Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Discovering Your True Space Career Path No Matter Your Background

“You need to be an engineering major to apply for an internship at NASA.”

“You shouldn’t go to grad school because there are too many grad students and not enough jobs for them.”

“You need to go to grad school to become a scientist.”

“You may not think you want to become a professor, but you’ll change your mind.”

“You should drop out of your PhD program and get an MBA instead.”

“You don’t want to be a scientist. You just like the idea of becoming a scientist. You don’t belong here.”

“You don’t have enough experience to start your own consulting company.”

“Why don’t you quit building your own company and return to academia?”

This is some of the bad advice I got over the course of my career in the space sector. I’m sure you’ve gotten bad advice along your way, too. Discouraging advice. Wrong advice for your situation. People who assume they know your goals better than you do. People who only know their own corner of the world and just aren’t aware of the possibilities out there that might be a better fit for you.

Throughout my career as a high school and university student and early career professional, the big questions I kept returning to were, “What’s it really like to do __ job? How do I pursue __ job? Am I on the right track?”

I began mentoring students when I was in graduate school, answering their questions and guiding them as best I could. Over the years, I became more frustrated that I could only spend a short amount of time with each student. A quick conversation or two wasn’t enough to really dive deep into the lives, goals, and struggled of these individuals.

I hired a career coach when I felt stuck in my first full-time job. I felt like a caged bird yearning to soar freely. I knew I was capable of more than my employer was allowing me to do. Although my coach didn’t know anything about the space sector, she helped guide me along me path to becoming a manager in a space startup in my next job.

Curiously, there were no career coaches specializing in the space sector. I could have really used a coach to help me through such a specialized and misunderstood sector! A year into starting my space consulting company, I added space career coaching as a service as a way to give back to the community. A couple of other space-related coaching services have popped up since then, a sign of a growing space sector.

Surprisingly, in the three years I’ve been coaching individuals along their space careers, I’ve learned the greatest demand for my services has been not from students but from established professionals in other industries who want to switch to a career in space. Whether they always wanted to work in space or their interest is a more recent development, these professionals are seeking guidance on how to break into the field. The majority of my coaching clients have been mid-level professionals wanting to pursue their dreams.

I’m so excited to share a project I’ve been working on in the background for the past seven months: two online, self-paced space careers courses. One is tailored for university students and recent graduates and one is tailored for mid-level professionals. In these 50-some page workbooks and 90+ minute videos, I share much of the experience, advice, and questions I’ve worked through with my space career coaching clients. I also ask the individual to work through a number of exercises to focus on introspection, do some research, and take actions to move their space career pursuits forward.

In this blog series, I’ll be sharing some general advice for pursuing a space career. I’ll go over some basics of identifying the type of job you truly want, searching for potential employers and jobs, networking (online!), messaging, and more.

The main message I want to leave you with today: space is for everyone. Are you an aerospace engineer? Great! Are you a scientist? Great! Do you have a technical background? Great! Do you not have any technical background at all? Great! Space is still for you.

The space sector is truly interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary. It touches on so many industries and fields of study. People of all backgrounds and skills are needed.

It would be impossible for me to list all of the fields one could study in university in order to pursue a space career. Take a look at your university’s degree offerings. Do you see all those majors? Every one of them could apply to space. Don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t pursue a space career because you don’t have a certain degree or background.

Similarly, you do not need a certain skill set to work in the space sector. Love math? Great! Math isn’t your thing? That’s fine too! If everyone had the same skills, important jobs would not be able to be accomplished and the space sector would be weak from the lack of different perspectives and abilities.

As recently as two weeks ago, I had to push back on a science communicator who recommended everyone pursuing a space career should learn computer programming. I was also given this advice when I was an undergraduate astrophysics major. Computer programming is a great skill to learn! It’s also not at all essential. If you love it, great. If you’re like me and run far away from coding, that’s fine too. Honestly, if I had allowed myself to obtain a job that required programming, I’d be miserable and I wouldn’t have the space career I have today. Be true to yourself. Ignore even well-meaning advice that doesn’t feel true to you and your goals.

Return tomorrow for part 2 in which I dive into some specific advice covered in the Astralytical space career courses!

This is part 1 of a four-part series. Click here for part 2.

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