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Gina Brissenden
Education & Outreach Coordinator
American Astronomical Society (AAS)

The Rodger Doxsey Travel Prize provides graduate students or postdocs within one year (either side) of receipt of their PhD a monetary prize to enable the oral presentation of their dissertation research at a winter meeting of the AAS. With the regular abstract deadline for the 223rd AAS meeting in Washington, DC, 5-9 January 2014, now behind us, it’s time to choose this year’s Doxsey Prize winners. We put out a call for volunteers several weeks ago but came up short. If you’re a full member of the AAS and are willing to review and rank the ~100 dissertation abstracts* entered into this year’s competition, please send me an email by Monday, 21 October. Judging will take place in late October/early November.

*I know the number seems large, but the abstracts are short!

Lisa Idem
Assistant Director of Meetings Services
American Astronomical Society (AAS)

On Tuesday evening, 7 January, at the 223rd AAS meeting in Washington, DC, we’ll hold our first-ever open-microphone night, at which members can share their musical and other talents with friends and colleagues.

We invite all musicians, singers, storytellers, comedians, poets, spoken-word enthusiasts, jugglers, and other performers to sign up online to ensure a spot on the program and to let us know what kind of equipment you need. We welcome all styles and genres of music, from bluegrass to speed metal — seriously!

Come have some fun and strut your stuff and/or watch other AAS members strut theirs. Cocktails, wine, and beer will be available for purchase.

Ukulele performers are especially encouraged to participate!

Richard Tresch Fienberg
Press Officer
American Astronomical Society (AAS)

Our second annual AAS Astronomy Ambassadors workshop, to be held in conjunction with the 223rd AAS meeting in Washington, DC, on 4-5 January 2014, is filling up fast. We've extended the deadline until Monday, 21 October 2013, to accommodate more last-minute applications.

The Astronomy Ambassadors program is designed to support early-career AAS members with training in resources and techniques for effective outreach to K-12 students, families, and the public. Workshop participants will learn to communicate more effectively with public and school audiences; find outreach opportunities and establish ongoing partnerships with local schools, museums, parks, and/or community centers; reach audiences with personal stories, hands-on activities, and jargon-free language; identify strategies and techniques to improve their presentation skills; gain access to a menu of outreach resources that work in a variety of settings; and become part of an active community of astronomers who do outreach.

Participation in the program includes a few hours of pre-workshop online activities to help us get to know your needs; the two-day workshop, for which lunches and up to 2 nights' lodging will be provided; and certification as an AAS Astronomy Ambassador, once you have logged three successful outreach events. The workshop includes presenters from the American Astronomical Society, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and the Pacific Science Center. The number of participants is limited, and the application requires consent from your department chair.

We invite applications from graduate students, postdocs and new faculty in their first two years after receipt of their PhD, and advanced undergraduates doing research and committed to continuing in astronomy. Early-career astronomers who are interested in doing outreach, but who haven't done much yet, are encouraged to apply; we will have sessions appropriate for both those who have done some outreach already and those just starting their outreach adventures. We especially encourage applications from members of groups that are presently underrepresented in science. Please complete the online application form by Monday, 21 October 2013.

Richard Tresch Fienberg
Press Officer
American Astronomical Society (AAS)

This is adapted from a press release issued on 11 October 2013 by the Task Force on American Innovation, a coalition of businesses and business organizations, scientific societies (including the AAS), and higher-education associations:

The Task Force on American Innovation (TFAI) today urged Congress and the White House to resolve their disagreements over budget issues, including the government shutdown, sequestration, and the debt limit, in a way that would close the nation’s innovation deficit. The Task Force, which is an alliance of business, academia, and scientific societies in support of federal basic research, warned that failing to close the innovation deficit — the widening gap between needed and actual federal investments in research and STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education — would have devastating consequences for the U.S. economy and imperil the nation’s role as global innovation leader.

“[O]ur [nation’s] role as the world’s innovation leader is in serious jeopardy due to inadequate support for research and STEM education,” the Task Force wrote in a letter [attached below] sent today to Congress and President Obama. “We believe that America must maintain a commitment to its competitiveness and future innovation capabilities. This commitment is vital to short- and long-term economic growth, especially in the competitive global economy.”

