Thursday, July 24, 2014

Career Profiles: Astronomer to Financial Analyst

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 financial analyst. S/he went straight to finance after obtaining her/his Ph.D. Location, salary, and work environment were important factors in his/her decision to leave astronomy. 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?


What is the job title for your current position?

Research and Production

What is the name of your company/organization/institution?

Small hedge fund

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

Berkeley, CA

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


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

Graduate student. 

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

At this job since I obtained my Ph.D. in 2008.

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

Location, salary, and work environment.

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


What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?

Independence, computer modeling/simulations

What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications?


Describe a typical day at work.

Most of the day is spent making sure realtime (automated) trading goes smoothly and writing programs to achieve high-speed data processing.

Describe job hunting and networking resources you used and any other advice/resources.

Internet search.

What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?

Try to figure out what you want to do as early as possible.  It wouldn't hurt for advisors to be more candid than typical with their students about their career prospects.

How many hours do you work in a week?

40-45 hours. Almost no work is done at home. 

What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?

Very satisfied. The work is challenging and interesting.  I enjoy working with my colleagues, who are very smart people and usually I don't think about work/deadlines after I leave my office every day.

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?

Most enjoyable:    - Challenging work  - Open/friendly culture  - Work/life balance    

Least enjoyable:    - Not astronomy

What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?

I get fair amount of freedom in choosing what I would work on next.  Taking initiative is encouraged and rewarded.

How family-friendly is your current position?

Very family friendly. 

What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?

If possible, find a job that doesn't involve bringing work home and where the hours are not crazy.

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.  I think I cannot "go back" to academia.  There are many reasons for this:
  1. I would be considered along side someone who just got his/her Ph.D., and not as someone who received his/her Ph.D. almost 6 years ago.
  2. The salary would be considerably smaller than my current salary.
  3. From talking to my friends who are still in academia, the work-life balance would shift a lot more toward "work", and I like my current amount of work-life balance.
  4. I might be required to move periodically in academia, which I am not too happy to do now.  Things were different 5 years ago, and moving wasn't a big problem then.

I don't feel that I betrayed my advisors, friends, and colleagues.  I still have good relations with all of them, and I know they are happier for me knowing that I made the right choice for my career.

What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?

- Photography  - Tennis  - Hiking/biking  - Programming  - Chess

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