Thursday, October 17, 2013

Career Profiles: Astronomer to Electrical Engineer

The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and the AAS Employment Committee have compiled dozens of interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those paths.

Below is our interview with Andre Wong, an astronomer turned electrical engineer at Teledyne. If you have questions, suggestions, advice to share, etc. about this career path, please leave a comment below.

For access to all our Career Profile Project interviews, please visit http://aas.org/jobs/career-profiles. We plan to post a new career profile to this blog every first and third Thursday of the month.


What field do you currently work in?
Industry. Electrical Engineering.

What is the job title for your current position?
ASIC Design Engineer (Electrical Engineer)

What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
Teledyne Imaging Sensors

What city, state, and country do you live in? Work in?
Camarillo, CA, USA

What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received?
Masters

What is/was your ultimate/final academic position in astronomy/physics?
Masters student.

What has been your career path since you completed your degree?
After completing my masters degree in 2010, I immediately started a job at my current employer (Teledyne Imaging Sensors) as a test engineer. In 2012 I made the transistion to performing more electrical engineering oriented duties as a ASIC Design Engineer at Teledyne. For several years prior to graduate school, I also worked as a data analyst at Gemini Observatory in Hilo, Hawaii.

What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia?
I left academia because I wanted the flexibility of a non-academic job and did not want to worry about needing to find postdoc after postdoc, tenure, or funding sources. Another important factor was my desire to have an even more "hands on laboratory" type job than I believed I would eventually have in academia.

If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
I finished my Masters degree at age 25 and left for industry at that time.

What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
Since Teledyne produces infrared detectors, my experience in graduate school operating and handling infrared detectors and electronics was experience which became directly applicable for my current job. During graduate school, I also took several semiconductor physics classes, which has helped immensely in understanding the physics behind IR CMOS detectors. My experience programming in multiple languages and image analysis also proved to be very valuable experience. Most importantly the ability to learn new concepts quickly has been the most useful in my job (as with most jobs).

Describe a typical day at work.
A typical day at work depends on what project I am working on. Recently, I have been spending most of my day developing assembly code to operate one of our detectors for a satellite mission and interfacing with that customer. Other projects may involve spending time in the lab operating and developing test equipment for the infrared detectors manufactured by my company, analyzing and presenting data, developing data analysis software, writing reports, interacting with subcontractors, interacting with customers, providing on-site support for observatories, writing documentation, doing CMOS layout, and developing manufacturing procedures.

Describe job hunting and networking resources you used and any other advice/resources.
I looked for companies with ties to astronomy as well as the major aerospace engineering firms since my research background was in IR detectors -- and Teledyne is known in astronomy for their infrared detectors. My advisor also provided a list of companies he had worked with in the past. Students should either identify exactly what they want to do or what applicable skills they have and search for companies that match those skills.

What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
Advisors should encourage the development of skills that are applicable both inside and outside the field of astronomy. They should also take the time to introduce students to options outside the field and bring in cross disciplinary speakers. They should also encourage elective courses outside the field of astronomy during grad school.

How many hours do you work in a week?
45-55 hours

How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
Satisfied. I feel it takes a lot of time and focus to be successful but I am also fortunate that I can still take time to from work to enjoy my own life.

How family-friendly is your current position?
Moderately family friendly. I feel like my job lets me take whatever personal time I need without pressure.

What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
Take personal time when you need. My feeling is most companies don't have a issue as long as you are completing your projects and there are no imminent deadlines or major meetings. Don't let the pressure to volunteer for every project all the time overwhelm the need for personal time and time with family. It is important to work with your manager, program leads, and colleagues so they are aware of your personal schedule and can schedule deadlines, meetings, and work loads appropriately.

Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?
Yes. Since some of the products manufactured by my company are for the field of astronomy, a lot of the customers I interact with are astronomers or associated intimately with the field. Recently I have been traveling to telescope sites to assist with integration of camera systems.

There is a worry among those considering careers outside of astronomy or academia that you can't "go back" and/or that you feel that you betrayed advisors, friends, colleagues. Have you felt this way?
My answer is yes and no. I don't feel like I can't go back into academia if I chose to at some point, but I also feel as if I betrayed my advisor since time, effort, and money was spent training me to be a astronomer during graduate school.

What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
I enjoy rock climbing, cooking, running, photography, hiking, reading, and trying out new restaurants. I also spend some time volunteering with a science outreach organization working with elementary students.

Can we include your email address for people who may want to contact you directly about your specific career route?
Yes, Me[at]andrefwong.com

Additional thoughts, comments, resources:
I am happy to talk to anyone about this career path.

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