What the fuck do I do now with a PhD In Astrophysics?

The fact is that as an astronomer/cosmologist/astrophysicist your main skills are nowadays not so special. You are by comparison with other professionals, let’s say, an “average computer geek“. So again, where in this competitive world can a Astrophysicist find its place?

Soon before ending my Ph. D. I realize that my dream of becoming a worldwide known researcher was a little overstretched. I also have seen through other people that staying in the University with no clear expectations was an ugly dead end. So I started to plan carefully what I wanted and plan how, and think about it… and.. well..

Lets be clear and screw formal ways. There are more posts if it does not suit you.

When I was finishing my Ph. D. I was scared to death and felt basically lost and defeated in life, yeah, in life. Everybody was telling me how wonderful it was and how proud I could feel, but I could at most feel relieved, not to have miserably failed (as I often saw as likely). So here I am, it is 2011 I am 29 years (old!!) and I ask myself constantly what do I do with my life as I never did when I was 15. What should you care about this? Oh! Poor guy, he was lost in life! Let’s cheer him with kitten videos! Is this really important? Is this a self-help post and somebody is going to sell me homeopathy? Well, what are you looking for?

If you read the post until this point you are somehow in a similar state of mind to the one I described. If not, you would not be reading a website about what to do with your life, when there are things like Facebook, on-line games and porn. Or actual people to do the real stuff.

Physics is thought by many as a very difficult and demanding study, only for the bright minds. I do not actually agree, but the point is, you have accomplished something, you have an University degree. If you wrote a Ph. D. Thesis, you may have overcome some difficulties. Hell, if it was easy for you, do not comment on it, unless you want to loose credibility (and I bet my dick I know smarter than you).

So!, you have a well considered degree, and a second language most likely. And except in very few cases, you studied Physics without a failsafe. It is not common that your uncle has a gyroscopes and time-machines shop… NOBODY studies Physics for the money and/or the chicks/guys. You went through everything nonetheless, ready for the new, learning to be critic, precise, thorough and most of all: fighting frustration. In Physics there is normally only room for one correct answer, but no solution book. And if there is already a solution, you are not going to like it. To sum up: people looking for employees appreciate this kind of features, believe it or not.

What can you do with a Ph. D., or with your Physics degree? Well, the truth like many times in Physics, is not what you expected, and you may not like it. Let me describe this complex problem with a simple model, made out of a Gedankenexperiment (if you know what I mean…). Imagine you are desperately looking for a sexual partner (you did Physics, so probably this is easy for you), and you are in a party (sexual partner=job; party=your current status). First case scenario: there almost nobody, and all are have either the wrong gender or an unsatisfying sexual orientation. Well, that’s how I felt back in 2011 (and I mean about the job search). Second case: there are three incredibly girls(boys) looking at you, falling instantly in love with you, but you know which one you like above all without doubt! Let’s face it, we build such high expectations the minute we ask ourselves: uhmmm…. O.K…. what do I want…? The truth, believe me, is however case number three: you are in a Summer Music Festival with thousands of people, hundreds of places, and dozens of music styles. And the problem is, how the hell are you going to get laid, if you barely have the opportunity to exchange a couple of words with a person and you get lost in the place continuously. (Never been to one: imagining the most crowded place you know would do) You like the music of place A, but your friends are at B far, far away… The V.I.P. Zone is cool but the music is not… You may be able to speak to the next person, but you do not really like him/her…

Where can you get into?
– Unfortunately into almost everything. Unless you have a clear idea already, (you went to the party knowing a „special“ friend was there), you will have to make assumptions, trials, and learn from errors (you know, the usual stuff).

That’s sounds hard and time consuming!
-Yeah, that’s how it is. However in one year I got two different jobs in two different branches. <Details aside> and also because I wanted.

How am I supposed to find the right one?
– Oh! Uh! FUCK OFF! Go to bed with your teddy bear or man up! When was this question ever solvable? Look within yourself my young Padawan! Or something…

This really sounds like some self-help salesmanship crap!
-And I will go on stressing the feeling by assuring you that only one of my physicists friends (I assure you that I have more than a dozen) has no job. He actually took the second most risky of four job offers he had and got screwed 3 weeks afterward. He is actually not (by the time I am writing) looking actively for a job.

I have not told you nothing new, or spectacular. Just what you kinda already know, (but wanted to avoid cause you did not like it!)

You may think that you came looking for the answer to a question, but I just changed the question… Well, I analyze the paradigm of an essential parameter in a problem, concluding that the paradigm was inaccurate, and that a better one should be put in place. I believe I did my part as I learned in Physics. I state the facts I empirically recollected, with the hope that they will give me enlightenment.

