This is the second of two guest posts contributed by Dr. Abbie Stevens, who completed her Masters at the University of Alberta in Canada and her Doctorate at the Universiteit van Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She is now an NSF Astronomy & Astrophysics postdoctoral fellow at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. In her first post, she discussed attending a MSc program in Canada.

When I began grad school, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to complete a PhD. However, after having such a good experience doing my MSc at the University of Alberta, I decided that I did want to continue in grad school towards a PhD. I found that many PhD programs in the US don’t have a structure for incoming grad students with a Masters, and a faster three to four year PhD-only track isn’t really an option. I wasn’t feeling particularly enthused about those prospect, so I looked into PhD programs in Canada and Europe.

One thing to keep in mind when applying for PhD programs internationally is that the process may be quite different from US applications. I chose to apply to the University of Amsterdam, and I found that the PhD application process was more similar to a postdoc application than a US PhD program application. I submitted my CV, a short statement of research interests, a cover letter, my Bachelors and Masters transcripts, and the contact information for a few references. There was no application fee and they didn’t accept GRE or PGRE scores. Upon making the shortlist, I was invited to the institute in Amsterdam along with the other shortlisted PhD applicants for an expenses-paid two-day program; there were about 30 of us in total for eight open positions that year.

The program involved 10-minute presentations on our Masters research projects and 30-minute interviews with the supervisors in whose projects we were interested. The interviews gave the supervisors a chance to get to know us, ask more questions, and test our domain-specific knowledge. It also gave us a chance to “interview” the supervisor and see if we thought it would be a good fit. These interviews are important because applicants apply for specific projects with specific supervisors and receive individual offers. This is different from most US programs where you are initially accepted to the graduate program, and only later choose a research advisor.

I accepted my offer from the Universiteit van Amsterdam and completed my PhD at the Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy. As a PhD student at U. Amsterdam (and the other astro PhD programs in the Netherlands), you’re an employee, not a student. I had a workers’ union, great healthcare, EU labor law protections, pension contributions, five weeks paid vacation annually, legally-protected paid medical leave, a raise each year, and standardized vacation bonuses. I was a teaching assistant for four courses over four years and there was no required coursework. I really enjoyed being free of other constraints so I could focus on research.

That being said, the pressure to publish starts early. We were expected to have four papers (or equivalent) in the four years of the PhD, though paper requirements vary greatly by university. Rigid timelines are tied to grant money, though extensions are sometimes possible depending on the circumstances. In Europe, PhD positions are usually for specific projects with specific supervisors, so it’s effectively impossible to change projects or supervisors.

Overall, I’m glad that I did my PhD at U. Amsterdam. With a great networking atmosphere and ample funding at the institute, I was able to go to the US for conferences and seminars in my second through fourth years to maintain connections with the US astro community, which was important to me since I wanted to move back to the US or Canada for a postdoc. I’m grateful I took the path that I did, but of course there were challenges along the way like language barriers and some culture shock. If you pursued a PhD outside of your home country, what drew you to the program you chose? How did you handle the personal and social aspects of living and working abroad?


Daniela Huppenkothen is the Associate Director at the Institute for Data-Intensive Research in Astrophysics and Cosmology (DIRAC) at the University of Washington and a Data Science Fellow at the University of Washington’s eScience Institute, where she works on astrostatistics for astronomical time series, and is interested in everything from asteroids to black holes. She is excited about teaching data science to astronomers and researchers from other scientific disciplines, and about finding new ways to get researchers across different scientific domains to talk to one another.

Earlier this year, I visited the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen for a meeting. There, on the wall of the conference room, was a photo of a famous physics conference which had taken place in that same room some 90 years earlier in 1929. As I looked at that photo, something occurred to me: the way we communicate about science hasn’t really changed all that much in the last few centuries. When I went to the AAS winter meeting, I saw much the same: people sitting in rows, staring at the speaker (or their slides) up front. Or reading their emails.

