Tips for short conference talks

There is lots of advice out there on how to give a good scientific talk. But less is available on how to give a good short talk, where by short I mean 15 minutes or less. Non-astronomers might be surprised to learn that contributed talks at American Astronomical Society meetings are only 5 minutes long! I have seen many of these go poorly. Here are some things to consider, based on a seminar I gave…

Continue reading


How hard is it to get a PhD in astronomy?

I’m not much of a Redditor, but my spouse pointed me to this post which asks, effectively, “could an average person get a PhD in Astronomy if they worked hard?” My answer: Yes. You do not need to be a super-genius to get an astronomy PhD, but you do need to know what you’re getting into. Here I am very loosely defining the kind of “smarts” needed for astronomy as “ability to understand a complex…

Continue reading


What to do with your giant telescope

So you have figured out where to put your giant telescope and how to pay for it. Now what are you going to do with it? For astro-political reasons, I’ve been reviewing the science cases for the three extremely large telescopes (ELTs, of course) currently somewhere in the process of being built. In alphabetical order they are: the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) All three…

Continue reading


Academic CV to resume: a worked example

I recently needed to convert my academic curriculum vitae1 into a resume (no, I haven’t been fired). While you can find lots of examples of how to do this online, they are mostly aimed at students as opposed to people later in their careers, and I didn’t happen across one from an astronomer. So here is my worked example; you can find my traditional CV at the link above for comparison. The requirements for this…

Continue reading


Happy anniversary Spitzer!

Today is the 13th anniversary of the launch of the Spitzer Space Telescope, then known by the more prosaic name SIRTF (Space Infrared Telescope Facility). I have a long personal connection with this telescope, and today seems like a good day to look back on it. On August 25, 2003 I watched the launch from the auditorium at the CfA with quite a few other nervous folks. We were nervous for good reason: space missions…

Continue reading


How to hire a postdoc

Following up on How to find a postdoc, you’ve advertised a postdoc job and your inbox is filled with applications. Now what? As a reminder, I’m discussing the situation where one or two researchers are hiring a postdoc for a specific project, as opposed to independent prize postdocs, which are usually handled by a committee. For the person doing the hiring, this means it can go a lot faster (fewer meetings to arrange!) but possibly…

Continue reading


How to find a postdoc

Every great blog post begins with an Internet search. “How to hire a postdoc” turned up a lot of articles more than 5 years old, a very interesting blog post on “is it morally acceptable to hire postdocs?”, another interesting one on “dodging the postdoctoral bullet”, and a lot of university human resources websites. But none of these quite answer what I was after, which is how to find good candidates for a position, if…

Continue reading


The sky is big

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space. Douglas Adams, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” Apparently I have too much spare time, because I’m spending some of it knitting Celestarium, a shawl that maps out the northern constellations. I had an interesting professional realization while working…

Continue reading


Professional science masters, or do we really need another degree?

As you might expect for a big public university with several professional schools, my university offers a lot of different degrees. In the Faculty of Science most of our degrees are the usual BSc, MSc, and PhD, but we also have a couple of professional science masters degrees: the MES and MMASc. The number of these degrees is likely to grow in the future (and I should know, because overseeing these things is part of…

Continue reading


Astronaut hobbies

The Canadian Space Agency is recruiting new astronauts so the topic is on my mind. While knitting yesterday I was thinking about astronaut hobbies, and what kind of downtime activities are compatible with a long space mission. Graham Ganssle’s interesting analysis of NASA astronaut backgrounds includes this chart summarizing NASA astronaut hobbies from their bios. There are some that are clearly related to astronauting, like scuba diving, flying, and astronomy, but also a wide variety…

Continue reading