Are Non-Academic Jobs Worthy of the Rumor Mill?

by Kelle on January 25, 2010

There’s been lots of shenanigans on the Astrophysics Job Rumor Mill recently. The comments on the revisions are beginning to sound like an existentialist debate. The curfuffle of the moment is whether or not there should be a section for non-academic jobs; the section has been appearing, disappearing, and modified all evening. After attending (parts of) the panel discussion on Employment in Astronomy: Present and Future [PDF] at the AAS in DC (organized by Anil Seth), I think this issue is worthy of more attention. The take home message I got from that session was that there will always be overproduction of both grad students and postdocs and we just need to accept it and learn how to deal with it. So, without further ado, I give you AstroBetter’s first poll (please excuse the non-pretty-ness). And, of course, let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.

Do you think there should be a Non-Academic section on the Astrophysics Job Rumor Mill?

  • Yes (59%, 155 Votes)
  • No (29%, 76 Votes)
  • Don't Care (12%, 32 Votes)

Total Voters: 263

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Emily January 25, 2010 at 11:58 pm
2 BLQ January 26, 2010 at 12:56 am

Speaking as a former astronomer with a decidedly non-academic job, I have to ask what form such a list is supposed to take. McKinsey, e.g., will probably hire an astronomer or two this year, but since that’s true every year, and no one who reads the rumor mill is in any position to comment on who’s under consideration, what good does it do anyone?

Let the astronomers have their space. There are plenty of more appropriate sites out there for refugees from the academy.


3 ryan January 26, 2010 at 12:59 am

I think there is a definite need for an online resource of job openings that seek astronomers/ science Ph.D.s outside of academia, It would also be nice to see who is leaving the field. At the same time, the rumor mill doesn’t serve these purposes. I see the main purposes of the mill as follows (for better or worse): 1) advertising postdoc/faculty positions 2) allow people to see the progress of these searches, and at the same time speed up the process by allowing candidates to see what positions are taken/open and where they are in line for a position 3) self-promotion / advertise the success of a few candidates.

I’m guessing that 200 recent Ph.Ds aren’t applying for the exact same non-academic position, with numbers 2, 3 and 4 on the wait list waiting to see what number 1 will do. I agree, however, that it would be awesome to see the success of those who find jobs outside astronomy, and useful to know what type of jobs they are getting.


4 Marshall January 26, 2010 at 4:02 am

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by how strongly people’s feelings are on the anti side, but sheesh. It’s not as though extra bytes on a wiki are a non-renewable resource in limited supply.


5 R January 26, 2010 at 4:07 am

Obviously the owner of the wiki doesn’t want the non-astro jobs on the wiki, as he seens to think the focus of the wiki is astro-jobs (and thus not the for ex-astronomers taking a job at boeing or blackwater). And I agree with him. If you feel otherwise it is very easy to start your own wiki somewhere else and link to it from the astrorumor wiki. I.e. you could start an astronomer person based wiki: Names on the left and their job options on the right.


6 Sarah January 26, 2010 at 4:08 am

I’m in favour generally – but “non-academic” is still very broad. Jobs at ESO/ESA/NASA in software development, instrumentation, maybe even outreach and education: yes, put them on. Some of these jobs get put on the wiki already. But “Sarah’s gone to Goldman Sachs”? No, it’s not the place for that.


7 Ben January 26, 2010 at 4:54 am

I think the rumor mill activity right now reflects the panic that afflicts the postdoc job market every year before it settles out in late February, and that getting worked up over what happens on the rumor mill, or making decisions / accusations / whatever while in panic mode, is not a good idea. Some recent waves of activity have been off-putting (especially complaints/commentary about who got what job) and whoever does that may need to grow up a little. Have patience.

If the main purpose of the rumor mill is to let applicants know that an advertised position has been shortlisted or filled, then it doesn’t make much sense to put non-academic jobs on there, since relatively few astronomers are competing head-to-head for the same non-academic jobs, and they haven’t been advertised in the same venue.

If the purpose of the rumor mill is to let people know where you’ll be next year (academic or not), then go ahead and list yourself.

If a person takes a non-academic job they could list themselves if they want, but be very careful about listing third parties: someone might not want themselves listed, and it could be abused. (And company employment also does not necessarily become public info, while university employment typically does.)


8 Anonymous January 26, 2010 at 8:47 am

The question is not whether non-academic jobs are ‘worthy’ of the Rumor Mill, it is whether such rumors should be posted on the existing Rumor Mill, by anyone who wishes to do so. As currently phrased, I suspect that the poll wrongly induces a strong positive bias.

Are non-academic jobs ‘worthy’? Of course!

Should rumors about people taking non-academic jobs be posted on the astro job Rumor Mill? Is it the Rumor Mill’s purpose to advertise these jobs? There many arguments, some outlined above, suggesting no.

Other resources, including, are much better suited to provide resources for candidates seeking jobs outside academia.

Let’s change this poll’s wording right now, before we are misled any further.


