Astronomy vs. Data Science

by Jess K on February 4, 2013

In response to my last post about the transition from Astronomer to Data Scientist many readers wanted to know the pros and cons of academia versus tech.  In the below post I outline a few of the major differences between these career paths.  Obviously, there is a lot of variety in individual companies, institutions, and experiences — so please understand that the below is simply my (somewhat biased) perspective.

Women in Astronomy – Astronomy vs. Data Science

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Priya Desai February 9, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Hi Jessica,
I am really inspired by your story- as I am in the process of moving away from Astronomy into Data Science. How do you/did you explain your transition, change of plans?
I dont have a PhD but have been in Astronomy research for 12 years; have a couple of papers, have worked on Chandra and SDO, and have been the PI of a grant.
A large part of why I want to make this move is because:

1>Funding situation is very precarious.
2> I want to be involved in some of the new stuff that is still young and evolving.
would love yo hear your comments

Reply

2 Jess K February 11, 2013 at 12:01 pm

Priya,
Explain my transition, change of plans to whom? My new employers, my astronomy colleagues?

During interviews I often was asked why I was making the transition. I said that I was tried of working on problems that less than 1% of the world cared about or could even understand. I wanted to use my analytical and problem solving skills to work on something that would help people and improve the life of humans. I really love the product that I work on, and so I was able to discuss my particular interest in social networking and passion for working in that domain.

I was also tired of the long timelines on my cosmology projects. I felt that I would spend a couple months doing the fun, exciting part (where I would do novel work and get an interesting result), and then spend the next 1-2 years iterating ad nauseam trying and convince myself and my collaborators that the result was real and significant. I hated that part, and wanted to work on projects where it was good enough to just get something to work, and I didn’t need a five-sigma result.

In terms of explaining the transition to my colleagues, I didn’t find that it was questioned very much. I usually said that I didn’t want to move away from my family, or that I had a two body problem, and that was enough of an explanation.

I hope you also saw my other post about recommendations on how to transition from Astronomy to Data Science. I really suggest you apply for the Insight Data Science Fellowship as that will be very useful in helping you with the transition. I’m happy to talk to you more one-on-one if you have questions.

Jessica

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3 Priya Desai February 11, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Hi Jessica,
Yes I did read your posts and actually was really excited when I saw another woman astronomer who had successfully made the transition!
And I meant explain your transition to your employers! To try and learn the industry vocabulary, I am doing a certification in Data Mining(from UCSD) and taking a bunch of Coursera classes to get conversant in R.
I would love to meet with you and pick your brains on how you did it!
I’ll be happy to come to SF and meet you for coffee or lunch.
Thanks so much!
Priya

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