Current Job Title - Postdoctoral Researcher
Name of Organization - Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy
Undergraduate Degree - B.A. Physics from Hastings College
Graduate Degree - Ph.D. Physics from University of Denver
What does your current position entail?
My work focuses on high resolution observations of stars and stellar environments using a technique called optical interferometry. To study these topics I frequently write research proposals that are submitted to observatories around the world. If observing time is granted, I often have to be on-site when the observations are conducted. Of my five years at DU, I spent a total of nine months at an observatory. One month of this time was spent exclusively at Georgia State University's Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy on Mount Wilson in California. My current job in Germany may take me to Chile to use the Very Large Telescope Interferometer on Mount Paranal.
When not writing research proposals or observing, I am working on preparing my work for publication. My work is heavily computational, so most of my time is spent working at a computer writing code and debugging.
How did you get your current position?
I noticed the job on the American Astronomical Society Job Register page and applied.
In relation to graduation, when did you start the job search and when did you secure your position?
I started the job search approximately six months before graduation. Five months before I graduated I applied for this position. Within 24 hours I had an offer. I accepted the position about four months before I graduated.
In regards to the job search process, did anything surprise you?
The quick response time was quite surprising. Later, upon talking with my boss, he indicated it was because of my work I did at DU. In particular, my publication in the premier scientific journal, Nature.
What recommendations do you have for current students?
First, attend conferences and start networking. Often you will hear about potential job opportunities from friends and colleagues before they are formally made public. Second, focus on your research and try to publish several times during your graduate career. If you wish to get a job in academia, the "industry standard" appears to be at least one first author paper per year and several co-author publications. Finally, realize that it is very difficult to get a job in astrophysics at a university. Recent statistics from the AAS implies that only one of four Ph.D. Graduates in astronomy and astrophysics will find a job in academia. If this is what you want, you must be at the top of your field. Also realize that this means ¾ of graduates find jobs elsewhere, frequently in industry and education.
Which aspects of your background have been most helpful in your current position?
Having minored in computer science and mathematics in undergraduate, my formal background in computer science and programming techniques lets me spend more time doing science, and less time fiddling with code.
If you were in your graduate program again, what would you do differently, if anything?
I would spend more time reading literature and textbooks to broaden my background even further.
Any additional comments for current students?
There are several large survey programs scheduled to debut in the next decade that will produce terabytes of data each night. A formal background in computer science, statistics, and data mining techniques will put you in a great position to capitalize on these data resources for the first few years in your career.