Leaving Academia after my Phd in Astrophysics
November 9, 2008 11:38 PM   Subscribe

Wanting to leave academia after astrophysics PhD (oscillations in atmospheres of rotating starts, planets and discs). Need some feedback, tags, hints, keywords, that I should search in google and some suggestions of where my skills (look in the extended explanation) would be appreciated.

After searching the net, there are some jobs I can apply to but given my lack of experience in the industry I'm afraid I won't be able to get any job in few months (before starting to die of hunger).

So I'm gonna mention some of my skills and I would like just few words, hints, whatever, I can type on google and I can see if I may be good doing that in the industry, R&D, IT, NGOs, government, hospitals, you name it.

1.- You give me a differential equation (PDE) and I solve it numerically either using spectral methods (expanding the solution in set of polynomials), or finite differences.

2.- I Program in Fortran (i know, it is obsolete in the industry but my research group used to work on it), C (I used it during my undergrad and before my qualifying exam for everything I needed), perl, mathematica. I guess I am very confident about making any algorithm, so moving towards other program languages could be easy if needed and if employers give me a week or so to study on my own any other.

3.- Used computer clusters; I did basic proccesor2processor communication algorithms, I mainly used the clusters to use lots of processors at the same time thou,without letting them know each other.

4.- As any PhD graduate (I'm being humble :) )from the physical sciences I have strong analytic skills, very strong. I didn't work with statistics, but I can get into them in no time, I understand all the basics, and since I'm good with calculus and algebra and interpretation I think I can get into any statistician job.

5.- Following 4, I can give talks, and work in groups and by mylself.

6.- I know the very basic IT knowledge (although I always had problems remembering the technical terminology), like Linux, Windows (Office, webpage making, excel, etc), latex, hardware, and I can create nice 3d animations using different software.

7.- 3 publications in astrophysics (theory), + thesis, so I guess I can write.

8.- Bilingual (Spanish, English).

Well, that's pretty much it.

I would also want to know if I should apply to entry-level jobs to gain some experience and not to suffer the big crush of the transition. But I'm quite convinced that some of the techniques I was using may be appreciated in the R&D sector, like computational fluid dynamics (aerospace and car industries).

I am really sure to leave Academia, there is no go back, although my research turns out to be a very good contribution for science, I don't have the strength to keep pushing and relocate for a badly payed postdoc, that maybe be working as hard as anyone in the industry. I've been living in poverty since I left high-school and I'm tired of it (I'm 28). I don't feel like I need to be doing science to be happy, just I need to use my brain and I will be happy in any work (that pays reasonably well, but I am not as greedy in order to go to wallsteet and get crazy making money with no life).

And I am very flexible to go everywhere in the world for a job (I am currently in Canada).

So guys, please, where do I start searching.

Thank you very much.

p.d.: I am not willing to get more education (I did educate myself in many areas, my supervisor and colleagues helped very little, so I guess I gain too much confidence in my own learning skills), so no MBA, law or MScs for me, I need to do stuff. After my PhD, degrees means nothing to me (and I guess for employers they mean nothing too), I did it cause I used to love science, but as many others, I got burned, and I got pragmatic with time.
posted by gradstu1980 to Work & Money (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

They'll snap you up in jiffy.
posted by Lukenlogs at 11:41 PM on November 9, 2008

I'd poke around Microsoft Research to see if there's anything there that you think you could slot into. Not sure what their hiring situation is (ISTR a recent hiring freeze with the regular side of the house), but in general they're looking for smart people.
posted by troy at 11:45 PM on November 9, 2008

Finance - for a bank or a hedge fund.

Unfortunately the hiring market is down the tubes at the moment, but PhDs (especially those who know their way around a PDE) are always popular in the quantitative finance arena. You might also want to look at the market risk side of things; they'd probably be the only area hiring at the moment.
posted by The Shiny Thing at 12:46 AM on November 10, 2008

Pharma companies need people like you. They do a lot of analysis of trials and whatnot.

Hi tech firms are always looking for people who can do lots of applied maths and program.
posted by sien at 2:27 AM on November 10, 2008

Any navigation or avionics company will see "algorithm development" and poke around their inertial division to find a spare desk.
posted by jet_silver at 5:37 AM on November 10, 2008

Probably obvious, but there's lot of government research centres that would probably be interested. E.g. Sandia National Labs, JPL (in the US). When I was at CU, I knew several Physics students that worked at NCAR

At a higher level, check out the various US Departments, especially Energy. You might be able to find a listing of federal labs and then further investigation that ones that sound interesting.
posted by Nelsormensch at 6:43 AM on November 10, 2008

Do you want to leave academia, or do you want to leave research? These aren't the same thing, but seem somewhat conflated in parts of your question. Would you like to keep doing research, but avoid the grind of getting grant money? Go forth to government labs (this may be somewhat dependent on residency status, of course), or, far better, industrial labs. Or, as you and others have suggested, engineering stuff may be for you. Either industrial labs or engineering will be far, far more lucrative. Given your skill set, sounds like you'll have a lot of options.

One other thing... think about your 'soft' skills. The writing, the public speaking, overall project management, et cetera. Think about the skills you've gotten from teaching (if you've done any), such as setting criteria for objective evaluation of other people's work (aka grading). A lot of grad students, myself included, tend to devalue any of our skills that aren't directly related to the title of our thesis, but those skills are probably some of the most valuable ones you've got. They'll also make you seem much less 'inexperienced' in the eyes of industry. At least, this is what career counseling has told me as I prepare to jump ship myself...
posted by amelioration at 8:45 AM on November 10, 2008

Welcome to the rest of your life. My take: you're going to be a quant for a bank. You'll make a fortune but you'll work your arse off doing so.

There's other finance related things you should look at including actuarial work but you could do worse than register with a finance specialist recruitmen consultant.
posted by dmt at 12:14 PM on November 10, 2008

The Dept of Energy is a good idea. Like most federal agencies, you apply to them through USAJOBS.

I think the National Security Agency doesn't use USAJOBS, but they hire oodles of mathematicians. As far as I know they still recruit on large college campuses.
posted by neuron at 12:21 PM on November 10, 2008

If you can work in Canada (best if you are a citizen or can become one), various Federal departments have sciencey/engineerey jobs (Industry, Environment, various agencies)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:23 PM on November 10, 2008

My husband is in a very similar position to you (about to finish his PhD in astro, looking to probably move out of academia). His plan is to apply to consulting firms first, and if that doesn't pan out, look at Google (we live in the Silicon Valley anyway, though) and some postdocs just to make sure he has some manner of income after he finishes the thesis.

Because of the economy tanking and all, many companies are not hiring in the numbers they usually would. It's been discouraging, because the companies that actually are hiring know they can take their time since offers are so sporadic. It's probably worthwhile to apply to postdocs you know you have a good chance of getting, just in case?
posted by crinklebat at 10:22 PM on November 11, 2008

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