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D. Varied Career Paths

Many, if not most, professional astronomers in the U.S. are employed in positions other than tenure-track positions at major research universities. Examples are employment at national or private observatories, NASA centers and contractors, science data centers, colleges that do not grant Ph.D.s, planetaria, industry, or in various roles in science or university management. The paths to these roles typically are not well understood, nor are the opportunities available to develop skills that are useful in these various types of positions.

Recommendations:

  1. Academic departments should encourage outside training in non-research fields, such as program/project management or science policy, in order to prepare their students for the possibility of future careers in managing a variety of scientific endeavors. This may include, for example, courses outside the academic department or department seminars given by people in various related careers.
  2. Educational institutions that are co-located with related industrial employers, research institutions, or observatories should establish specific programs that enable students to "cross-train" between the university and the other organizations. Likewise, informal and formal science discussions, mentoring groups, seminars and colloquia, etc. at these professional institutions should have an open door policy and encourage student participation.
  3. Mentoring programs such as that recommended in the section on "Career Advancement and Recognition" should include discussions and explorations of options outside the traditional faculty progression; astronomy departments should work with their university's career development centers, and with their own graduates, to provide information about these options to their undergraduate and graduate students.
Follow-up Suggestions for Implementation:
  • Create a network of former students/alumni that have followed non-academic career paths.
    - Schedule informal talks from this network of people with the graduate students, set-up a website or email listing, find ways for student to connect with this network, offer opportunities to ask questions, etc.
  • Offer colloquia on non-astronomy topics, and from non-academic astronomers.
  • Advertise that scientific conferences often have many attendees (and sponsors) from non-academic institutions.
  • Options exist in other fields, or even other countries; promote opportunities when they appear.
  • Be open to students that do not want to become academics - this is not failure on the part of the student nor the department!
Other Resources:
AAS Employment Committee
AAS Non-academic Career Network