Two pet peeves in astronomy

I am going to be a complainer today. Yes, it’s not all sunshine and roses in our profession (is it anywhere?). But I am in a grumpy mood today and just needed to vent about it. Blog post about Ringberg AGN meeting will have to wait. With that I give you my current two pet peeves about astronomers:

a) Potential employers don’t write rejection letters

In a typical application year of a postdoc, I have heard of people applying to 20-30 job positions (perhaps less if there are constraints like 2-body problems, etc.). A few of those will result in job interviews and I hope the candidate is good and lucky enough to get that position. But what I find really sad is that from half or more of these positions advertised out there, the candidate will hear nothing. That’s right, I don’t mean no feedback or anything like that, NOTHING. Sometimes, one can find out via the rumor mill, but not all positions are advertised there and it’s not up to date with all positions.

This is endemic and embarrassing to our field and frankly I don’t think there is ANY valid excuse to not do this. How difficult is it to write a form letter with the bottom 90% candidates in the bcc: field. “Dear Applicant: we are sorry to inform you that your application was unsuccessful. Thank you for your interest.” !??! Boom, that’s it. You don’t need a special secretary, you don’t need an explanation, but your candidate will be thankful (well, at least acknowledge) that he/she can cross that one off and move their hopes to the next application. It is really unprofessional to leave job-seekers waiting in the dark, when they are willing to move their whole life for your job.

On a related note, it is not necessary, but it would be great if there could be an acknowledge-letter that the application was received. I applied to a position where it was not entirely clear if one could apply via e-mail, I wrote 3 e-mails (one to the official address and two to the person designed to be in charge) and never received an answer. Only a few weeks later came a cryptic message that interviews were in the process of being scheduled for December – well, that leaves me guessing that they did get my application. I never received anything from them again – well, that leaves me guessing I am not on the shortlist. It’s a guessing game – this is a job where I would have to move my whole family to attend and it gets treated like some contest to win some knives over the internet.

b) Astronomers complaining about traveling too much

Successful astronomers travel. It can be for observing, conferences, invited seminars, scientific collaborations, etc. If you are really successful it might be to offer an opinion at a large panel or to coordinate administrative duties on a large project. In any case, even in the days of good telecon software, skype and remote observing, travel is often a necessity. What I don’t understand is how people know this, yet they complain about it. You know what you signed up for, it’s quite often in the job description, many people actually become astronomers because of it. Why are you complaining?

Is it to brag? Oh, look how many seminars I got invited to? That’s cool and I am actually happy for everybody’s success, but why wrap it within disdain. Is it too much for you? What would happen if you just declined invitations? If you got invited to 12 conferences in a year that’s great and all, but you don’t have to attend all of them and if you do, then I feel like you don’t have the right to complain about it. Strangely, I have found that the most successful or senior scientists that travel quite frequently don’t complain as much.

On that note, I would urge you to ask yourself if you really need to take that trip. I was on a white paper on the decadal survey on “Low Energy
Astrophysics“, trying to become greener astronomers. One of the main steps is trying to reduce your carbon footprint by traveling less to remote locations. Driving a Prius, changing your light-bulbs and having a water efficient shower-head at home is all great, but it’s a bit moot as soon as you start traveling overseas regularly. There’s a wiki for this initiative, which unfortunately has not gotten much updates lately.

One comment on “Two pet peeves in astronomy

  1. The very next time I read your site, I hope that the idea doesnt fail me around this one. What i’m saying is, I know it was my choice to read, however actually believed youd get something intriguing to say. All I pick up is a bunch of whining regarding something that you might fix should you werent also busy trying to find attention.

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