Thursday, April 30, 2020

Enter the Space Sector from Any Industry or Background - It's Never Too Late!

This is part 3 in a 4-part series. Click here for part 1 and here for part 2.

So many people dream of doing space-related work! Some are inspired by the stars as kids but don’t know how to accomplish that dream or never knew it was an option for them. Some pursue space-related studies in higher education but go off into other industries after they graduate. Some never really thought about space until later in their careers when they learn about the exciting work being done by SpaceX and others.

The majority of my space career coaching clients are mid-level professionals who fall under those three categories. Whether they’ve had a childhood love of space or have been inspired recently, they aren’t sure how to pursue a space career with their background and experience. Some have technical backgrounds. Some do not. Some have closely related backgrounds such as software engineering. Some have “non-traditional” backgrounds such as philosophy.

(Side note: one of my space mentors in my early career has a philosophy degree. People in the space sector come from all kinds of backgrounds. See part 1 of this blog series about space being multidisciplinary.)

One thing many of my professional coaching clients have in common is a lack of confidence. Many believe they cannot enter the space sector with their current skills and therefore must obtain another degree. Others believe they must only apply for entry-level jobs even though they have many years of experience in their previous line of work. Others wonder if they have what it takes to enter the space industry at all. Space has an unfortunate reputation of being an exclusive field for math-and-science geniuses (and while they do exist, this is not the majority of the space workforce, I assure you).

For some mid-level professionals who want to make a switch to a space career, additional education is a good idea. This is especially true in the sciences which have a more structured educational hierarchy and stricter educational requirements. One does not need a PhD to be a scientist, but it is close to impossible to obtain a professorship or become a principle investigator of a scientific mission without one.

In other cases, additional education can give professionals from a very different background the knowledge, skills, credentials, and confidence to pursue a completely different space-related background. Some of my clients choose to return to school at traditional universities or space-focused programs such as International Space University.

In other cases, citizens of one country who wish to move to another country with more space-related job opportunities choose to do so by first becoming a student in that country. Some of my clients have chosen to become students in the United States, Canada, and select European countries in order to better align themselves with the legal paperwork and the connections to continue working in that country after they graduate. More on international space jobs and opportunities in part 4 of this series.

Professionals with full-time jobs, family responsibilities, and/or financial contrasts may find it difficult to become a student again. The choice to pursue additional education is not an easy one. I never discourage anyone from pursuing additional education if they wish to, but a lot of the time, it’s not necessary.

Instead, I advise focusing on transferable skills. We all have them. If you strip down your experience and skills to their very basic form, they can apply to many jobs and industries.

An engineer in a non-space industry already possesses many of the skills needed to become an engineer in the space industry. A writer in a non-space industry can write and communicate in so many different ways within the space sector from technical writing to journalism to education & public outreach (EPO). Many of the space lawyers I know gained experience in other areas of law before switching over to space. I still don’t understand what an enterprise architect is (sorry Eric!), but my lack of knowledge didn’t prevent him from pursuing space-related businesses.

Try this exercise: briefly write the job description for your current work as you’d do for a resume. Now remove any industry-specific jargon so it can be read by a general audience of any background. Now remove any reference to your employer, your industry, or industry-specific programs or projects. Write your job description as if a reader could not guess at which industry you’re in. Just the basics: your basic skills, your basic duties, your basic accomplishments.

Once you strip your experience down to its basics, you can begin to fill it back up. Can you picture how you’d use those basic skills in a space-related job? Can you see how you could convince someone that even though you don’t have any direct experience working in the space sector, you have the basic skills to do so?

“Calibrated and tested instrumentation to obtain peak performance.” Could be applicable to a space job.

“Coordinated with multiple teams to create master plans and documentation.” Could be applicable to a space job.

“Created software to automate remote hardware.” Definitely applicable to a space job.

I don’t recommend actually describing your current work this way. This exercise is to help you consider how your skills can translate to a job within the space sector. Once you make these connections for yourself, it will be easier to describe these connections to others. And it may give you confidence to know you do belong in space no matter your background.

Going back to part 1 of this series, please remember the space sector needs all kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds. HR, finances, acquisitions, contracts, security, general council, communications, and art don’t sound very spacey, but they are very much needed.

It some situations, depending on willingness and ability, it can help to pursue space-related projects and activities outside of a full-time job or education. This could be a general or professional space-related club or society. This could be space-related online forums and websites. This could be blogging and informal science communication. This could be collaborations and working groups. In some rare cases, this could even be a part-time space-related job, gig, freelancing, or start-up.

In many cases, a local stargazing or planetarium group, model rocket club, or local chapter of a larger organization such as the National Space Society, Planetary Society, or AIAA are most accessible. Even in this unusual time when most in-person gatherings are canceled, getting involved online is a possibility.

Pursuing space-related side activities is a great way to gain knowledge and learn more about space happenings, network with new space-interested connections (and perhaps make new friends), and maybe even gain hands-on experience with telescopes, rocketry, or advocacy.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on your dream. Your goals may evolve over time as you discover new opportunities and learn more about the space sector. It may take you months or years to break into the space sector. But if you give up entirely, you’ll never know how you may have finally reached your dream to work in space.

As always, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or if I can assist you. You can learn more about my space career coaching services and the Your Space Career Journey for Professionals course at Astralytical.

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