Over the past two decades, countries such as China, Singapore, and South Korea have dramatically increased their investments in research and higher education, having seen the enormous benefits such investments have had for the U.S. economy. The rate of growth of U.S. research and development investments has been outstripped by those other countries by two to four times during that period, which has compounded and grown the innovation deficit.

The Task Force’s letter follows two letters to President Obama and Congress urging them to close the innovation deficit, one that has been signed by more than 200 U.S. university presidents and the other from more than a dozen national business associations.

“We understand the broader fiscal pressures our nation faces and applaud your focus on this fundamental challenge,” the Task Force wrote in its letter. “However, undermining the nation’s support for research and STEM education will not help resolve this problem; instead it will exacerbate it, slowing down the engine that drives the innovation and economic growth that are necessary to long-term deficit and debt reduction. Wise decisions now can create a powerful legacy for future generations of Americans. We call upon you to close the innovation deficit by recommitting to strong and sustained federal support for research and STEM education.”

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The Task Force on American Innovation, a coalition of businesses and business organizations, scientific societies, and higher education associations, was founded in 2004 to advocate greater federal investments for basic research in the physical sciences and engineering. The group focuses on the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science, the Department of Defense research budget, the National Institute of Standards and Technology labs at the Department of Commerce, and NASA.

Richard Tresch Fienberg
Press Officer
American Astronomical Society (AAS)

This item is posted on behalf of Jarita Holbrook (Chair, HAD Prize Committee) and Joe Tenn (HAD Secretary-Treasurer):

The Historical Astronomy Division (HAD) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) is pleased to announce that Professor F. Richard Stephenson will be the ninth recipient of the LeRoy E. Doggett Prize for Historical Astronomy. The Division’s highest honor, the Doggett Prize is awarded biennially to an individual who has significantly influenced the field of the history of astronomy by a career-long effort. The prize will be awarded at the 223rd AAS meeting in Washington, DC, on 6 January 2014, after which the recipient will deliver a plenary lecture, “Applied Historical Astronomy,” to the Society.

The 2014 Doggett Prize is presented to Professor Stephenson in recognition of his research, writing, teaching, and leadership in the historical astronomy community. An emeritus professor and honorary research fellow at the University of Durham, Dr. Stephenson is widely considered to be the founder of the field of applied historical astronomy. He has done exemplary work in searching ancient records for entries related to astronomical events, such as eclipses and supernovae, that would have been spectacular to our ancestors. On one level, finding such entries is of historical importance. Dr. Stephenson went further, however, by extracting information of importance to modern scientists, such as precise dating of eclipses and changes in the appearances of supernovae. His research has provided convincing evidence that the study of ancient records can contribute not only to the history of astronomy but also to the solution of problems in contemporary astronomy and geophysics.

Dr. Stephenson has made additional important studies of the past orbit of Halley’s Comet, solar variability, oriental star maps, ancient chronology in several regions, and the accuracy and reliability of pre-telescopic observations.

More information:

Laura Trouille
Director of Citizen Science
Northwestern University & The Adler Planetarium

The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and the AAS Employment Committee have compiled dozens of interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those paths.

Below is our interview with Edmund Bertschinger, an astronomer turned tenure track faculty and chair of the Physics Department at MIT. For access to all our Career Profile Project interviews, please visit We plan to post a new career profile to this blog every Thursday.

What field do you currently work in?
Astronomy (academia)

What is the job title for your current position?
Physics Department Head

What is the name of your company/organization/institution?

What city, state, and country do you live in? Work in?
Newton, MA, and Cambridge, MA

What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received?

What is/was your ultimate/final academic position in astronomy/physics?
Tenure Track Faculty

What has been your career path since you completed your degree?
Grant-funded postdoc at the University of Virginia, followed by a Miller Fellowship at UC Berkeley. After one year in Berkeley I joined the faculty of MIT, where I have been since 1986.

What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
The ability to identify and solve interesting problems. Persistence. Numerical methods.

What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications?
I got some teaching experience during summers in graduate school and as a postdoc.

Describe a typical day at work.
As a department head, I have lots of meetings! I meet with staff to help conduct the business of the department, with faculty to facilitate their success, and with students as mentees and researchers. In addition to running a department, I also am deeply involved in campus-wide promotion of diversity and inclusion through service on several committees. Finally, I spend a portion of my time on fund-raising and engaging alumni as well as colleagues on national committees.