When there are discussions about whether academia really needs expensive, time-consuming, and environmentally problematic academic conferences, the core argument is always that yes, we do, because nothing replaces the face-to-face contact that encourages communication, throwing around ideas, building new collaborations. But that often doesn’t happen in traditional conferences, except during the usually too-short coffee breaks, which researchers love for exactly that reason: they are a time and space for informal discussions.

Here, then, is the question that I’ve been asking myself: can we build a scientific meeting that consists purely of coffee breaks? Can we build meetings and workshops that take the things that make coffee breaks valuable to researchers—communication, collaboration, networking—and amplify them? For the past five years, I’ve been co-organizing one of these meetings: Astro Hack Week, a five-day workshop where roughly fifty participants come together to learn, share their knowledge, and work together on data science-related projects in astronomy.

(Astro Hack Week 2016; Credit: Daniela Huppenkothen)

With hack weeks now being organized in several different fields, a group of us who work on hack weeks and other participant-driven workshops in astronomy, neuroscience, geosciences, and image analysis decided it was high time to write down our philosophy and experiences. The result is now published in an open-access article in PNAS, where we describe our motivation for organizing these events, some core principles, and also present results and outcomes from our evaluations. Hack weeks require a lot of careful facilitation (more so than ordinary conferences). But if that facilitation is present, they are effective at teaching data science tools and methods to domain scientists, and they encourage open science and (interdisciplinary) collaboration. And, of course, an ample supply of coffee is a must! The paper provides an overview of the concepts, while the supplementary materials in particular are intended to be a resource for researchers from all academic disciplines. These materials provide a toolbox of ideas, best practices, and our experiences to help them organize their own events.

One thing that’s become clear during our work together is that there isn’t one true way to run your participant-driven workshop. Many of our decisions are based on the needs of our specific scientific community, and our knowledge around hack weeks and participant-driven workshops is still growing and changing. So here’s my question to all of you: What will (interdisciplinary) collaborations of the future look like? How do we as researchers want to interact and work with each other?

(NeuroHackademy 2018; Credit: Alex Alspaugh/University of Washington)

As part of writing this post, I ended up looking up more details about the Copenhagen Meetings, and was both surprised and excited to read that unlike the conferences I was used to, they actually had very little of a formal programme, and lots of discussion time for researchers to talk about questions they found interesting and important at the time. In reality, it has much more in common with modern unconferences, participant-driven workshops where the focus is on discussions, than with large conferences. It’ i’s inspiring to see that in every generation, scientists value improving communication, and I am excited to see what models of interaction and collaboration future generations of researchers (re-)discover.


This post is the first of two guest posts contributed by Dr. Abbie Stevens, who completed her Masters at the University of Alberta in Canada and her Doctorate at the Universiteit van Amsterdam in the Netherlands. She is now an NSF Astronomy & Astrophysics postdoctoral fellow at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. In her second post, she will discuss attending a PhD program in Europe.

Many US-based students considering their options for graduate school may not realize that there are many strong astronomy graduate programs outside of the United States. Pursuing graduate education abroad can help broaden your horizons, both personally and professionally. Making new connections and fostering collaborations internationally can have far-reaching, positive effects on your career. Here is my story about why and how I decided to pursue my graduate studies abroad.

I decided that I wanted to try my hand at grad school when I realized how much I liked doing research in my undergrad senior research project. I got my Bachelors of Arts degree from Bard College, a small liberal arts college with quite a modest physics program at the time. Though I had a year-long senior research project under my belt, I worried I didn’t have as rigorous a physics coursework background as students from larger research universities. Also, the Physics GRE (PGRE) was a significant barrier for me as the prep courses and exam fees (on top of US grad school application fees) were a large financial burden. (The PGRE should be less of an obstacle for current applicants since many US programs no longer require it.)

At the recommendation of one of my mentors in the math department, I looked into astro Masters programs in Canada. I was a little unsure about astronomy, since my only experience with astro was via mathematical physics, general relativity, and differential geometry. Graduate programs in the US often require a commitment to the PhD from the beginning, and I didn’t want to commit five to six years to a program in the US when I wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted. Canadian Masters (MSc) programs are two years, and MSc students receive paid teaching assistantships, just like in the US.

