Sunday, 5 June 2016

A Sunday Confession: I never wanted to be an astronomer

After an almost endless Sunday, winter has arrived with a thump in Sydney and it is wet, very, very wet. So, time for a quick post.

Last week, I spoke at an Early Career Event in the Yarra Valley, with myself and Rachel Webster from the University of Melbourne talking about the process of applying for jobs in academia. I felt it was a very productive couple of days, discussing a whole range of topics, from transition into industry and the two-body problem, and I received some very positive feedback on the material I presented. I even recruited a new mentee to work with. 

What I found interesting was the number of people who said they had decided to be a scientist or astronomer when they were a child, and were essentially following their dream to become a professor at a university one day. While I didn't really discuss this at the meeting, I have a confession, namely that I never wanted to be an astronomer. 

 This will possibly come as a surprise to some. What I am doing here as a university professor undertaking research in astronomy if it was never my life dream? 

I don't really remember having too many career ideas as a child. I was considering being a vet, or looking after dinosaur bones in a museum, but the thought of being astronomer was not on the list. I know I had an interest in science, and I read about science and astronomy, but I never had a telescope, never remembered the names of constellations, never wanted to be an astronomer myself.

I discovered, at about age 16, that I could do maths and physics, did OK in school, found myself in university, where I did better, and then ended up doing a PhD. I did my PhD at the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge, but went there because I really liked physics, and the thought of applying physics to the universe. With luck and chance, I found myself in postdoctoral positions and then a permanent position, and now a professor. 

And my passion is still understanding the workings of the universe through the laws of physics, and it's the part of my job I love (one aspect of the ECR meeting was discussing the issue that a lot of the academic job at a university is not research!). And I am pleased to find myself where I am, but I didn't set out along this path with any purpose or forethought. In fact, in the times I have thought about jumping ship and trying another a career, the notion of not being an astronomer anymore never bothered me. And I think it still doesn't. As long as the job is interesting, I think I'd be happy. 

So, there's my Sunday confession. I'm happy being a research astronomer trying to understand the universe, but it has never been a dream of mine. I think this has helped weather some of the trials facing researchers in the establishing a career. I never wanted to be an astronomer.

Oh, and I don't think much of Star Trek either.