Thursday, June 5, 2014

Career Profiles: Astronomer to Tenure Track Faculty at a California Community College

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 an astronomer turned tenure track faculty at a California Community College. 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 of Astronomy.

What is the name of your company/organization/institution?
A California community college.

What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received?
Multiple masters = 1.4 PhDs

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

What has been your career path since you completed your degree?
Mostly educational with a few short term research jobs along the way. Got drawn into the financial world for some time as a sideline but got out what I saw what the "quants" were doing prior to the 2008 collapse.

If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?
I don't change careers so much as have a second one that changes so income is not a concern.

What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
Aside from knowing how to do research, very little. Learning enough astronomy content to be comfortable with it at any level. In my field the problem is that education research is still hobbled by science models of research that rarely apply, which is a tale for another time...

What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications?
Various forms of performance art over the years were very useful to me because presentation usually trumps content in the mind of the student. So I prefer to do both right.

Describe a typical day at work.
Running an astronomy program that includes a significant public outreach and student support section, communicating with the local/regional community (and media), class prep and editing content, developing curricula for multiple classes of different pedagogical pedigrees and directions. Career guidance, committee work both locally & regionally. Sometimes I take spectral data and do personal research in stellar spectroscopy and critical thinking for use in class.

Describe job hunting and networking resources you used and any other advice/resources.
Probably (it's been awhile) through the California Community College Registry job listings.

What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
Don't have a plan B as a backup for a traditional astronomy path. Have a plan B, C, D, E, F, etc... Advisors should also give some thought as to what those plans could be for that student.

How many hours do you work in a week?
50-55 hours, with 35 in office vs 20-25 at home.

What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
Very Satisfied.

What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
As many as I create or wish to start. Sometimes, there may even be support for some project I want to begin,

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

How family-friendly is your current position?
Moderately family friendly. Almost no maternity leave (1 day!!). Besides that, very flexible.

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?
No. When a MS in astronomy is referred to as a "terminal masters", I think the problem is with the people in academia, not the products of it. It would be a thick sod of an advisor indeed, who was unaware of how difficult it is to stay in the astronomy research field and wasn't sympathetic. So I hereby absolve all graduate students, past, present and future of such guilt forever.

What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
Travel, research history (sometimes the reason for travel), create comedy, hike & ski, write

and support the local economy by eating well.

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