Monday, January 26, 2009

Climbing the Astronomy Career Ladder

Looking out from the academic ladder
Image Credit: Pew Research Center
For young astronomers, this is a nerve-wracking time of year. It's job season, the time of year when those of us who want or need a new position apply and interview for jobs to start next fall. Graduate students who are about to finish their PhDs are looking for postdoctoral research positions, and postdocs like myself are looking for university faculty (professor) positions. There are some alternatives, such as working at a national lab, a research center, or in the private sector (the links are just examples, not the only choices), but most people try and climb the traditional career ladder of graduate student to postdoc to faculty.

Due to the poor economy, this year is turning out to be a very tough year for those of us who want to find faculty positions. With a lot of states suffering from large budget deficits and a lot of endowments (donated money that has been invested, with the profits used to fund the school) having lost a large fraction of their values, many schools cannot afford to hire new faculty right now. Many other schools are worried that if they hire someone, budget cuts next year might lead to a need for pay cuts or layoffs, and so they are not hiring either. In short, there are fewer faculty jobs than normal being offered, and several jobs that were advertised have since been withdrawn.

For those of us hoping to get faculty jobs, the smaller number of them makes this year's hunt all the more nerve-wracking. And since many of the people in the faculty job market are my age, I know a lot of them. I don't imagine myself in competition with my friends and colleagues; I hope we all get good faculty jobs. But there are far more people on the market than there are faculty positions, which means that there will be some good astronomers who either have to wait or have to move to the private sector. And that is why many of us are nervously hanging on every rumor and nuance that comes down the pike.

P.S. If you look at the sun with a telescope like the observer in the cartoon above is, you'll never get a faculty job in astronomy. You'll also be lucky if you can still see anything.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:06 PM

    glad i'm not in the market this year. unfortunately, the poor economy of this year will make next year's battle for jobs quite competitive! not looking forward to that....