It was back in July last year when China finished work on the world’s largest single-aperture telescope. It took five years and $180 million to build the Five-Hundred-Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, or FAST, which was switched on in September. But there’s a problem – nobody wants the job of overseeing the facility.
According to the South China Morning Post, the telescope’s owner - The Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) – has been looking overseas for candidates to take on the role of FAST’s operator-in-chief because no local astronomers have the required experience.
“The post is currently open to scientists working outside China only. Candidates can be of any nationality, any race,” a human resources official at the academy’s bureau of personnel told the publication.
The position’s pay is comparable to similar jobs found in the west. The head of the facility will also receive eight million yuan in research funding and subsidies such as free housing.
But finding a suitable person – and someone who wants the job – isn’t proving easy. Candidates must have 20 years’ experience, had a leading role at a similar project, offer plenty of managerial experience, and hold a professorship - or equally senior position - in a world-leading research institute or university.
Language barriers and cultural differences are also reported to be hurdles, as is the requirement to live in the mountains of Guizhou, a relatively poor location in one of the country’s least developed areas.
Strangely, other reports say the Chinese government and CAS are denying the South China Morning Post’s claims. CAS says there is no current recruitment drive, and that the leadership position has been filled since July last year, though it failed to name the person running the facility. Several scientists working at the telescope refused to comment on the matter, saying it could lead to “political trouble.”