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Monday, March 2, 2009

Possible Career Paths I

From the list of "demands" I had in the last post, it's probably unlikely that I will find a post-doc that meets all of my wants/needs. We will be moving to where DH finds a job - if he gets multiple offers (which is a distinct possibility, since he's received a few already) then we will decide which location is the best for both of us. We will take many things into account: the job he's offered, the city, the quality of life we would have (housing costs, educational systems, etc.) and what job opportunities there would be for me.

My plan right now is to completely keep my options open. If I can find a post-doc with a great PI doing something I really would like to work on, then I'll probably go for it. If something else strikes my fancy, then I'll do that instead.

So, with that, what would I do if I don't do a post-doc? Here is a list of possible careers in physics and/or astronomy that I could pursue with my current education (stay tuned for a post on other career paths):

1. Research Associate. I could see this suiting me very well because I'm not particularly strong in the original research game. I would be completely be fine with doing work for someone as long as it's something interesting.

2. College/university instructor. I absolutely love teaching. Enough said.

3. Outreach program coordinator. I have years of experience with this, and coupled with my mad organizational skilz, this might be the perfect thing for me. It might be something where I work in the science outreach department at a university or college, or maybe I could start my own program.

4. Researcher at an institute. This would include NASA for instance. Of course, I would probably lose out on the teaching aspect, but I'm sure there would be many opportunities to do outreach.

5. Museum/science centre curator. I recently met someone that does this in Big Canadian City and it sounds like it would be fascinating! Coming up with what should be put on display, designing exhibits, organizing events for children - it brings together all of my favorite things: outreach, design and astronomy!

One of the reasons I feel like I probably won't find a post-doc is the seemingly well-spread idea that going into academia means that one must "take what they can get" and not have expectations for a certain quality of life. Yes, I like my research, but I'm at a point in my life where I don't want to sacrifice everything for another 5-10 years just so I can maybe get a TT position. One piece of advice that my DH has received is to treat yourself like a commodity - you are in demand, so act like it. Otherwise, you'll end up working at a job or location you hate because you feel like you have to sacrifice everything for work experience.

A few months ago, I met a really interesting professor. Currently he's tenured at a really big USA university - but the 15 years(ish) between his PhD and that position he worked in industry! And not just astronomy related, but in computer science and other areas. Two things he said that really stuck with me were 1) don't just take what you can get - find a job that you enjoy and things will fall into place; and 2) taking shitty post-doc positions is not necessary to get a job in academia later on.

It was so nice, and eye opening, to meet someone that didn't take the typical path to TT, and that he was so honest and open about his experiences. I wish there were more people like him, and at the very least I'm going to try to emulate his attitude: that career isn't the most important thing in one's life, and if you find something you love to do, screw everyone else and their expectations ;)