Professional Development at AAS 219 in Austin

Updated Oct 10, 2011 with additional workshops and more details.

The 219th AAS Meeting in Austin, TX from January 8-12, 2012 is coming up, and as a continued tradition, thanks to growing community involvement and NSF funding, professional development workshops, seminars, and special sessions will once again be offered. This year, more than ever!

The interactive workshops offered on Sunday are 1) Becoming a More Effective Research Mentor, 2) Structuring Your Scientific Paper, and 3) Science Tools for Data Intensive Astronomy. On Monday, there are two Career workshops. On Tuesday, there will be a a workshop on Personal Finance in Turbulent Times.

In addition, special sessions will be held on the following areas: 1) Giving Better Oral Presentations, 2) Increasing Diversity in Your Department, 3) Professional Ethics in Astronomy, 4) Working in Space Policy, 5) The Astrophysics Post-Doc Job Market, and 6) Careers in Media for Scientists. There will also be a Career Panel on Monday discussing various career paths. You can find descriptions below and on the OASIS online system.


The Becoming a More Effective Research Mentor and Structuring Your Scientific Paper workshops are limited to 25 participants each, so register now. They are $50 for pre-registration and $60 on-site. If you would like the fee to be waived, send a short justification of need to (preference will be given to early-career scientists).

The Career Workshops are $45 each.

The Personal Finance in Turbulent Times workshop is free, but please register for it when you register for the meeting.

If you haven’t registered for the meeting yet, you can do so at and register for workshops upon registration. If you have already registered for the meeting, you can fill out the Workshop Registration Form and fax it to 202-234-7850. Regular registration ends November 17th, late registration ends December 20th.

Hope to see you in January!

Descriptions in chronological order

Science Tools for Data-Intensive Astronomy: The Virtual Observatory in the Classroom

Sunday, January 8, 2012, 12:00 – 2:00 PM
Organizer: Robert Hanisch

This workshop is aimed at high school and community college educators. The Virtual Observatory is well-positioned to teach STEM-based subjects using real astronomical data from more than 30 world-class telescopes.

Becoming a More Effective Research Mentor for Your Trainees: Undergraduates to Post-docs

Sunday, Jan 8, 2012 1:00 – 5:00 PM
Facilitator: Eric Hooper, Organizer: Kelle Cruz
Pre-registration and payment required.

Whether formal or informal, mentoring relationships are an important part of every scientist’s career. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has developed, field-tested, and publicly released research mentor training materials for several STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines, including astronomy and physics. The topics of the training seminar cover expectations, communication, independence, diversity, understanding, and ethics. This half day AAS workshop will introduce participants to the mentor training program, plus show them how to obtain and use the free materials for self study or for use in seminars at their institutions. Participants will then delve into three of the seminar’s main topics through case studies. The AAS workshop, like the mentoring seminar itself, will have a strong emphasis on group discussions and will provide time for personal reflection and short writing activities. The goal is for participants to leave with improved mentoring skills and a good sense of how the mentor training seminar operates. The workshop will include a break after the overview and the first case study discussion, at which point anyone who has time for only an introduction to the seminar can leave at a natural and convenient break point.

Structuring Your Scientific Paper

Sunday, Jan 8, 2012, 1:00 – 5:00 PM
Presenter: Jean-Luc Doumont, Organizer: Kelle Cruz
Pre-registration and payment required

Papers are one of the few deliverables of the work of researchers. Well-designed, they efficiently allow each reader to learn only what he or she needs to. Poorly designed, by contrast, they confuse readers, fail to prompt decisions, or remain unread. This workshop shows how to structure scientific papers, theses, and technical reports effectively at all levels to get the readers’ attention, facilitate navigation, and, in this way, get the message across optimally.

Science Tools for Data-Intensive Astronomy: The Virtual Observatory Tools for Research

Sunday, Jan 8, 2012, 2:00 – 5:30 PM
Organizer: Robert Hanisch

Virtual Observatory tools and services will be demonstrated in the context of a range of science use cases and tutorials. These use cases and tutorials, based on recent results from the literature and on-going missions, will include constructing and modeling spectral energy distributions, cross-matching objects from diverse catalogs, exploration of time series data, and image analysis tools.

Careers 101: Career Planning Workshop for Graduate Students and Postdocs

Monday, Jan 9 2012, 8:00 – 10:00 AM
Facilitator: Alaina Levine
Pre-registration and payment required.

