An open letter to employers

Let us tell you why Astronomers are a great hire!

The dreaded time has come again, when you have to sift through a thick stack of resumes in the hopes of finding a worthy employee for your business. Suddenly my resume catches your eye: I am an astronomer! But wait, why should you hire me in your line of work, which might not be relevant to astronomy?

Look at this resume. However many talents I profess to have, you can safely assume I have more. Something you should know about astronomers is that we take many of our skills for granted. I might not mention in my resume that I can easily tackle Microsoft Office, Open Office and any basic plotting program. These days I create all my articles, presentations, posters or lectures using LateX. I am used to doing my own typesetting and I can write well-structured texts. Actually, I have already written a small book - my thesis! Sure, I used Microsoft Excel for calculations and plotting during my studies, and still use it from time to time. But I can just as easily use Mathematica, or Matlab, and very often I write my own Fortran, IDL, Python or C++ programs even for small calculations. It's just handier.

As an astronomer I am quite familiar with statistics, and handling large data sets is embedded in my daily routine. I might have learned the techniques of data mining in order to gain some insight into the multitude of observational data I am handling, and I am also very efficient in plotting these data in a way that makes their significance clear to my audience.

It is possible that I have spent a lot of my time observing my favorite celestial objects with some earth-based or space borne telescope, a job that is combined with developing code, data reduction and sometimes the development of new instruments and detectors for various ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum. Thus I might have extensive technical and laboratory experience, on top of my other skills.

If I was involved with large simulations in the past then I have a whole armory of visualization tools at my disposal. And I can pick from a wide range of advanced plotting programs to create my two- and three-dimensional figures. I might even be able to create my own graphics, because, let's face it, everybody likes a pretty picture. And I might be as good as a commercial programmer, since I spent most of my day developing and debugging large codes and solving all my programming problems without calling the IT department.

Furthermore, I am used to routinely presenting my results to diverse and international audiences. I have given talks and seminars in conferences and scientific institutes all around the world. I might have even explained my highly technical work and my scientific results to non-experts, something that has given me the confidence that I would do good in an outreach job. Now that I think of it, I do this in every family gathering and high school reunion, when people ask me about science, astronomy and the universe.

I have often written research proposals, either to get observing time with some telescope, or to ensure funding for my scientific projects. In those proposals I had to be very convincing about the value of the proposed subject in promoting science and the human knowledge in general. Thus I have learned how to advertise myself and my activities and convince people of the usefulness of my research. I have also learned to work efficiently under pressure - those proposals were written under a looming deadline!

In the conferences I went to, I tried to promote my work to scientists from all over the world, thus honing my marketing skills. I did my best to meet new people and create a network of colleagues with some of whom I formed international collaborations. I might have been a member of a large international team or collaboration, where I had to communicate and coordinate between people from different countries and backgrounds.

Therefore, I feel right at home among people of different nationalities, and I am fluent in more than one language. English has almost become the language I think in, if I'm not a native speaker, since most of my professional interactions happen in that language. And I have moved around a bit. I have probably lived in at least one foreign country for a couple of years, where I had to learn the local language and adapt to the social environment. As a result I am very flexible and open to different cultures.

I can be independent in my work, and many of the things I know I have taught to myself, through extensive research and trial-and-error. But of course I can also work in teams, since I have always been a part of a scientific group. In these groups I was not afraid to ask for help from the senior, experienced members. I also helped and mentored the younger members, sharing my insights with them and helping them develop their skills. I have almost definitely taught a class or supervised a laboratory course in a university. As a result of my interaction with both less and more experienced people in my field, I am not afraid to admit my own mistakes and gain from them. Actually, the process of learning never stops for me. I am always open to new input, and to developing new skills.

On top on that, I have honed my critical thinking almost to a fault. I don't normally believe something just because I heard or read it somewhere, but I thoroughly research my sources. You can count on me to give you reliable and well-researched information.

Finally, the thing I can do best, irrelevant of whether I worked with data, simulation, astrophysical theory or all of the above, is that I can take a large problem, break it down in manageable bits and then devise and implement a solution to each part. I am an expert in analysis and model development, and I can do both logical and creative thinking.

So, in case of doubt, hire an astronomer! You will not regret it!

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An open letter to employers by Ioanna Arka is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.