I did my MSc in Canada at the University of Alberta. At U. Alberta, I did one year of coursework and one year of research, and I wrote and defended an MSc thesis project, which we later turned into a nice paper! I think most Canadian astro MSc programs follow a similar outline. It’s possible to “fast-track” to a PhD in most of them after your first year in the MSc if you’re doing well and your committee agrees. In this scenario, you would skip the MSc thesis and go straight into the PhD program — this takes five years in total, instead of two for the MSc + four for the PhD, so it’s more like the US system.

If you think pursuing a Masters outside of the US is the right choice for you, here are some practical questions you should ask:

  1. How are graduate students paid while attending the program?
  2. In my experience, you don’t make much, but it’s roughly the same standard of living as grad programs in the US (though this can vary between universities and provinces). Many Masters programs in Europe do not pay you to be a teaching assistant, but some have scholarships available for international students.

  3. Will you have to provide your own health insurance?
  4. At the University of Alberta, health insurance was included in the taxes and fees.

  5. Do you have to pay for tuition?
  6. While I did have to pay tuition myself, it was to the tune of about CAD$2-3k per year (in 2012), and it came out of my teaching assistant stipend. Crucially, I needed to make sure that someone else (e.g., the department, my advisor) paid the “international difference” fee for non-Canadian students, which just about doubled the cost of attendance. Check with your proposed advisor and other international grad students to see how it’s handled in the programs to which you are accepted.

Though my path was non-traditional for a US undergraduate, going to Canada for my Masters was absolutely the right choice for me. I went to a top-ranked university, took a mix of interesting classes, expanded my research horizons, and made great friends with my colleagues. Having a positive experience in my MSc is what encouraged me to go for a PhD! My PhD experience in the Netherlands will be the subject of the next post in this series.

For readers not from the US, did you choose to pursue graduate studies in your home country or in another country? What were the benefits and drawbacks for you? Is/was your graduate program in a language other than the language(s) you grew up speaking? How did you prepare for and handle that challenge?


This article is the second of a three-part series that is cross-posted from the ADS blog. In this series, the ADS team has performed an analysis of citations to astronomy journals over the last 20 years. This post is written by ADS project scientist Michael J. Kurtz and Edwin Henneken, who works on the ADS system development and operations.

This is the second of a series of blog posts measuring the journals that publish astronomy research articles, using citation statistics with a number of different indices. In this post, we examine the performance of individual journals with respect to each other over time. We use the data described and published in Part 1, which looked at some of the integrated properties of the sample, such as citation counts and h-indices. In Part 3, we will look into some of the properties of the indices.

A. Ranked Lists
We begin by creating ranked lists of the 50 journals in the main sample for each of the 5 bibliometric indicators: number of articles, number of citations to these articles, h (Hirsch) index, i10 (number of articles with 10 or more citations), and i100 (number of articles with 100 or more citations). We do this for each of the 20 years (1997-2016) of the study. The appendix, published on Zenodo (DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.1400692), contains all the lists.

Much can be gleaned from these lists; we recommend the reader avails themselves of this opportunity. We will illustrate some of the results by a little cherry picking.

Below are excerpts from the lists showing the top 10 journals, according to the h-index, for the years 1997, 2007, and 2016.

     1997 ApJ 154      2007 ApJ 154        2016 ApJ 48
     1997 A&A 106     2007 MNRAS 116   2016 MNRAS 47
     1997 ApJL 99      2007 A&A 115       2016 A&A 46
     1997 MNRAS 97   2007 PhRvD 102   2016 PhRvD 42
     1997 JGR 82       2007 ApJL 92       2016 ApJL 36
     1997 AJ 80         2007 ApJS 75       2016 PhRvL 34
     1997 Natur 72      2007 JCAP 69       2016 JHEP 32
     1997 GeCoA 62    2007 AJ 66          2016 JCAP 30
     1997 EPSL 61      2007 EPSL 66      2016 Natur 29
     1997 PhRvD 61    2007 Natur 65       2016 PhLB 28

