In a move that may seem shocking to some, and painfully overdue to others, I've took my first step away from the standard astronomy Ph.D. track by accepting a position as an Internet Application Developer at Business Logic Corporation in late 1997. I continued on the non-traditional path a year ago by leaving BLC for an Application Analyst position at Leo Burnett (I don't write the ads, I just make it easier for the ad writers to do their jobs).
My disillusionment with academic astronomy has been growing for some time. The oversupply of Ph.D. astronomers and undersupply of federal grant money has made doing research a far lower priority than publishing quick (not necessarily accurate or interesting) results and writing grant after grant. Since astronomers are loath to leave the field, very good people end up embittered, with lousy jobs and no time to have a life outside of their work. The alternative is to not be able to find an adequate (more than one year) job altogether, which has happened to some of my friends from grad school who deserve better.
While these astronomical facts of life were being hammered home to me, I could also read newspaper and magazine articles about the explosive growth of the Net, and the lack of technically trained people to use all the potential of the Net and the Web. I found it ludicrous to stay in an area where I was yet other bitter postdoc anxiously hoping for any permanent position when my skills were in high demand elsewhere.
Sure, I'd like to stay in astronomy, but not as it is now. I value my whole life, not just that part doing research; and astronomy would require me to toss aside the non-astronomical interests in my life (plus any astronomical interests that would get in the way of my getting ever more grants and publications). I'd like my work to be valued; and in astronomy, I'm yet another damned postdoc ready to grovel for the crappiest job in academia.
It hurts that I won't be able to call myself an astronomer for much longer, and that people won't be as impressed with my job title as they are now. It is frightening to think that I am writing off this career that I've spent 15 years developing (no way to get gracefully back in astronomy with the deficit of jobs that exist today!). However, it is incredibly liberating to ignore the soul-deadening belief that either you're an astronomer or you're a failure doomed to slave away at a fast-food restaurant (or you're a money-hungry person who doesn't appreciate the freedom of academia).
There is a life after astronomy, and it looks great to me!
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