This workshop will focus on the current and expanding crisis in the job and career market for astronomers. Specifically targeted towards graduate students and Postdocs, this workshop will identify and investigate the shortage of traditional astronomy jobs, and how early-career scientists can best prepare for this challenge. Our focus will be on career planning for traditional astronomy positions. We will demonstrate how to orchestrate a personal career plan and develop a Plan B and Plan C for contingencies. We will discuss what early-career astronomers should do now to enhance their CVs and research reputations, and what they should look for in and how they can leverage a Postdoc appointment to that can set themselves up for success in the field. Representatives from some of the major Postdoc Fellowship Programs will contribute tot he session. Q and A with workshop participants will be highly encouraged.

Some of the topics that will be covered is this workshop are discussed in “Recovering from Postdoc Mistakes” (Science Magazine, March 3, 2011).

This workshop is offered in conjunction with Careers 201: Career Leadership Workshop. Participants will benefit from attending both, but can also take each independently.

Careers 201: Career Leadership Workshop: Finding Opportunities and Honing Professional Skills

Tuesday, Jan 9, 2012, 10:00 AM -1:30 PM
Facilitator: Alaina Levine
Pre-registration and payment required.

In this fast-paced, energetic workshop, participants will learn about various professional development skills that will help them advance in their scientific career. We will discuss traditional and non-traditional career opportunities for astronomers and job search processes and strategies, and attendees will hear from an astronomer who forged an exciting career in industry and the lessons and tactics that have made her successful. We will address professional skills such as networking, negotiation, and leadership principles for emerging and established astronomers, among other topics of importance. Q and A with workshop participants will be highly encouraged.

This workshop is offered in conjunction with Careers 101: Career Planning Workshop. Participants will benefit from attending both, but can also take each independently.

Making the Most of Your Oral Presentations

Special Session
Monday, Jan 9, 2012, 10:00 – 11:30 AM
Presenter: Jean-Luc Doumont, Organizer: Kelle Cruz

Strong oral presentation skills are a key to success for engineers, scientists, and other professionals, yet many speakers are at a loss to tackle the task. Systematic as they otherwise can be in their work, they go at it intuitively, sometimes haphazardly, with much good will but seldom good results. This lecture proposes a systematic way to prepare and deliver presentations and covers structure, slides, and stage fright among other topics.

Career Panel: Career Paths

Special Session
Monday, Jan 9, 2012, 2:00 – 3:30 PM
Organizer: Kelle Cruz and the AAS Employment Committee

The purpose of this panel discussion is to inform recent and upcoming graduates of careers other than the traditional professor/academic track that is typically (and incorrectly) assumed to be the natural outcome of an advanced degree in physics or astronomy. Our panelists (listed below) include representatives from public outreach, community college and education, public policy, and industry. The session will include brief introductions by each of the panelists about their careers, the skills which have enabled them to be successful, and suggestions for how to follow a similar career path. The discussion will be driven by questions from the audience. Time will be reserved at the end for small group discussions with the panelists.

Dave Finley, Public Information Officer for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory;
Rica Sirbaugh French, Mira Costa College and NASA Center for Astronomy Education;
Pat Slane, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics;
Nick Suntzeff, Texas A&M and the State Department; and
Thomas Barnes, U. Texas Austin; and
Gautam Vasisht, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology.

Increasing Diversity in Your Department

Special Session
Monday, Jan 9, 2012, 2:00 – 3:30 PM
Organizer: Hannah Jang-Condell

Diversity is becoming increasingly important as a component of a successful department. As examples, the rankings of graduate programs by the National Academies highlight diversity as a criterion and diversity is an important component of the broader impact statements required by NSF proposals. This special session will present hiring policies and practices that have been proven to be effective in increasing both the diversity and the excellence of science departments around the country. We will recommend steps that departments can take to recruit and retain women, LGBT people, and minorities; discuss what factors contribute to a friendly departmental climate; and demonstrate how to create a diverse department while enhancing academic quality. We invite members of the AAS community to attend this session to both share their own ideas and learn new ones.

Professional Ethics in Astronomy: An Ongoing Dialogue

Special Session
Tuesday, Jan 10, 2012, 10:00 AM -11:30 AM
Organizer: Kevin Marvel

The AAS recently endorsed a professional ethics statement, which along with the ethics guide for authors established by our journals, forms the framework for professional ethical behavior in the astronomical sciences. Sigma Xi is using its 125th anniversary to devote the entire year of 2011 to ethics in the sciences, including education through the American Scientist magazine, activities across the country at professional meetings and regular articles in the American Scientist Magazine. I read the engaging column by Dr. Ahearne in the Jan/Feb issue entitled “Honesty” and felt that the time had come to again organize a panel session on professional ethics in astronomy at an AAS meeting. The last such panel session I organized was at the Minneapolis meeting in 2005, which, although scheduled in a small room, was a standing-room only event, with more than 150 people in attendance. Of particular importance to the people attending that session was the participation of the ApJ Editor-in-Chief, Robert Kennicutt and representatives from the funding agencies. Sigma Xi will produce a revised pamphlet on ethics during 2011 for general use and distribution. The AAS provides new members with a copy of the National Academy of Sciences book “On Being a Scientist” (since 2006), which will be re-written this year with an eye toward changes in technologies used for communication, among other items. This is viewed favorably by our new members, especially Junior members and we plan to continue to distribute this low-cost volume in the future. The NAS has recently revised the edition, led in part by Rich Bissel, who serves as the Executive Director of NAS’ office for Policy and Global Affairs.

