Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Reviews | Glassdoor

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Reviews

Updated February 12, 2019
12 reviews

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3.6
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Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Director Charles Alcock
Charles Alcock
2 Ratings

Employee Reviews

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  1. "Software Engineer"

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    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Software Engineer in Cambridge, MA
    Current Employee - Software Engineer in Cambridge, MA
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook

    I have been working at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory full-time (More than 5 years)

    Pros

    Interesting work, professional development is encouraged. Healthy work-life balance. Great benefits, particularly the retirement package.

    Cons

    Lower overall salary than most places. Few 'perks' (coffee, food, gifts, etc). that are normally associated with tech work around here. A lot of legacy systems / build environments - perhaps not the best from a professional development perspective.


  2. Helpful (3)

    "What are you willing to endure for science?"

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    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Astrophysicist RA in Cambridge, MA
    Current Employee - Astrophysicist RA in Cambridge, MA
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I have been working at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory full-time (More than 5 years)

    Pros

    If you have violent tendencies and have a previous negative work place history then the CfA may be a good fit for you as this place goes to great lengths to cover up and minimize the the bad behaviors of their scientists. Scientists who have violent histories do well at the CfA, sometimes even advancing to NASA. Most CfA staff and scientists are not violent but the few who are do very well here.

    Cons

    I was forced to endure years of harassment and threats of violence at the CfA. I was often threatened with violence if I did not perform personal favors for a scientist who has seniority over me. When I reported the threats of violence to our supervisor, I was told to ignore it. Sometimes, it was too dangerous to ignore, and I had to call 911 to keep people (and even animals) safe. At least I didn't get into trouble for that. When I reported the violence and my fears to the omnibus person, they provided me a document on how to be a good friend to someone who suffers from depression. This document was written by a CfA scientist in the 1980s. I think it's interesting they have these types of documents to help victims understand their role in the workplace. When I reported the violence to the local HR, they said they couldn't help and referred me to a SI website that had a 1-800 number to call. When I reported it to 1-800-"SIDontCare", the voice on the other line said my only option is to quit working with that person and leave those projects. Which I ended up doing. I'm a bit isolated, especially when that scientist is around, but I'm no longer harassed and that is so very nice.
    So, before you take a job here ask yourself what you'd be willing to tolerate and do for science and then think of something worse.

    Advice to Management

    My advice to management is to stop enabling and supporting violent scientists. It is possible to keep people safe and keep projects moving forward at the same time. It is also possible to provide help to those who suffer from "depression" (or whatever you want to call it) without forcing others in the community to endure their acts of violence.

  3. "Great colleagues"

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    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in Cambridge, MA
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in Cambridge, MA
    Recommends
    Neutral Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I worked at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (More than 10 years)

    Pros

    Your colleagues are some of the best in the world at their field. You are free to pursue your research interests. Good facilities & research support.

    Cons

    Soft money, a grind to keep securing funding.


  4. "Fantastic, provided you are "in the club""

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    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Astrophysicist in Cambridge, MA
    Current Employee - Astrophysicist in Cambridge, MA
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I have been working at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory full-time (More than a year)

    Pros

    Great benefits, such as retirement contributions
    Intellectually stimulating
    Flexible hours

    Cons

    Slow advancement unless you have unique skills, particularly in hardware development
    The place lives off of postdocs


  5. "great place to work"

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    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Recommends
    Neutral Outlook

    I have been working at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory full-time

    Pros

    One of the largest astronomical centers in the world. Close collaboration with Harvard astronomy department. Top-notch research and access to facilities.

    Cons

    Older, crowded building. Difficult commute. Not fully competitive salaries. Limited lunch options in the building. No other cons come to mind.

    Advice to Management

    No advice.


  6. "Neat place to work, lots of projects to work on"

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    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - IT Specialist (Appsw) in Cambridge, MA
    Current Employee - IT Specialist (Appsw) in Cambridge, MA
    Recommends
    Neutral Outlook

    Pros

    - friendly and knowledgeable work environment
    - 13+ days of PTO starting (19 days after 3 years; 26 days after 15 years), with up to 240 hours you can carry over to the next year
    - reimbursed academic classes
    - potential for travel to domestic/international astronomy conferences
    - get free entry (+1 guest) to museums and zoos in the greater Boston area
    - work with scientists on interesting astronomy projects

    Cons

    - SAO is divided into multiple buildings, some driving distance away from the others, making cross-office meetings and meeting other coworkers difficult for those without cars
    - salary may be on the low side for a trained software developer, depending on the pay grade you get


  7. "Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory"

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    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in Cambridge, MA
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in Cambridge, MA
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook

    I worked at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory full-time

    Pros

    World-class astrophysical research. The most challenging technical projects.

    Cons

    The usual soft money scientist positions.

  8. "Big name, small goals"

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    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Staff Astronomer in Cambridge, MA
    Current Employee - Staff Astronomer in Cambridge, MA
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook

    I have been working at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory full-time (More than 5 years)

    Pros

    Everyone recognises the Smithsonian brand. Decent vacation days once you've worked there for 3 years (13 days/year before that; 19 days/year after). Interesting colleagues working on diverse astronomical topics. Great for pre- and postdocs.

    Cons

    Salaries follow the Federal GS scale and it is difficult to get promoted above Grade 13 as a scientist, which means your salary will not be high given the cost of living in the Cambridge area. As a scientist you get no overtime pay; you're expected to work 50+ hours for the love of astronomy and because "it's a privilege" to work there (these are actual words that were said to me by an associate director when I asked why they didn't do anything to compensate us better). It's hard for a junior scientist who has a management rather than a research position to move up, and there is little interest to innovate or change how things are done (which is how they've been done for the past few decades).

    Advice to Management

    You need to listen to the complaints of your stuff and not belittle them. There's a reason junior staff are leaving for industry positions.


  9. Helpful (4)

    "Awful"

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    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Scientist in Cambridge, MA
    Former Employee - Scientist in Cambridge, MA
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    Pros

    TIAA-CREF, I guess. Nothing exceptional.

    Cons

    This place is... horrible. Bigotry, inappropriate language, and favoritism are rampant. Complaints are treated with reprisals. Management has a hierarchy that prevents openness and cooperation. Yearly reviews are biased and capable people who are not part of the special cliques are disregarded.

    Awful educational benefits for an institution connected to Harvard.

    The yearly surveys are ignored.

    Boston is an expensive place to live. SAO salaries are well-below averages.

    This place is in desperate need of new management.

    Advice to Management

    Respect your people.


  10. "SAO is full of dedicated smart people"

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    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Physic Ist in Cambridge, MA
    Current Employee - Physic Ist in Cambridge, MA
    Recommends
    Neutral Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    I have been working at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory full-time (More than 10 years)

    Pros

    World-class colleagues. Access to good facilities.

    Cons

    Increasingly bureaucratic with administrative considerations given more weight than the needs of scientists.

    Advice to Management

    Provide company credit cards (not P-cards) for those needing to make lots of small (under $1000) purchases.