9 Anil January 26, 2010 at 10:07 am

I definitely think having non-academic jobs listed on the rumor mill is useful. About half of people who are finishing their astronomy PhD will not find a job within the field (including non-academic astronomy jobs). Having people list where they are going serves many purposes:
1) It provides a resource for people to see what types of jobs astronomers find outside the field.
2) It provides a graphic illustration that not everyone will find jobs within the field, and may help reduce the stigma of leaving the field (which seems to be the source of the complaints against posting non-academic jobs).
3) It gives a lower limit on the number of people who are leaving the field, something which we really don’t have good numbers on right now.

People use the rumor mill for many purposes. This seems like a very useful new way in which it could be used.


10 Brian January 26, 2010 at 3:16 pm

I myself was going to post when the AAAS Science Policy Fellowship interviews were announced just so people would be aware they exist (for future applications). I don’t see a problem at all with posting highly relevant fellowships in science (but not academic) that some of us are applying for.


11 Kelle January 26, 2010 at 7:59 pm

wow, this looks like a useful resource that I never knew existed! Non-academic astronomers who describe their current job and career path:
(via Erin Ryan)


12 anonymous January 26, 2010 at 8:41 pm

i think that non-academic jobs should be posted. so that some people see what other opportunities lie out there. maybe they didn’t even know that was an option. and i mean if we start opening up more options, we might not lose some students in their early career stages.


13 Arti January 26, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Wow, I’m glad to see some discussion on this issue (and in so many varied forums)!

I sympathize with the sentiment that it would be good to have a forum for providing information about non-research jobs (and job searches), but I don’t think the Rumor Mill is the place for that. I think it’s important to make a distinction between non-academic and non-research positions. Strictly speaking the Rumor Mill does include positions outside of academia (e.g. observatories, astrophysics positions at national labs).

What seems to be the issue is that many people are looking for (or turning to) alternative career paths that are not in research astronomy. And the desire to include those careers on the Rumor Wiki is driven by 1) not wanting these people to simply “drop out” of the astronomy community and 2) wanting a forum for other people to know about the opportunities available to astronomers. Both of these are great things, but they would both be served terribly by the Wiki…and expanding the purpose of the Wiki to include them would render it much less useful.

I agree that an alternative forum is the way to go. I tried to get one started last year, but my efforts sort of fizzled out (partially b/c I did not receive a lot of interested feedback, and partially b/c I got busy). I’m in a pretty different place now, but happy to be involved in trying again.


14 Erin January 26, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Thanks Kelle, I wondered if anyone noticed when I posted that on facebook.

That said. . . . I do think the astro rumor wiki does need more of the mission support/staffing jobs listed and those where people punt to SSI, PSI or one of the various contracting companies if they need a place to run the soft money.

I think if anyone at the AAS was listening, this should be one of the topics the professional development committee should tackle: how to educate people about other jobs that are out there. Obviously the alternative careers website is not so easy to find, so maybe we need something with a bit more visibility and maybe something a little less passive.

The AAS however might have a harder time with the topic of last week’s snarking on the rumor mill, that seemed to be many things crashing together all at once.


15 Anita Krishnamurthi January 29, 2010 at 10:01 am

I led the development of the current version of the Non-Academic Astronomer’s network when I was on the AAS Employment Committee. It grew somewhat organically from the previous version developed by Kevin Marvel, the Industrial Astronomer’s Network, which focused on those who went into the aerospace industry. I agree its woefully underexposed (and not quite as participatory as we would have liked despite efforts to get more people signed up on it).

We do need a forum to see the variety of places where people get hired 3-5 years after their PhD and where/how they move around. Hard to know if this should be the Rumor Mill or the non-academic network or an entirely new forum. Its difficult to gather the data when we rely on voluntary input (and we lose track of people who leave the field entirely!). Some university departments maintain lists of where their students are – so maybe we can start to draw from those more systematically (and encourage more of them to maintain such lists).


16 Michael Muno January 30, 2010 at 4:49 pm

The Non-Academic networking site on AAS is a great idea! I didn’t find it when I was looking for a job, and it would have been helpful. I’ve submitted my information for the page, as a former astronomer.

I do think there needs to be more of a forum for astronomers (and physicists) to learn about opportunities outside academia. The people who I worked with in astronomy didn’t really have much insight; they just said, “I’m sure you’ll find a faculty job.” One idea is to interview friends who left the field and post the results to a blog, as this blogger did. I was thinking of doing this with my blog, but my ambition outstrips my energy. . .


17 Michael Muno January 30, 2010 at 6:32 pm

OK, so here’s why the AAS site isn’t active: their e-mail address is dead. Oh, well.


18 Michael Muno February 6, 2010 at 8:39 am

I contacted the AAS non-academic network administrator, and he re-started the e-mail address. So, it is useful again!


19 Jessica February 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Perhaps there should be a link to this site from the rumor mill?


20 Kelle February 10, 2010 at 10:32 am

Jessica, I haven’t been paying attention recently, but there was an attempt to keep a link up to this post on the rumor mill but it was unsuccessful.

btw, i’ve stubbed out some wiki pages on this topic:
Job Hunting Links
Possible Career Paths


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