Personal Finance in Turbulent Times

Tuesday, Jan 10, 2012, 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM
Facilitator: Ric Edelman, Organizer: Kevin Marvel

The economy is improving, but serious issues remain. If you’re not sure you’re on track to meet your financial goals, here’s your opportunity to get started. Join Ric Edelman, the nation’s #1 independent financial advisor (as ranked by Barron’s), for this fun, informative event. In his unique, breezy style, Ric will teach you: the 9 reasons you need to plan, the 5 obstacles you’ll face, the 5 steps that will put you on the road to financial success, and, the 4 rules you should follow for managing your investments

Working in Science Policy

Special Session
Tuesday, Jan 10, 2012, 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM
Organizer: Bethany Johns

The goal of the panel is to encourage intelligent and enthusiastic astronomers into the field of public policy. The panel will focus on how to transition from a career in astronomy to a career in science
policy and how to make communicating with policy makers a part of your career.

Transitioning into the world of public policy from astronomy is a unique experience for each individual. There is no certain path one must take from your current career to Capitol Hill. Each panelist will tell their story on how they made the transition from astronomer to public policy and why they were motivated to pursue this type of career. The panelist range in experience, career stage, and method of transition to illustrate the different ways to success. More scientists are entering a career in public policy, however the role of the public scientist communicating with policy makers is still very important.

Panelist include:
Dr. Bethany Johns, the AAS Johns Bahcall Public Policy Fellow (confirmed)
Dr. Nicholas Suntzeff, Jefferson Senior Science Fellow & Humanitarian Affairs Officer (confirmed)
Dr. Carol Christian, Deputy of the Community Missions Office, Division of STScI (confirmed)
Celinda Marsh, Space Science Program Examiner at the Office of Management and Budget
Dr. Marcos Huerta, Special Assistant, Office of the Director, Office of Science at the Department of Energy

The Astrophysics Postdoc Job Market

Special Session
Wednesday, Jan 11, 2012, 10:00 – 11:30 AM
Organizer: Fred Rasio and the AAS Employment Committee

The AAS Employment Committee will host a panel discussion on current issues related to the postdoc job market. Part of the discussion will likely focus on the recent proliferation of postdoc-type positions, including fellowships, without any corresponding growth in potentially permanent academic positions, and on the associated dramatic increase in the duration of the postdoc career stage for many astronomers. The goals of the session are: (1) to provide information to the community based on the personal experiences of successful young astronomers who have recently transitioned to tenure-track or other potentially permanent academic positions, or have gone on to non-traditional career tracks; (2) to provide the perspective from an employer’s point of view (e.g., those running postdoctoral fellowship programs); and (3) to promote discussion about possible changes to employment, recruitment and hiring practices impacting postdocs, and how these changes could be implemented. We encourage both junior and senior AAS members to attend and share their experiences and opinions.

Careers in Media for Scientists

Special Session
Wednesday, Jan 11, 2012, 2:00 – 3:30 PM
Organizer: Stephen Maran

A panel of experienced science journalists will discuss careers in the media that accommodate persons trained in Astronomy or other sciences up to the Ph.D.

Panelist include:David Aguilar, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Deborah Byrd, EarthSky: A Clear Voice for Science
Richard T. Fienberg, American Astronomical Society
James Glanz, The New York Times
Laura Helmuth, Smithsonian Magazine

Many thanks to Heather Duckworth for help in preparing this post.

1 comment… add one
  • Jane Rigby Dec 20, 2011 @ 10:13

    An AAS Splinter Session of interest:
    Student Meet-Up with Nobel Laureate John Mather
    Tuesday, Jan 10, 2012, 10:00 AM -11:30 AM
    Room 8
    Students, this is your chance to meet Nobel prize winner Dr. John Mather! Dr. Mather is the Senior Project Scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, and will give a brief overview of its science capabilities and the progress of construction, and then talk with students. Scientists will be on-hand to answer questions about internships, fellowships, and postdoctoral positions at NASA and STScI. The workshop is open to students at any level (graduate, undergraduate, even high school) who are attending the AAS meeting.

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