And you will do yours, if you act as you learned. You will find the solution, although it was not written anywhere, as you did before and you will do afterwards. Most likely not at your first try, certainly sooner than you think.

And now, if you want, you can prove me wrong: you just have to be forever unable to find a job you like.

Ah! To end up with: I currently work in Utimaco Safeware AG (Aachen, Germany) which belong to the Sophos Group. If you like software development in the realm of Cryptoservers, send an application. Now (11/2012) a Linux Senior Developer is wanted, but it is likely some open spots will be there now and then. Before, between June 2011 and September 2012, I worked as a Business Analyst in DETECON International GmbH at Bonn.

Emilio Pastor Mira.



  • Where should I send my CV?
    To everywhere you really like, if you are not suited they will tell you, let them decide. Per mail and try to have some template document but tweak every time so it looks like done in particular for an offer. I will however invest little time in head hunters and other companies that offer job occupation services. In my opinion there are a lot and not filtering them can be a waste of valuable time.
    By the way, writing a CV is an art, I invested in mine the equivalent of 10 working days or more and some money for the a professional photograph (in Germany is customary) and it was worth it.
  • Where can I find more information?
    In Internet, forums, you know… In Germany for Software Development and Engineering related job offers I recommend www.stepstone.de and www.cesar.de. Do your research. Ask around and do not be shy. By the way, social networking is suited for this.
  • Important qualities to get the job:
    I only have experience in Germany, so German helps a lot. Fluent English is a must if you want something good.But the most important thing however is that they must like you in the interview. You have to train yourself to be likable for two hours: smile, be extremely polite, you must be able to appear confident and quite relax, and learn to make your point and give your opinion without neglecting or criticize another points of view. And observe the corresponding dress code (Tie and suit for the university is as wrong as an old jersey for a company).
  • What is the typical salary level in the first 5 years?
    I get almost 50000 € before taxes the first year, and I hope to increase it.

2 thoughts on “What the fuck do I do now with a PhD In Astrophysics?”

  1. I see your point: stop crying about yourself and look for something you like, the world is yours! I like the idea too, however I have to add that sometimes people leaving academia feel confused by the sheer number of options.

    I guess this has to do with the isolation of the academic world from the outside world (at least in my field, cosmology). We spend so much time in our offices/ivory towers, having few interactions with “outsiders”, cushioned by our equations/codes/experiments, that we end up living outside the world most people experience. I know it sounds like a stereotype, but this is my experience.

    In my opinion, getting into the “real world” is equivalent to waking up from a long slumber.

    By the way, I am now finishing my PhD in cosmology and I am considering all options, so this website is very interesting to me. Thanks!


  2. Crying is fine. One of the things that people don’t talk about when they talk about the job search is are the emotional aspects of looking for work. It’s really an emotional roller coaster and learning to deal with the emotional parts of finding and keeping a job is part of your education.

    It’s bad enough to feel bad without feeling bad about feeling bad. You are human, whatever you feel is fine. If you want to cry, if you feel sorry for yourself, if you are angry, those are all fine. What matters in the end is taking whatever emotion you have and turning it into something productive.

    In my case, anger gets me out of bed in the morning. One trick that I learned was to express my anger in constructive and creative ways that look good in an interview. I smile. I tell self-depreciating jobs about myself. I spend a ton of effort rehearsing the interview. I’m angry but I try to be pleasantly angry, and I’ve learned quite a bit from comedians (like Chris Rock or Richard Pryor) that have made entire careers expressing anger. Also, I’ve learned quite a bit about expressing anger from listening to interviews with Tom Baker. I got into astrophysics as a result of the fourth Doctor, and one thing that I found out later in listening to interviews with Tom Baker was how he created that character from his life experiences.

    Also the corporate world is no more or less “real” than academia. It’s just like trying to go to a different country where people just act differently. Corporations can be as insular as academia.

    It actually helps me to think of being on a different planet. My career goal has always been to be a starship captain or to fly around the universe in a blue police box. That actually helps me deal with corporate politics, because I often just imagine that I’m in an episode of Star Trek or Doctor Who in which I’ve been beamed down to some distant planet where the natives just act weirdly. (Of course from their point of view, they are normal and I’m the space alien.)

    The planet Vulcan isn’t that much odder that “Planet Human Resources.” One thing about “Planet Corporation” or “Planet Academia” is that you have bureaucratic systems that depend on turning human beings into robots, and every now and then that conflicts with the fact that we aren’t.

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