I just posted a tweet storm from this week's 215th AAS Conference.  The specific session was a workshop on "Astronomy Employment: Past and Future".  The panelists were Beryl Benderly (Science Careers journalist), Rachel Ivie (AIP), Jim Ulvestad (NRAO), and Steve Beckwith (Univ. of CA), and their opinions were both frank and highly welcome at dispelling illusions about the ivory tower of academia.

This is the cold, hard reality of professional astronomy, presented from the inside.  Here are the quotes and tweets from the workshop.

"More people are beign qualified as scientists than can be employed" (B. Benderly) #aas215

issues for young scientists are not an aberration... developed over 60 yrs... inflexible because it is based on Federal law. #aas215

Current sci funding is 'very efficient, very economical, very flexible' (B. Benderly) #aas215

"the system had a basic flaw... the self-replicating profession" (B. Benderly) #aas215

# astronomy PhDs: NSF ~ 200, AIP says ~ 250 (aip.org/statistics)  R. Ivie #aas215

currently 200-250 PhDs/yr, 1700 Astro faculty jobs, typical faculty career=30 yrs -> 6000-7500 PhDs for 1700 jobs => 4:1 oversub (J. Ulvestad) #aas215

All "2:1" and "4:1" oversubs are based on e.g. AAS membership, so these may be low. R. Ivie and others, #aas215

"consolidation of national funding [is] into fewer, more expensive telescopes", 10x funding per but not 10x jobs.  (J. Ulvestad) #aas215

"Need to work with large datasets will be common across scientfic disciplines". (J. Ulvestad) #aas215

Agrees with 4:1 oversub for academic jobs, points out it's just 2:1 for academia+industry (S. Beckwith) #aas215

Want tenure?  Myth of baby boomer retiring opening jobs-- other stuff drives retirement rate.  #aas215

Contrast: research you want to do, vs research that will get you a job.  #aas215

To get astro job, look at what NRC says is important topics, not what is hiring right now (it'll saturate before you finish).  #aas215

"What really drives science isn't what scientists find important as much as what congressmen find important." (B. Benderly) #aas215

adjunct positions = 'disguised unemployment' (B. Benderly) #aas215

"Astronomy is a small field which isn't actually necessary to get through college." (S. Beckwith) #aas215

"Having your heart set on being an astronomer and ... on being a faculty member can be two separate things." (J. Ulvestad) #aas215

"Most grad students think they'll become faculty members [but] these people are scientists and the data doesn't show this." (B. Benderly) #aas215

on sci economics: "generating as much data as cheaply as possible so they can get tenure and more grants so they can keep the lab going." (B. Benderly) #aas215

BB: 'Astro. is more like artists or actors, it's part of the deal', DW rebuts: "actors and artists don't spend 12 years on school!" #aas215

Alex, the Daytime Astronomer

Tues and Fri here, via RSS feed, and twitter @skyday
Read about my own private space venture in The Satellite Diaries