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In one of my questions I asked about the career paths to become a professional astronomer. Now let's consider the next logical step. What if a person has gained his/her PhD in Astronomy and had an opportunity to do a couple of postdoc positions. The time comes for independent work but where can the funding come from? What are the funding possibilities in different countries to continue the career as an independent researcher?

  • Please provide links and general advice if there is for each funding agency
  • Keep it short and to the point
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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Do you mean being paid a salary to be an (independent) astronomer, or having telescope time, travel, etc. funded so you can do research?

I completed a PhD in astronomy but left when accepting a postdoc position would have meant moving my family across the country and the 'day job' is now in IT. However, I'm still an active research astronomer - this year I had two VLT proposals accepted as a PI (roughly 120k Euros in telescope time), and was co-investigator on four more accepted ESO proposals. I'll publish roughly a dozen papers (including four as first author, three as second), will speak at conferences and last year had an ESO press release on my work which was picked up worldwide. So it's perfectly possible to continue in top-level research without a faculty position - plus I have the advantage of not teaching :)

I apply for telescope time through the usual routes, e.g.

and many sources exist for conference fees, travel, expenses, etc., e.g. amongst others I use

(I'm UK-based, which explains those choices.) But if you want something to pay a salary as well then I think options are much more limited. There are a few specialist postdoc support programmes, e.g. for returning to the subject following a career break, but options for ongoing funding are very limited - and would be very competitive. I know a few people who make a living writing for astronomy magazines, etc. alongside their research, but the majority of 'non-faculty' researchers like me that I know of have a traditional 'day job' that pays the bills and is flexible enough to allow high-level research as well.

EDIT: One other avenue of investigation are fellowships from the likes of the Leverhume trust (http://www.leverhulme.ac.uk/funding/ECF/ECF.cfm or http://www.leverhulme.ac.uk/funding/RF/RF.cfm). These are linked to the traditional PhD -> postdoc -> Faculty route, but are somewhat different to the traditional postdoc position. Royal Society fellowships also provide five- or ten-year salary funding (http://royalsociety.org/grants/schemes/university-research/). Again, these are UK options and I'm unsure where you are located, but these would be options I'd very seriously consider if I was ever going to try to return full-time to academic life.

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I mean the salary not the observing proposals, but your answer is still very nice. I just wonder if your solution is becoming more and more common than the 'day job' in astronomy. So you still keep your association with some institution, I presume ... –  Tigran Khanzadyan Aug 2 '11 at 9:07
Yes, I have a honorary research fellowship, which gives me an academic affiliation (sometimes needed for telescope time proposals) but it is unpaid - occasionally I can claim travel and expenses. It's good for both sides really, as the university can include my research towards their assessment at (almost) no cost. I think my kind of arrangement is becoming more common, although in most cases it is because people could not find a new postdoc position in the current climate (very few opportunities) and are waiting for funding to improve. But I don't think I would change if I could. –  strmqm Aug 2 '11 at 9:42
Link eso.org/sci/observing/phase1/proposalsopen.html is broken. –  Peter Mortensen Aug 2 '11 at 13:57
Link works for me? eso.org/sci/observing/phase1/proposalsopen.html –  strmqm Aug 2 '11 at 13:58
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As research budgets tighten at universities and federal financing agencies, a new crop of Web-savvy scientists is hoping the wisdom — and generosity — of the crowds will come to the rescue. While nonprofit science organizations and medical research centers commonly seek donations from the public, Dr. [Jennifer] Calkins, an adjunct professor of biology at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., and Dr. [Jennifer] Gee may have been the first professional scientists to use a generic “crowd funding” Web site to underwrite basic research.

In May 2010, neither had the principal investigator status required to apply through their institutions for a National Science Foundation grant. But they were eager to begin collecting data about the behavior, appearance, distribution, habitat selection and phylogenic position of the least-studied quail species in the Callipepla genus.

Dr. Calkins, who has published research papers and poetry, turned to the community of artists and microphilanthropists at Kickstarter.com. Her plea to potential backers on the site: “By contributing to this project you will support a study of this little known species as we examine its behavior and evolution in its natural habitat, a space encroached upon by both urban sprawl and tension surrounding narcotics trafficking.” Web sites like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and RocketHub are an increasingly popular way to bankroll creative projects — usually in film, music and visual arts. It is not very likely that anyone imagined they would be used to finance scientific research. And it is unclear what problems this odd pairing might beget.

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Okay I found a new source! –  InquilineKea Jul 25 '11 at 22:27
Unfortunately I'm not looking for some blog posts or some third person commentaries of the current funding condition. What I would like to see some concrete links and information on funding agencies in US, EU, etc. For example in EU we have something called FP7 which has specific calls for proposals, etc. –  Tigran Khanzadyan Jul 31 '11 at 23:22
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