Thursday, October 9, 2014

Career Profiles: Astronomer to Tenured Full Professor

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 Joan Schmelz, an astronomer turned faculty. 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 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?
Astronomy (academia)

What is the job title for your current position?
Professor, though currently in a one-year position at the National Science Foundation (NSF). 

What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
University of Memphis.
[This year I am in Arlington, VA working at the NSF.]

What city, state, and country do you live in? Work in?
Memphis, TN
[This year I work and live in Arlington, VA.]

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

What is/was your ultimate/final academic position in astronomy/physics?
Tenured Full Professor.

What has been your career path since you completed your degree?

  • PhD 
  • NASA beltway bandit employee 
  • Tenure-Track academic 
  • Tenured academic

What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
creative thinking, problem solving

Describe a typical day at work.
research, teaching, training & supervising research students, service

What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
think beyond academia . . . there are great non-academic jobs out there for astronomers and teaching is not for everyone

How many hours do you work in a week?
40-45 hours

What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied. I feel that I just hit my head on the glass ceiling.

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
Most: Making new discoveries; Least: teaching

What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most?
Like: my schedule gives me plenty of time to think about new solutions to existing problems and to think up new problems

How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?

How family-friendly is your current position?
Moderately family friendly.

What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
There are lots of different ways to achieve work-life balance. What works for others may not work for you. Do what works for you and your significant other.

Can we include your email address for people who may want to contact you directly about your specific career route?