There are (at least) three main takeaways from looking at these lists:

  1. The Astrophysical Journal is no longer the dominant force it once was. Whereas in 1997 the ApJ had a much higher score than the second ranked A&A, in 2016 it is near parity with both A&A and MNRAS (which has a higher 2015 h-index than the ApJ).
  2. The geo/planetary journals have disappeared from the list. JGR, GeCoA and E&PSL were all in the top 10 in 1997 (Icar was #14); in 2016 the highest ranked geo/planetary journal is Icarus, at #20. There are some systematic cultural effects here (to be discussed in Part 3). Note that JGR in this context represents the total set of JGR journals (JGRA, JGRB, etc.).
  3. The physics journals have substantially increased their role in astrophysics research. In 1997 the only physics journal in the top 10 is PhRvD at #10, twenty years later there are 5 (counting JCAP as physics), with PhRvD at #4. Remember that this is for only those papers which are “astronomy related” as described in Part 1; they are a fraction of the papers published by these journals. For example in 2016 9% of the papers in PhRvL were astronomy related, as were 29% of the papers in PhLB.

B. Winners and Losers
As shown in Figure 1 of Part 1, the astronomy literature has been growing over the past two decades. While astronomy has spread its influence into related areas (and this is the point of that figure), the core astronomy literature can be taken as being within the ~50 major international journals of physics, astrophysics, and geophysics in our main sample (listed in Part 1). The growth of this literature has been a steady 4% per year, doubling over the period, consistent with long term trends in many disciplines.

Not all journals have participated in this growth equally. Here we look at the biggest winners and losers in terms of market share, which we define as number of articles published. In the figures we show the changes in market share for the selected journals, defined as the number of articles published by the journal divided by the number articles published by the 50 in-sample journals (shown in Figure 1, Part 1).

Figure 1 of this post shows the three “winners”: MNRAS, PhRvD, and JCAP, as well as the ApJ, which has had an approximately constant share for the whole period (which means it doubled in size). MNRAS and PhRvD doubled their share (so quadrupled their size), and JCAP began at zero and now has a 3.5% market share.

Figure 2 shows the three “losers”: A&A, ApJL, and AJ, also with the ApJ as a fiducial. A&AS was merged into the main journal in 2001; the A&A line represents the sum. All three journals lost about half their market share during the last two decades.

Market share is not the whole story, of course. It is possible to gain (lose) market share by becoming less (more) selective, for example. We define “mind share” as the fraction of citations a journal has relative to the whole field. In practice, we compute this by dividing the citations to each journal by the total “in sample” citations (shown in Figure 2, Part 1).

Note that the number of citations is as measured in the middle of July 2018; each year’s data has had a different period to accumulate citations. Also note that for recent papers (especially 2016) the citation counts rise very steeply with time; this suggests that the error in the estimated mind share for more recent documents will be relatively larger than for the older documents.

Looking at Figure 3, the first thing to notice is the decline in mind share for the Astrophysical Journal. The ApJ had an extraordinary presence 20 years ago, with nearly a quarter of all citations to astronomy related papers on somewhat less than a sixth of the total astronomy related papers. Now, the ApJ still has somewhat less than a sixth of the total papers but only slightly more than a sixth of the total citations (and thus mind share).

There are (at least) four possible factors in the decline in mind share of the ApJ:

  1. The ApJ has lowered its quality
  2. The average article has increased its quality
  3. ApJ articles are cited over a longer period than the average article
  4. The change from paper to digital affected ApJ mind share negatively

We suggest that the first factor is not correct and that the ApJ has not decreased in quality. All the other three factors contribute in some way. The ApJ has provided a standard target of excellence for other journals to aspire to, and many have. Older ApJ articles are cited more than the average older article. The end of the wall of paper journals in astronomers’ offices affected the leading journal, the ApJ, more than any other.

