SETI is a very young field (academically)

[Note: This is a “living” post which I update periodically as I learn about people who have done graduate work in the field. If I’m missing a name please email me.]

SETI is not a field that has a large presence in academia, especially in terms of graduate education. Indeed, there are only two regularly numbered graduate courses in the world on the topic that I’m aware of (at Penn State and UCLA).

Because of this, it’s hard to get a PhD while having the primary focus of your dissertation be searching for technological extraterrestrial life. In fact, so far as I can tell (speaking with many of the people in the field) it’s only been done eight times:

  1. Darren Leigh (1998, Horowitz, thesis)
  2. Stephen Brown (2000, Dixon & Kraus, thesis)
  3. Charles Coldwell (2002, Horowitz, thesis)
  4. Andrew Howard (2006, Horowitz, thesis)
  5. Andrew Siemion (2012, Bower & Werthimer, thesis)
  6. Curtis Mead (2013, Horowitz, thesis)
  7. Ian Morrison (2017, Tinney, thesis)
  8. Emilio Enriquez (2019, Falcke)

Paul Horowitz, SETI PhD adviser extraordinaire.

Until 2017, Paul Horowitz was responsible for supervising 2/3 of all doctoral SETI dissertations! Thanks, Paul! Of these eight, four are professional astronomers today, Mead is at Apple, Coldwell works in a astronomy-related industry, Brown is apparently a scientist at Harris Corporation, and Darren Leigh describes his career here.

I’m also aware of some terminal master’s degrees on the topic (many are EE degrees related to the Argus SETI array):

  1. Dennis Cole (1976, Dixon & Kraus, thesis)
  2. Jim Bolinger (1988, Dixon & Kraus)
  3. Hyung Joon Kim (1999, Ellingson & Burnside)
  4. Tom Alfernik (2000, Ellingson & Burnside)
  5. Emarit Ranu (2000, Ellingson & Burnside)
  6. Amy Reines (2002, Marcy & Cool)
  7. Mikael Flodin (2019, Mattsson, thesis)
  8. Andreea Dogaru (2019, Kerins & Breton, thesis)

This is not to say that no other graduate students have done work on the topic. Here are a few of the (presumably many) theses that had a significant SETI component:

  1. Maggie Turnbull
  2. Jayanth Chennamangalam
  3. Hayden Rampadarath
  4. Kimberley M. S. Cartier
  5. Branislav Vukotic

And there has also been a lot of doctoral work in the social sciences studying SETI itself, for instance in this thesis by Daniel Romesberg and the ongoing work of Claire Webb.

I’m also aware of three current graduate students who have or have planned for major (50-100%) components of their dissertation work to be searching for intelligent life in the universe:

  1. Sofia Sheikh (J. Wright)
  2. Paul Pinchuk (Margot)
  3. Bryan Brzycki (Siemion/dePater)

And three more with at least a portion of their thesis about SETI:

  1. Gerry Zhang (Siemion/dePater)
  2. Maren Cosens (S. Wright)
  3. Neda Stojkovic
  4. Daniel Giles (Walkowicz)

So the number of thesis is poised to go up by at almost 100% in the next few years! This is (weak) evidence of what certainly feels like a resurgence in the field. Still, these numbers are tiny compared to the perception of the amount of SETI work being done, and illustrate how young the field really is, despite the nearly 60 years that have elapsed since its inception.

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