Friday, October 19, 2007

Junior Faculty

We had a "family outing" this week to a discussion on how to go about getting that elusive faculty job. Little one was a hit and made her opinions (mostly babababa and gu-ahh) well known. She ate mashed carrots and peas while I got tips on how to write my teaching philosophy and the room debated what fraction of the audience you should aim to loose in the last 10 minutes of your interview seminar! I even risked breast feeding a little (discretely in the corner). The audience was young of course, since it was all postdoc and graduate students, but I was encouraged at how comfortable I felt with bringing my daughter. The decision to include her was helped by the session being advertised as "informal", and being scheduled late in the day when I had little other option anyway.

Still it was a bit discouraging that the number of people in the room was probably equal to, if not greater than the number of faculty openings we can expect this year in the whole of Astronomy....

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Job Prospects and Imposter Syndrome

My friend at the Visible Universe just posted this interesting article about a story on the problems of finding a job in Astronomy. Who knew anyone in the "real world" cared about the plight of newly trained Astronomers.

Lately I seem to find myself having a lot of lunchtime conversations about this very topic. I seem to flip-flop between two opinions. On the one hand I say to myself, studying Astronomy is cool - really cool - and relatively speaking (say compared to finding the cure for cancer, or helping starving children in Africa) fairly pointless. It has no real economic value, so it really shouldn't be a surprise that finding a job is hard - it's sort of like trying to be a full time artist, or actor, or professional sports-player. Some people can be very successful, but their paths are naturally littered by those who failed on the way. But then I say... hang on! I've spent the last 10 years of my life training to be an Astronomer. I calculated at the start of graduate school that someone was investing 1/4 million dollars in me getting my PhD alone...! I've used telescopes that cost 10s of thousands of dollars a night to run - and I've had many nights on those telescopes. Surely it would be a huge waste to the field if I just disappear from Astronomy. I'm pretty sure that I'm good at this or at least just as good as others (see below for more comments), and I've seen friends who I *know* are good at Astronomy leave the field. So why do I feel that (generally speaking - with a few notable and mainly female exceptions) no-one really cares if young Astronomers are able to get permanent jobs...? It seems like a big waste of time and effort for the field,a nd can't be healthy in the long run...

Another interesting blog I recently came across is Mother of all Scientists. Earlier this month ScienceMama posted some really thought provoking comments there about Imposter Syndrome (the feeling that you don't really deserve to be where you are - that your successes are the result of a string of lucky accidents). A lot of those comments really hit home for me. I remember justifying getting into my fancy undergrad college by saying "they need to up their numbers of women in Physics" (my BA is in Physics), and I still feel a bit like my thesis committee went easy on my by passing my PhD. I can't even say "I'm good at Astronomy", without adding a qualifier (see above). I talked the other day with another young female Astronomer who by outside standards is doing much better than me. She has a fancy postdoc fellowship in a sub-field of Astronomy that everyone is excited about - she was even interviewed last job season for faculty jobs at R1 universities. But she too is worried that she'll never find a "proper" job and that she doesn't belong! Why do we do this to ourselves.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Proposals and biting

I was interupted at work today 1 hour from the deadline for an important proposal to find out that little one was bitten at daycare! Probably old news to experienced parents, but a new one for me (my daughter is 7 months). Kind of put the proposal in perspective, but since little one was pretty much fine and had gone to sleep I finished it up before going to "rescue" her. Indeed she has bite marks on her arm. And a lesson to me - I can't leave anything to the last minute anymore.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Why Blog?

I'm an Astronomer (or at least I think I am) and a new Mum. Can this be done at the same time...? Well yes, I know of a lot of examples. Can I do it...? I'm not so sure... So I thought I would start a blog to keep a record of how things go this year with my new baby at the same time as I'm on the job market.

I was talking with a friend this weekend about how so many Moms in science have blogs. She was commenting how much of their blogs seems to be about not having enough time to do everything - so then the natural question comes up -- why blog?

For me, I don't want to be a statistic. If I'm going to be part of the leaky pipeline in science because of having had a baby as a postdoc then I want that recorded, and maybe my experience will help others. If I do manage some kind of balance, then I'd like that recorded too.