Monday, December 6, 2010

Shameless self-promotion

Check it out

Haven't listened to the podcast version of it yet, and am a little scared to, but there it is.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

John Huchra

I found out this morning that John Huchra died last Friday. And while other bloggers have paid tribute to his significant contributions to Astronomy, I want pay homage to the man I knew personally.

John was one of the kindest, friendliest, and cheeriest professors in the Harvard Astronomy Department. I recall taking a class with him, and to use a metaphor he would probably appreciate, it was a lot like taking a drink from a firehose. He would show up to class with a huge stack of transparencies (this was in the pre-Powerpoint era) and start going through them. As the class period went on, he would go through them faster and faster in an effort to finish them all in the time alloted. He would also send emails to the class at 3am or so. He was full of energy and never seemed to sleep, although I understand he slowed down quite a bit after his heart attack a few years ago.

He was also the one who handed out copies of a book, "A PhD is Not Enough" to all the incoming first years, in an effort to open our eyes to the challenges of a career in astronomy. He genuinely cared that his students succeeded, but also understood the importance of family and balance, since he had his own son whom he treasured and doted on.

I ran into him once at an AAS meeting during his term as President, and not only did he remember me, but he took the time to chat for a few minutes and catch up with me before he had to hurry on to his next appointment. I was touched that he took the time to talk with me, given that I never worked with him scientifically. The last time I spoke with him was when I visited the CfA to give a talk this past spring. I dropped by his office for a chat, and we spent some time talking about our kids, career prospects, and commiserating about the poor economy.

John was a first class astronomer, but also a terrific mentor and a wonderfully nice person. I'm deeply saddened by his passing and will miss him a lot.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Anything Can Happen

I'm starting to gear up for another season of job searching. This just after a particularly grueling and demoralizing year of sending out job applications. So this post is for my future self, to remind myself that even in the darkest of hours that it's not the end of the world. Because no matter what happens with regard to my job search, I still have
  1. My own health
  2. A wonderful, loving husband who has always supported my decisions
  3. Two healthy, intelligent and adorable children
  4. A roof over our heads
  5. Enough wealth to provide us food, power, necessities, and then some
  6. Friends who care about me
  7. Career options open to me other than academia
  8. A life full of endless possibilities

We went to see Mary Poppins the Musical over the past weekend, and as cheesy as it sounds, I found the song "Anything Can Happen If You Let It" to be very uplifting. It's the part where Winifred realizes that she doesn't have to be stuck in the role that her husband and society have set out for her. So I can relate to her as a woman with big dreams. And as an astronomer, I can't help but find the bridge to speak directly to me:
If you reach for the stars all you get are the stars
but we've found a whole new spin
if you reach for the heavens
You get the stars thrown in
I don't have to be defined by the box that others try to put me in. I can choose my own life and my own happiness for myself.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Astronomer H-R diagram

This is brilliant. An H-R diagram of astronomers:

I think I'm somewhat leftward of the New-media branch, with 11 refereed publications at this moment.  I blame all my posting at the Women in Astronomy Blog.

(hat tip: The Astrodyke. Cross-posted at the Women in Astronomy Blog)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Life after Proposal

(warning: contains 'Lost' spoilers)

One of my colleagues likes to talk about being in "Proposal Hell" when he's in the throes of proposal writing. Having just clicked "release to org" and thus exiting my own personal Proposal Hell, I can totally relate. But now I have to wonder, does that mean I'm now in some kind of Proposal Purgatory for the next several months until I finally get word back on whether or not I get funded? And then, I guess, I find out if I'm one of the Chosen Ones who enter Funding Heaven or if I'm one of the Damned.

Which, of course, makes me think of Lost, so maybe I'm really in some bizarre alternate timeline altogether where I won't find out what's truly going on until I achieve my own personal flash of enlightenment, but at least I get to see all my friends again. But there my powers of metaphor completely fail me. Lost was really wacky.

And, of course, it's not like you get to stay in Funding Heaven for long. You get to go through the whole thing again when your grant period ends. Sort of like having to re-enter the Numbers every 108 minutes, or something.

