as I think of more so please check back now and again. Hope this was useful.

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