Weekend Diversion: One Weekend Between Jobs

Ain't no sunshine when she's gone.

It's not warm when she's away.

Ain't no sunshine when she's gone

And she's always gone too long anytime she goes away.

Bill Withers' song Ain't No Sunshine has been covered by over 100 major artists since its release in 1971, but I think the original is still the best (sorry, DMX).

Those of you who've been following this blog since the old site know that I don't write very often about my personal life. But there's a big life change that's happening for me right now that's related to the Astronomy/Cosmology/Physics.

You see, back in the spring of 2006, I was a graduate student at the University of Florida. I thought that I was doing great; I had a number of published papers as the lead author, I had spoken at national and international conferences, and had just defended my dissertation -- in theoretical cosmology -- after less than five years in grad school. And then, much as PhD comics predicted, something happened.

I didn't get a single job offer to be postdoctoral researcher. And -- much like Bill Withers -- I felt like the sunshine was gone from my life. What else does one feel when you work hard for years and years to get to the next step, and suddenly you can't take it?

But, I like to think that I did what any sane person would do: I had a crisis, and tried to figure out what would come next for me. So, I moved to Madison, WI, because there was a temporary teaching opening at the University of Wisconsin. And teaching full-time made me realize (or re-realize) how much I liked it, and how satisfying it was for me.

But I still had the itch to work on research, to investigate the frontiers of dark matter, dark energy, the early Universe, and cosmology in general. So I decided to apply for postdoctoral jobs again. This time was different, and the next summer, I moved to Tucson, AZ, and started my job as a researcher at the University of Arizona.

And I was pretty good at it! But, there was a problem: I didn't like it. Not enough to want to keep on doing it there. But I was less than a year into my postdoc, and I had a hard decision to make. Did I stay, make the best of it, and continue down the traditional academic career track? You know, undergrad, grad student, postdoc (sometimes 2 or 3), and finally professor? Or would I leave my job and pursue an unknown adventure?

That choice was what brought me to Portland, where I found a job teaching at the University of Portland. And while it was a good experience in a very good work environment, it was a very limited job. No resources to do my research, and just the same four classes to teach and run over and over again. One of the great things I love about teaching is the creativity, the art of figuring out how to present some very complex information in an understandable, useful, and interesting way. You know what job gives you the opportunity to have all of those things? Professor. But I abandoned the traditional path for that, and simply chose a happy life with an okay job with no upward mobility as the tradeoff.

Or so I thought. This past November, I received an invitation to give the physics colloquium at one of the top colleges in the region: Lewis & Clark College, which is also in Portland, OR. For those of you who've never heard of it, it is gorgeous:

And so when I went, I gave the best talk I could possibly give, like I was interviewing for my dream job. Well, because I was, kind of. A tenured physics professor there had decided to leave the University to move to Washington, DC. Two months later, I heard some wonderful news from Lewis & Clark College about employment. Long story short, my last day at University of Portland was Friday, and my first day as a full-time Professor is Monday! Classes start then, and among the courses I'll be teaching is Astronomy, which I am ridiculously excited about!

But don't worry; I'll still be here, writing about the Universe and all the wonderful things we find in it. But I wanted to share my good news with you, on my one weekend between jobs. See you on Monday!

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Congrats and good luck. Well deserved and earned. Glad to hear you will still be found here!!


That's seriously good news!

This Thursday I just heard that three of the young researchers at my old department have been made full professors in the three years since I ran off with my tail between my legs. It's really about time I make myself some sorta dream to follow.

Good luck!

Gah! Don't start to depress me while I'm just off to start my PhD! Anyways, many congratulations on your positions. If your lectures are as good as your blog posts, I truly envy your students.

Congratulations. I haven't been following you here very long, but I will do so as long as you keep doing what you do so well.

By NewEnglandBob (not verified) on 30 Aug 2009 #permalink

hey ethan

have been following your blog for quiet some time. myself an armchair astronomer.

best of luck for your dream job. very few people get a chance to do what they love.

may you make the best of it.


By rohit gupta (not verified) on 30 Aug 2009 #permalink

Ethan, congratulations on what sounds like an amazing opportunity! I'm so glad you're pursuing teaching because you have an exceptional gift for it.

Congrats! I'm an Astronomy teacher at a private high school in Los Angeles and I couldn't be happier. Remember to play "The Galaxy Song" at least once (even though the numbers are outdated).

Congratulations Ethan. I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to pursue an academic career. I hope you will continue with the passion you have for your subject.

well-deserved congratulations !

Astronomy was my first science love, dating back to age 8 and a 2.4" refractor in the backyard of an inspired teacher. Now what I do is far removed (neuroscience), but I still love astronomy & cosmology and your blog is a great stimulus for me. Such is the reach of a teacher. The kids at L&C will be lucky to have you.

Congrats. Those are some lucky students to have a happy and motivated professor. Glad to hear you'll still be posting for the rest of us though.

That's great news for you and your future students! Congratulations and the best of luck from the UK :)

Congrats! Best of luck!

Ethan, congrats. I have lived in a number of cities including Portland and that city is definitely my favorite. It has its problems (what city doesn't) but for all around quality of life, it can't be topped.

Congratulations! It's great to see someone so good at explaining-science-to-laypersons get a professorial position at a top-tier college. It's good for the field to have folks like that in academia.

By Anonymous Coward (not verified) on 31 Aug 2009 #permalink

That is absolutely wonderful news! Congrats on the new position and even better that you were able to reach the position in a non-traditional manner.

Hey! Professor Ethan Siegel! That's really great! Congratulations!

By Duncan Ivry (not verified) on 31 Aug 2009 #permalink

Fantastic! Good for you, and good for the students of Lewis & Clark college. You have taught us much here on your blog. Would have been nice to have you teaching during my undergraduate tenure. I hope your time posting here doesn't diminish inversely to your time dedicated to teaching. Just hoping.


That's great!


Good for you Ethan!
Best wishes to you in your new job.

as a phd who ran the same track: Fukken A, dude!
and "Do what you do do well, boy. Do what you do do well." (Rolf Harris).

Congratulations! You are an amazing teacher. I've learned a lot from your blog. I think, I am the only one who reads your blog regularly in Pakistan. I wish, I could attend one of your class someday. Maybe I could, I am only 17. Keep up the amazing work, PROFESSOR.

By Jahangir Temuri (not verified) on 01 Sep 2009 #permalink

Congratulations Professor! This is truly awesome news. I recently discovered your blog and can say that every time I view it, I learn something new. Wish all life experiences were that rich.

Oh man, I love this story!! Many, many congrats!! L&C is a beautiful campus, probably the most beautiful I've ever seen, as is U of P. I am from the region and would love to return there - I'm just finishing my PhD in an MLA field, one of the hardest hit job-wise, and feeling a little down in the chops about it. But this little episode totally buoyed me up - you go Ethan!!!! Good luck with all that beautiful Oregon countryside.

I was curious if you took that picture of the Lewis & Clark campus? If so, do you have the original/wouldn't mind emailing me it? My girlfriend is graduating from there and she ADORES the campus (who wouldn't?!), so I want to get her a good picture and frame it, as a graduation gift.