An undergraduate asks the big question…
LV, an undergraduate, recently posted the following question in the undergrad forum:
Hello everyone! I’m currently an undergraduate who would like to pursue a career in planetary sciences. I was wondering if anyone could provide me with some information about the career in terms of job outlook, salary, projections etc. I cannot seem to find any information on the internet. After you receive a PhD, is it easy to find a job? Are there many jobs available? What “types” of jobs can you find in the planetary sciences and what are their pros/cons? For example, working for a university vs working for NASA, etc. What are the disadvantages to finishing with a Masters as opposed to a PhD. Is it a good career for a woman? And any other information you would like to share! In terms of subject matter, I know planetary sciences would be a great fit because it is my passion. But I don’t know enough about the career to be able to explain to my parents why it could also be a “smart” career decision. They seem to have the idea that there are only about 5 jobs out there and you would be making pennies! Haha. I wish I had something to tell them, but I really am having trouble finding concrete information so any help would be appreciated!
This is a BIG question, but it really is THE question, isn’t it? LV, there is a treasure trove of interviews with successful women in planetary science linked from the top of this blog that I hope can help you get an idea of the kinds of jobs where planetary scientists work — there’s quite a diversity, including universities, federal laboratories, NASA Centers, non-profit research institutes, teaching colleges, and careers in industry.
If you’re looking for statistics, you might want to dig into these studies from the AIP, the NSF, and others; if they don’t separate out planetary science, look at the statistics for physics, earth science, and geology – planetary scientists typically fall into one of those categories, although some would self-classify in chemistry or biology.
And of course there’s a lot to be said for learning by doing. You just missed the deadline for NASA summer internships, but it may not be too late to apply for NSF’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates at colleges and universities across the country. You can also go talk to a professor at your own college or university and ask if there is an opportunity to work on research with him or her this summer … you never know until you ask!
Readers, what about the other questions that LV poses? What can you tell her and other undergraduates who visit this site?