Here's the song that's been going through my head. (Sorry, it won't let me embed it.) Because my proposal is for the NASA ROSES program. Get it? Moses proposes to ROSES for YSOses. Only my name isn't Moses, too bad.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Why I Wasn't One of the 275 at the NPA Meeting

So, YoungFemaleScientist remarked on the perceived low turnout at the National Postdoctoral Association's 2010 Annual Meeting, and Isis the Scientist responded with, "well, duh, they need to serve booze!" Okay, so it was actually more nuanced than that, it was more about lack of resources in general, but you should go read her blog yourself.

Anyway, as a postdoc who knew about the meeting, applied for funding, even won a partial grant, but still didn't go, I felt I should comment on this.

Firstly, I should note that I did attend the Summit on Gender and the Postdoctorate held just before the NPA meeting, but still didn't stick around for the main meeting. I attended the Summit as a representative of the American Astronomical Society's (AAS) Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA). So there I had sufficient funding and motivation to justify going to the meeting. I'm posting a summary of the meeting over at the Women in Astronomy Blog, in case you want to read my take on the Summit.

So why didn't I just stay the few extra nights in Philly for the NPA Meeting? The primary reason was that I didn't see what I would get out of it personally. Right now, I need to be focusing on getting my research done and publishing papers so that I can land my next job. Spending my time at a meeting that is not research related is a net loss to me. Going for the Summit to begin with was already a big drain on my time and energy. I have precious little else to spare.

What could I have gotten out of the meeting? Possibly some career development skills from workshops. But I've been to some excellent career development workshops in the past, so this was insufficient motivation for me. Possibly some networking. But given that the vast majority of postdocs in this country are bioscientists and not astrophysicists, this was of limited utility to me. It's interesting because the NPA was making a special effort to bring more physical scientists to the meeting, and yet they still failed to grab me.

My impression of what the NPA is setting out to do is to encourage the establishment of PDAs and PDOs. From what I've learned about about those types of organizations, it sounds like they can do a lot to help postdocs. But getting these things going takes a lot of work, work that doesn't necessarily look favorably on your CV. Heck, I've already been told repeatedly that I should avoid doing any public outreach work because it would take time away from my research. How less relevant to my research career would community organizing be?

Lastly, I want to respond directly to Isis's argument about the lack of booze: many funding organizations specifically prohibit the purchase of booze for meetings, like NSF and pretty much all other federal and state government agencies. So that wasn't necessarily the NPA's fault. And personally, I don't drink much to begin with, so lack of booze is not necessarily a fault in my book.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Last weekend, I judged a science fair. It was my first time being on this side of a science fair, although honestly, the only time I entered in a science fair was in 7th grade with a project on antacids that even at the time I thought was embarassingly dumb. Despite not ever competing in a science fair from 8th through 12th grade, I still managed to eventually get a science PhD. I have no idea what moral to take away from this anecdote.

Anyway! There I was, assigned as a Physics category judge. There were about 15 of us, and I was the only woman. I didn't have a chance to actually tally the numbers of other judges, but I did get the definite impression that our category had the poorest representation of women among the judges. I was also definitely on the younger side. On the bright side, I didn't see gender playing an obvious role in any of the judging. After all, our category winner was a pair of girls who went on to be selected to go to the International Science and Engineering Fair. I did gently chide one of my fellow judges when he made a comment about "our guys" in reference to our shared alma mater, but he took it with good grace.

I was a bit nervous going into this, afraid that the projects would be way above my head and I wouldn't be able to fairly judge projects because I didn't understand them. Imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head, that sort of thing. But as it turned out, the projects spanned a huge range, from "we got the equations off the internet" to "this calculation is completely theoretical" and everything in between. It was only the theoretical computation that I wasn't able to understand, but neither could any of the other judges. And I would say that all of us had physics bachelor's degrees, and at least half of us had PhDs in a science-related field.

All in all, it was an interesting and fun experience. I would definitely go back to do it again if I have the opportunity.