China is reportedly looking for qualified foreign astronomers to run its 500-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (Fast), the world's largest radio telescope, hunting for extraterrestrial signals and signs of life. Despite the fact that China is reportedly offering to pay over $1.2m (£ 919,610) for the position, as well as various perks, including free housing, there appear to be no takers.
"The post is currently open to scientists working outside China only. Candidates can be of any nationality, any race," said an HR official reportedly involved in the hiring process, at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which owns the radio telescope.
"We cannot wait. We have also reached out to qualified scientists around the world through formal or private channels. These senior researchers do not browse job websites very often. We did everything possible to communicate to them our offer," the unnamed official, who requested to remain anonymous, told the South China Morning Post. "What can be said at this stage is that we have encountered many challenges, and we are continuing with the efforts."
So why is China looking specifically for foreign applicants and struggling to fill such a lucrative position? The nation's astronomers reportedly do not have enough experience to be qualified to run a facility of such a size and complexity.
Astronomers abroad are reportedly not keen on moving to the remote mountains of Guizhou province in southwest China, considered to be one of the least developed areas in the nation.
China wants someone with extremely high level qualifications
One of the major challenges of finding someone to run the Fast telescope stems from China's list of requirements from a candidate. The position is available only to those with at least 20 years of experience and those who have already worked in a leading role in projects with large-scale radio telescopes. The candidates must also have previously worked as professors or held an equally senior position at a renowned university and/or research institute.
"These requirements are very high. It puts most astronomers out of the race. I may be able to count those qualified with my fingers," said Wang Tinggui, professor of astrophysics at the University of Science and Technology of China, who was director of the academy's laboratory of galaxy cosmology.
Yet another reason for scientists' hesitancy in accepting the job is that despite the high-paying salary, the position and the money do not guarantee that the candidate would be able to get desired telescope time. "The fight to decide who gets observation time and who doesn't can turn the job into a walk on thin ice," Wang said. "It is not a job for a scientist. It's for a superhero."
Many US-based scientists are also reportedly not too keen on working and living abroad.
"I am sure they will find someone. But most astronomers in the United States do not like to work abroad," Nick Suntzeff, an astronomer at Texas A&M University told ArsTechnica. "It was hard to get people to apply to work in La Serena, something I could never understand, considering how beautiful it is and how nice the Chilean people are."
Meanwhile, local scientists appear to be eager to want to be hired. An unnamed Beijing-based astronomer said the position should be open to domestic scientists as well. "We built the telescope with people at home. Why can't we trust them to run it?" the scientist said.