Thursday, September 26, 2013

Career Profiles: Astronomer to Consultant

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 Joseph Pesce, an astronomer turned consultant. 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 Thursday.

What field do you currently work in?
Consulting and Education.

What is the job title for your current position?

What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
Omnis, Inc.

What city, state, and country do you live in? Work in?
McLean, VA USA

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

What is/was your ultimate/final academic position in astronomy/physics?
Tenure Track Faculty

What has been your career path since you completed your degree?
1) Held a number of postdoc and research faculty positions
2) Joined the US Government as an analyst
3) Held non-tenure- track professorial position at a 4-year/research University
4) Founded and run my own consulting and training/education business

What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia?
Location and opportunity to found the business 

If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
32, 39 

What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
Managing large-scale research projects, objectivity, attention to detail, a strong research background, collaboration skills, and an interdisciplinary approach/mentality.

Describe a typical day at work.
Keeping track of existing projects; planning for and managing new near-term projects; business development and interaction with clients; strategizing for long-term growth.

Describe job hunting and networking resources you used and any other advice/resources.
I was approached with an opportunity to start my business. This is rather unusual. For the budding entrepreneur, however, I would say to be open to opportunities and be willing to take risks. Starting and running a business is hard, but rewarding. EXTREME patience is the key!

What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
Build a solid background in research and your field. In physics and astronomy, this pretty much opens a lot of doors outside of the traditional career path. Be as objective as possible in everything you do. Understand how to communicate your skills to others not from your field.

How many hours do you work in a week?
85-90 hours. 40-50 in the office, the rest at home

What is your salary?
For PHDs, expect: $75 000 - $110 000 (if leaving after a few postdocs).

MS-level is $50 000 - $75 000 immediately after school.

If starting/running a business, there is no one answer -it depends on the business model. But be aware it can entail periods (some times extended ones) with no salary.

What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
Most enjoyable: setting schedule and goals and working towards them; doing and learning something new every day.

Least enjoyable: the pace of developing new business, getting client to see benefits (that may be obvious to all but them).

What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most?
Like: I can set the pace and the philosophical approach. Dislike: Nothing

What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
A large number of opportunities to be creative. And taking initiative is in the job description

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

How family-friendly is your current position?
Moderately family friendly. I can set my own schedule, more or less.

What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
Just make sure you do it. Working hard is good, but be disciplined enough to do both.

Do you still interact with people who work (directly) in astronomy and/or are you still involved in astronomy in some way?

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?
Yes. If you can maintain some level of research activity, that would be best (assuming you want to keep ties). It is hard, though. A connection to a local university (even to teach a course a year) is useful. I very much enjoy what I do, but I wanted to be an astronomer since I was 5, and there is a certain amount of grieving that is done with a career change (that doesn't really go away).

What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
Read; collect art and antiquarian books; gardening

Can we include your email address for people who may want to contact you directly about your specific career route?
For AAS members: visit to obtain Joseph Pesce's contact information. 


Unknown said...

It isn't in general very helpful to ask someone, in essence, "How hard are you working?", if the response is going to be public. This applies to blogs but also panel discussions. Whether you are starting your own business, rising through the faculty ranks, or even a well-established senior scientist, it is natural to want to convey the impression that you are working hard. And, in general, we are! But please let's not put folks on the spot by asking them to go on record with their number of work hours. Surveys where the responses are anonymous demonstrate that our work weeks are much more reasonable.

cara said...

That's a good point David, but I would counter that, I work a 40 hour work week and truly can leave my work at the office, and am darn proud of it. I work efficiently and effectively during the work day, and try my best to let it go when I'm home.

My circumstance as a patent examiner is admittedly different than most, since the more work you do examining patents, the more promotions they give you, and thus the more work you are expected to get done, but...