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H.L. Dinerstein (U. Texas, Austin)
Students entering the astronomy Ph.D. program at the University of Texas at Austin take a seminar course which is designed to serve as an introduction and orientation both to the program and the department, and also to astronomy as a profession and a career. This seminar meets one hour per week, and has been taught in approximately the same format annually since 1994. While details of the syllabus vary from year to year, about half the sessions are devoted to information specific to our program, such as overviews of the research activities and facilities of the department and McDonald Observatory. The rest of the sessions address broader issues. They include discussions and (sometimes practice) of essential skills such as giving oral presentations, writing and peer-review of journal articles and proposals, and norms and practices of the profession. Another major focus, usually occupying three or four class sessions, is the current job market, prospects for employment, and various career paths for astronomers. National employment statistics are reviewed, as well as the employment experiences of recent graduates of our own program (Dinerstein 1996, BAAS, 28, 1277). Astronomers at various stages of their careers, and in various professional tracks, come and talk about their experiences; these guests include current post-doctoral fellows associated with the department, astronomers who have spent most of their careers on grant support (``soft money'' track) or in observatory support positions, and individuals with experience teaching at small or community colleges. The purpose of this seminar course is to ensure that graduate students become aware of their options early in their graduate careers, in order to avoid unrealistic expectations followed by unpleasant surprises later on, and to help them plan an optimum strategy for their own professional development. I also discuss how this course, originally tailored for one department, could be modified and adapted to other departments and institutions.
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