The SETI League, Inc., a membership-supported, non-profit {501(c)(3)}, educational and scientific organization Searching for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence

Ask Dr. SETI ®

Chapter 5: Sociology

Careers in SETI

Dear Dr. SETI:
Hello. I've always wanted to be in on SETI. I'm good at mathmatics and scientific stuff. When I grow up it's something I hope to accomplish. I'm only tweleve years old so that's why I wanted information. What different jobs are there in SETI? I love science and I just wanted to know what kind of colleges I should go to, what I should major in, and how to become part of the force! Thanx!
Gayle (age 12)

The Doctor Responds:
I'm pleased to learn of your interest in SETI, and encourage you to follow your heart as well as your head as you select and prepare for a career. Since the release of the film "Contact," I've received numerous inquiries from young people who hope to devote their lives to SETI. The news I have for you is both good and bad.

The bad news is, there are very few paying jobs in SETI. Perhaps you noticed in "Contact" that all Government support for Ellie's work was denied, and she had to go off in search of private funding. Although the film was based upon a science fiction novel, this part of the story is indeed (and sadly) true. Since the NASA SETI program was canceled in 1993, there is precious little funding to support SETI professionals.

The good news is that SETI research has been successfully privatized. My organization, The SETI League, for example, boasts one fulltime paid executive director, one parttime paid secretary -- and seven hundred unpaid volunteer researchers! So even with few livelihoods to be made in SETI at present, the search goes on. This is a science which refuses to die.

Of course, the funding situation may have changed again by the time you finish school. To prepare yourself for that possibility, I'd encourage you to immerse yourself in the study of science and mathematics. Because SETI is arguably the most highly interdisciplinary of sciences, I hesitate to recommend to you a specific school, or major course of study. Instead, I'd advise you to take whatever astronomy courses are available to you, and read whatever space science books you can find in the library. Trust your own judgement; you'll know what school and major are right for you when the time comes.

If you wish to become more directly involved in SETI while still a student, I encourage you to consider membership in The SETI League, or some other space advocacy organization. We have a Scholarship Member category at half the normal dues, set up specifically to encourage young people like you to get involved in this grass-roots science opportunity. A membership application may be found on our extensive Web site ( -- thousands of documents totaling more hundreds of MBytes!). If you lack web access, simply email your postal address to join_at_setileague_dot_org and additional information will be mailed to you.

Even though the present climate is not particularly positive for jobs in SETI, I hope you won't become discouraged. It is through the efforts of your generation that we shall ultimately take our place in the cosmic community.

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