Mount Stromlo Observatory, Australian National University
Job Title: Research Fellow
She is an Astronomer: How many years since you got your maximum degree?
Amanda Karakas: 5 years.
SIAA: What is the most senior position you have achieved?
AK: Research Fellow
SIAA: What drove you into an astronomy career?
AK: I have always been fascinated with the night sky and the stars, and was a keen amateur astronomer from a young age. My parents were very supportive of my interests and encouraged me to learn astronomy, mathematics and physics. It was never considered a strange thing for a girl to do! In the end however, my decision to do a PhD in astrophysics came down to timing and chance. I found an interesting project with a supervisor I liked.
SIAA: Do you feel it was more difficult for you to get a job or a promotion in comparison with male astronomers?
AK: In my institution I do not feel it more difficult for women to get a job or a promotion. My institute is overall supportive of women astronomers and at least some of the senior male staff seems to be aware of the lack of women in senior positions.
SIAA: Are women under-represented in your institution?
AK: Yes, there are no women permanent staff members at Mount Stromlo Observatory. We had one women permanent staff member (the ex-Director, Penny Sackett) but she has left Astronomy for a position as Science Advisor to the Australian Government. There are 4 women postdocs (including myself) out of 9 in total.
SIAA: What is your family status?
AK: I have a partner and no children.
SIAA: Have you had any career breaks?
AK: No, I haven’t had any career breaks yet. Also, my partner has followed me around.
SIAA: How many hours per day do you normally dedicate to work?
AK: I work at least 8 hours per day during the week, although I usually work a few hours on weekends.
SIAA: What would most help you advance your career?
AK: So far it has been essentially up to me to advance my own career, by writing papers and going to conferences. My immediate supervisor was recently very supportive in pushing for my promotion from Level A to B, something I do not think I would have done on my own.
SIAA: What recommendation would you make to young women starting their career in astronomy?
AK: I would tell young women that astronomy is one of the best careers in the world! Few other careers allow us to use some of the most expensive, cutting edge tools available (e.g., telescopes, supercomputers), or give us so much freedom to work where and when we want (depending on the job), and require us to travel the world to enhance our careers. The cost is a transient life for at least the first 5 to 10 years after finishing the PhD, and uncertainty over where the next job will take us. It is certainly a price a lot of us are willing to pay!
SIAA: What have been your career highlights so far?
AK: Being invited to present the plenary lecture on “50 years of nucleosynthesis” to the UK National Astronomy Meeting in 2007, 50 years after the seminal paper by Margaret and Geoff Burbidge, Willy Fowler and Fred Hoyle. This was really quite an honour!