Were they to be gaining market share by lowering their standards, the slopes for MNRAS, PhRvD, and JCAP in Figure 3 would be shallower than in Figure 1. They are not; in fact they are slightly steeper, indicating an increasing rather than decreasing relative quality. Notice that MNRAS has a larger mind share than the ApJ for both 2015 and 2016.

Figure 4 shows the changes in mind share for the three journals that are the biggest losers in terms of market share (again with the ApJ as a fiducial). Were they to have lost market share by raising their standards, we would expect to see declines in mind share that are less steep than in market share. We do see that for A&A, while the ApJL mind share slope is the same as the market share slope, and the AJ mind share decline is even steeper than its market share decline.

Over the last 20 years, A&A has steadily lost about half its market share, but less than a third of its mind share. While the spike in 2016, due to the highly cited Planck papers, may be ephemeral, the relative change in the A&A mind share has been remarkable. Twenty years ago A&A had a 10% larger market share than the ApJ, but a 35% smaller mind share; for 2016 A&A has a 40% smaller market share than the ApJ, but is (at least temporarily) near parity in terms of mind share.

Twenty years ago, the main journals in astrophysics began to publish electronically. At the same time, the number of ApJ articles preprinted in the arXiv exceeded 50% for the first time (it is now about 90%), and the number of astronomy research papers downloaded via the ADS exceeded the number read in all the world’s print libraries, combined, for the first time. The 20 years of this study correspond to the new era of electronic documents.

As the four figures (and the h-index discussion) show, this era has not been kind to the journals owned by the American Astronomical Society; the ApJ, ApJL, and AJ have lost their intellectual dominance. The recent structural and organizational changes to the AAS journals program may be understood in this light.

In Part 3, we will discuss per article citation rates (AKA Impact Factors).


Predatory Publishers in Astronomy and How to Identify Them

by Guest October 13, 2018

Our guest post today is from Dr. Michael Brown of Monash University, Australia, where he studies the evolution of active galactic nuclei and the growth of galaxies over cosmic time. He has written several articles on the topic of predatory publishers and conferences. Have you checked your spam folder recently? A decade ago it may […]


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Citations to Astronomy Journals 1: The growth of interdisciplinarity [Cross-post]

by Joanna Bridge October 8, 2018

This article is the first in a three-part series that is cross-posted from the ADS blog. In this series, the ADS team has performed an analysis of citations to astronomy journals over the last 20 years. This post is written by ADS project scientist Michael J. Kurtz and Edwin Henneken, who works on the ADS system […]


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Honing your Hubble Application [Repost]

by Joanna Bridge October 3, 2018

The NASA Hubble Fellowship Program is an umbrella program that includes the Hubble, Sagan, and Einstein Fellowships. The application deadline this year is November 1, 2018 at 7 PM EDT. In order to help you compile a successful application package, we are reposting this AstroBetter post from 2014. It is an anonymous guest post from two […]


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The Rumor Mill is up and running for 2018-2019

by Joanna Bridge September 12, 2018

The AstroBetter Rumor Mill is ready for the new academic job cycle! The new Postdoc & Term and Faculty & Staff pages have already been started, but the 2017-2018 pages are still accessible. As a side note, we are in the middle of updating our wiki database, and it can take a while for changes […]


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Information on graduate program requirements for the GRE [Wiki]

by Joanna Bridge August 8, 2018

Applying for graduate programs in astronomy can be an exciting but stressful time. Many programs in physics and astronomy require that you submit scores for both the General Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and the Physics GRE (PGRE) as part of your application package. As the season for grad school applications approaches, we want to draw […]


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ADS Bibliography Ninja: Creating custom format citations in ADS

by Guest July 14, 2018

Our guest post today, by Dr. Sarah Gallagher and Dr. Eilat Glikman, features some useful tips on how to customize your citation outputs from ADS. Dr. Sarah Gallagher (@scgQuasar) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Western Ontario in Canada. Dr. Eilat Glikman is an assistant professor […]


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