What do rock climbing, book clubs, and sci fi have in common? The answer is they all help an astrophysicist with job hunting. Read on for why and how!

Back on May 1st, 6 months ago, I decided to transition to a pure freelancer lifestyle. At the time, Stephanie P. asked "How do you transition from research to writing within NASA?" My answer was "I think I need to see what luck I get hunting, before I can speak with any credence on 'how to transition'!?!". And indeed, freelancing @NASA is still a nut to crack. Their culture doesn't encourage outside contribution as much as I think it needs to.

But as far as freelancing in space science sans NASA, ah, that is do-able. The answer is networking. You must first accept the primary fact of job hunting-- the only way to get a job is by knowing about it before it goes public. That means knowing people, and the two ways to meet people are through casual contact (networking) and through schmoozing.

Schmoozing is when you talk to people who can possibly help you, do you a favor. You schmooze with people in power, people hiring, people who know people who hire. You talk with them because you hope you can get something. Schmoozing is a perfectly valid job hunting technique, but I want to make clear-- it's not networking. Networking is not goal oriented. Networking doesn't have the patron/supplicant power structure schmoozing has, but presumes a relatively equal footing. Schmoozing is an attack, while networking is a lifestyle.

The point of networking is to build a collection of interesting friends, acquaintances, and general all-around neat people, for its own sake. The network itself is fun to build and maintain. It's its own reward. As a benefit, when opportunities appear, you learn of them. And in turn, you share them back to your group. Casually, without an agenda. You build a network just through living, and in turn, your network provides you with unexpected benefits from unusual quarters.

I got my first science freelancing gig, some years ago, because of a lapsed monthly bookclub. A bookclub friend had heard I was on the market, and gave me a contact address for an editor looking for my sort of writing. Although he was also an editor, he wasn't offering me work, but giving me a connection for someone else to decide whether to give me work. He just stepped up and offered. Didn't have to, but that's the kind of character he is-- friendly and giving.

I have current web programming gig #1 because of a game-writer friend on Facebook. He posted that he knew someone who was looking for a programmer. He wasn't hiring, he just knew someone who was. He didn't have to mention it, but he's the sort who likes putting things out that might help others.

I have current science writing gig #2 from rock climbing. I'd help set up a Meetup.com group for local climbing, because climbing is a two-person activity. One climbs, the other belays, then you switch. So if you're solo, you need to team up with someone. Me being me, I decided to set up a regular weekly Meetup so everyone in my boat-- solo climbers-- didn't have to worry about finding a belay partner. And we started to get 2, 3, 4, 8 of us meeting regularly.

After about four weeks of indoor gym rock climbing with one particular fellow, we finally got around to asking each other about what our day jobs were. And it turns out he knew about upcoming science work that he thought I'd be suited to. Certainly not why we had met, but just an interesting 'coincidence'.

Earth Treks Columbia gymClimbing your way to success!

Networks are about encouraging such coincidences. The more connections you have, of all sorts, the more supposedly accidental intersections you'll find. A fellow astrophysicist gave me tips on fantasy writing markets when I had a story I was trying to place. A musical engineer gave me satellite funding leads. Heck, I met my wife because I'd agreed to pick up 24 Hour Science Fiction Movie Marathon tickets for a group of friends-of-a-friend, and she was that group's point of contact.

I wasn't hitting these folks up for jobs, leads, dates. The opportunities arose instead from casual conversation. As a network, the crux people-- the people who gave me the leads-- were simply connecting colleague A (me) with colleague B (someone who needed help.) And all three participants gain value. The person looking for work, finds it. The person looking for a worker, finds one. And the network connection, the person in the middle, gets the satisfaction of helping both sides-- with little effort spent.

So what's the secret of freelancing? Be a whole person. The more people you meet and like, the more you are connected with society, and thus the more you can achieve.

Do I regret my decision to go freelance, 6 months ago? To answer that, I'll close with a quote from a favorite movie. "My work's on the right track and I'm confident. It's been hard sometimes, but I love this town."

Alex, the Daytime Astronomer

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