Astronomer to Data Scientist

by Laura Trouille on January 2, 2013

Jessica Kirkpatrick recently made the transition from astrophysics researcher to data scientist for a tech company (Microsoft). Her insightful post provides suggestions for people in academia / research who are interested in pursuing a tech job.

Astronomer to Data ScientistWomen in Astronomy

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 August Muench January 2, 2013 at 11:07 am

This is awesome btw. Concise, clear, and pure awesome.


2 Kyle Willett January 2, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Agreed – thanks v. much for posting this, Jess. Would be very interested to hear more about the day-to-day of a data scientist in the future.


3 Stephan Peters January 3, 2013 at 3:37 am

Thanks for the post! Like Kyle, I’d love to hear what you do as a data scientist.


4 David January 3, 2013 at 9:00 am

Really useful post! It would be interesting to hear from anyone who has thought about/made the transition back into academia and research having left for industry as well, should any such people be out there…..


5 Jessica Kirkpatrick January 3, 2013 at 11:20 am

Kyle, Stephan,
I plan on writing a follow up post on Women in Astronomy about the pros/cons of academia versus tech (in my experience). I’ll make sure it is cross posted to astrobetter. Glad you found the post helpful.



6 joequant January 29, 2013 at 2:17 am

Really good advice.

One thing that was particularly important is the difference between a resume and a CV. They are *very* different because the industrial search process is very, very different from an academic search. A CV is your autobiography. A resume is a thirty second commercial or two minute movie trailer. It’s important when writing a resume to *not* think of it as your autobiography, because it makes it psychologically more difficult to throw out stuff that you care about but the employer doesn’t. If you think of it as a 30 second (or even 10 second) commercial, that puts you in the right frame of mind.

One trick in getting a good resume is to take your resume and look at it for ten seconds. If it doesn’t make an impression on you in ten seconds, it’s a bad resume. What happens in resume reading is that you have someone (usually a non-technical person) go through a stack of 100 or so resume, and they want to get ten or so that would be useful to invite in.

One other piece of advice in resume. Never talk about your personality or your work habits. If you are a nice person, that’s not going to come across in your resume. That’s going to come across in the interview, and people will decide on whether to get you an interview based on specific skills.

Also, try to avoid saying anything that anyone can say. I know C++ is something anyone can say. I’ve programmed C++ system X with Y lines of code that was used on project Z, isn’t. Also one trick that I’ve found that works in jobs that specifically look for Ph.D.’s is to write a paragraph in technical language. This will go completely over the head of the person reading the resume which is a good thing, if they are looking for Ph.D.’s.

One other important thing about a resume is that a good resume will quickly get you rejected for jobs that you have no hope of getting. If someone takes one look at your resume and immediately rejects you for a job you weren’t going to get anyway, that’s *good*.


7 joequant January 29, 2013 at 2:35 am

I know of a few people that went physics -> finance -> academia. The odd thing is that when they go back to academia, then usually end up with a faculty position in the finance and business schools.

I’ve been thinking myself on how to end up back in academia, and the conclusion that I’ve come up with is that the basic “rules of the game” have to change for this to happen. The essential problem is that there aren’t enough spots for fresh Ph.D.’s to get academic positions, so making it easy for people to cross to industry and back will make the oversupply problem much worse since you’ve just increased by a factor of five, the number of people that are fighting over spots. So the system sets up rules (i.e. “publish or perish”) that make it intentionally difficult to move back and forth.

So in order for me to get back to astronomy, I have to change the entire economic and social structure of how science is done. Not that that’s a bad thing….

Something that I’ve been toying with is the idea of a “National Science Reserve”. It would be similar to the Army Reserve only with scientists.


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