Trip report: Victoria

Going to be travelling quite a bit in the next few months, so “trip report” seems like a good way to bring back the blog. I was in Victoria to chair a committee reviewing the UVic Physics and Astronomy department. In Canada, universities and their academic programs are not usually accredited by external agencies, except for professional programs like library and information sciences or engineering. So the purpose of this kind of external review is…

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Future of Space Astronomy in Canada 2018: Workshop Summary

Approximately 65 members of the space astronomy community, from universities, industry, government, and public institutions, gathered at the Université de Montréal on Nov 6-7, 2018 for the Future of Space Astronomy in Canada workshop. The goal of the meeting was to “stimulate ideas and plans for the forthcoming Long Range Plan 2020.. [and].. hear about the status of ongoing and future space astronomy projects and to discuss current issues with CSA [Canadian Space Agency] funding.”…

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CASCA 2017: conference report

I’m writing this on the way back from Edmonton and the 2017 annual general meeting of the Canadian Astronomical Society, also known as #CASCA2017. The meeting was hosted by the University of Alberta Department of Physics and took place on-campus. There were about 200 attendees, which is pretty typical for a CASCA meeting (the entire membership of the society is about 525 people). The complete program for the conference is here. CASCA meetings have two…

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Compact objects in Michigan 5

Last Friday I went with a couple of our grad students to the Compact Objects in Michigan 5 meeting. This is a small, one-day scientific meeting designed to give students and postdocs the opportunity to give talks about research related to “compact objects”: black holes, neutron stars, and white dwarfs. In previous years it’s been held at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University; this year our colleagues at Michigan State University hosted. I…

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Academic CV Tricks

I’ve been reading a lot of academic curricula vita (CVs) recently. By “CV” I mean the academic-everything-you’ve-ever-done document, not the one or two page please-hire-me document that is called a resume in North America but a CV elsewhere. (This page from UBC covers the differences nicely. See also my earlier post on converting a CV to a resume.) I’ve been reading CVs because I’m on committees involved in faculty searches and scientist awards. This means…

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Genetic algorithms and galactic empires

I had my most-ever-popular tweet last week: Don't see a lot of arxiv papers with "humanity's ultimate goal of a galactic empire" in the abstract but here's one: https://t.co/bqhw2xixbm— Pauline Barmby (@PBarmby) February 2, 2017 The “galactic empire” bit obviously caught some attention! So what is the paper by Fung, Lewis, and Wu of the University of Sydney, titled “The optimisation of low-acceleration interstellar relativistic rocket trajectories using genetic algorithms” all about? Figuring out how…

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What is astronomy good for, anyway?

Big universities have staff members whose jobs it is to help professors get grants — whether by finding the right programs for their research, introducing researchers to potential partners, or sorting out the seemingly-endless paperwork. These folks often have graduate degrees and research backgrounds, so they know what research is. Like most people, they have a general idea of what astronomers study: stars and planets and stuff like that. But we often have to try…

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The strange world of the NSERC Discovery Grant

It’s 2017, which means that I have to start thinking about submitting an NSERC Discovery Grant proposal in the fall. For Canadian astronomers, this is a pretty high-stakes operation. These grants are our research-funding bread-and-butter since there aren’t many alternative sources of funding: there are no regular sources of funding from our space agency, for example. It’s a big source of anxiety (for me at least) because a Discovery Grant is more like a hybrid…

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More galaxies!

Back in October, there were a number of news stories with headlines like “The Universe Has 10 Times More Galaxies Than Scientists Thought”, “We Were Very Wrong About the Number of Galaxies in the Universe” “Two Trillion!” –The New Hubble Estimate of the Number of Galaxies in the Universe These stories were based on this press release which in turn describes the paper “The Evolution of Galaxy Number Density at z < 8 and its…

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Please don’t be a DOOFAAS

If you haven’t seen the Dumb Or Overly Forced Astronomical Acronyms Site (or DOOFAAS) produced by Canadian astronomer Glen Petitpas, go have a look. It’s pretty hilarious. It doesn’t yet list “H0 Lenses in COSMOGRAIL’s Wellspring” (H0LiCOW) which, I have to say, still makes me scratch my head. In astronomy we like to make up names for our projects, be they instruments, telescopes, surveys, or programs. Often these are clever or silly; usually they are…

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