Here is a great feature on Eileen Chollet who has a PhD in astronomy but left academia due to poor work options as a working mother. She now works as a researcher in Defence. While she relies heavily on her academic skills, particularly statistics, she also finds that her education gave her with highly marketable skills in public speaking and “social skills.” She taught while she was carrying out her PhD, and these public communication skills have served her well.
Eileen’s discussion of the difficulties she faced in academia struck a chord with me. She found that her skills were more valued outside the academy as competition for postdocs is fierce, and the hours and pay for junior academics make this career path difficult.
Eileen’s story also illustrates the sociology of work literature. Barbara Pocock’s research on work-life balance in Australia shows that many young parents struggle to meet the demands of professional careers, which often demand that family life and leisure time are encroached by work demands. Eileen says:
“I decided to leave academia because of my family. Given the terrible job market, I was likely to have to take at least one more postdoc before finding a permanent position. I was already 28 years old and experiencing fertility issues, so we needed to start seriously focusing on having children. Additionally, my husband wanted to stay home with the kids, and I couldn’t afford that on a postdoc salary. I did look for permanent jobs in astronomy, but my branch of astronomy (solar radiation physics) was a natural fit for the defense industry, so I began looking there in addition to the astronomy community. Ultimately, I received a good offer from my current employer, where the work is not astronomy related.”