Describe job hunting and networking resources you used and any other advice/resources.
I had applied for several faculty positions when my first postdoc was ending. Just as I was accepting a second postdoc, I got a call from faculty at MIT saying they were interested in me and encouraging me to apply. I'm not sure I would have applied without that call.

What advice do you think advisors should be giving students regarding their career path?
Learn professional skills that will be assets in any career: speaking and writing, project management, leadership. Also, consider several career choices. Before I got my first postdoc, I applied for an industrial position in an aerospace firm. It would have been a great choice had I not gotten that postdoc.

How many hours do you work in a week?
55-60 hours. My workday starts at 8:30 am and goes until 5:30 pm or 6:00 pm in the office, with up to an hour more at home and several hours during weekends.

What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
Very satisfied. I love learning, teaching and helping others thrive. Academia is a great place to do just this, provided that one is flexible and adaptable to change. I've had to learn much more than physics and astronomy; learning to lead an organization brings its own challenges and pleasures.

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job? Least enjoyable?
I love working with postdocs and students to pursue basic research, as we strive to uncover nature's secrets. I love mentoring — of students, staff and faculty — for the pleasure of seeing others thrive. I love working to make a good department even better. I dislike being overwhelmed by email, and sometimes not having enough time for research and quiet reflection.

What do you like most about your working environment? Dislike most?
I like best the access to brilliant and dedicated people in many fields. I like very much the "roll up our sleeves and get things done" culture. Good ideas are encouraged and supported in an entrepreneurial system that cuts across the university. I dislike most the underrepresentation of women and minorities among graduate students and faculty, which motivates me to devote effort to change.

What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
Endless! MIT is a fabulous place for fostering creativity and initiative. The university has seed funding for new research programs, and innovation is MIT's core principle and practice. As one small example, I wanted my department to advance online education using Massive Open Online Courses. Initially the faculty were skeptical about edX and concerned that it would increase their workload without any benefit to on-campus education. I set up a departmental advisory committee, obtained funding for some initial projects, brought back a retired faculty member to play a leading role, and began communicating a vision for educational innovation on-campus. Our first course, freshman electromagnetism with famed lecturer Walter Lewin, begins on February 18 on edX. We are starting to prepare our next online courses and are using some of the materials in our own classrooms. We will conduct small-scale experiments in "flipped classrooms" and grow our education research efforts. Our department is leading the university in these efforts.

How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?
Satisfied. The workload is heavy, but it is manageable and probably no worse than I would have as an aerospace executive, had I followed that career path. I do not let work prevent me from spending lots of time with family and some with exercise and relaxation.

How family-friendly is your current position?
Moderately family friendly. Faculty members receive one-semester parental leaves during which they have no teaching. Some on-campus childcare is available, and it will increase in 2013. The university and department culture, if not all faculty members, respect the need for appropriate work-hours for parents with young or school-age children. We're less successful in helping postdocs as parents, a topic of concern to me.

What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
You can do it! The postdoc years are good for child-bearing, provided that you have adequate resources (salary for child care, or help by parents or partner), as you generally have great flexibility in your time (unless you are required to spend long hours in a lab, as sometimes happens in life sciences). Make sure you ask about this before accepting any job — but you don't have to raise it before the job offer. A good employer will inform you about support for work-life balance without waiting for you to ask

What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
Most importantly I enjoy spending time with my loved ones. I also enjoy travel, reading, cooking, drinking and learning about wines, and bird-watching. I'm a runner, having accomplished several half and full marathons over the last couple of years.

Richard Tresch Fienberg
Press Officer
American Astronomical Society (AAS)

This announcement is adapted from a press release issued on 11 October 2013 by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific: 

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) is accepting nominations for the organization’s national annual awards, which recognize special achievements in astronomy research, technology, education, and public outreach. Nominations are welcome in seven categories, online or in writing, until 1 January 2014. Honorees receive a cash award and engraved plaque, as well as travel and lodging to accept the award at a banquet that takes place as part of the ASP’s Annual Meeting next summer. The awards for which nominations are accepted are as follows:

The Maria and Eric Muhlmann Award recognizes recent significant observational results made possible by innovative advances in astronomical instrumentation, software, or observational infrastructure.

The Robert J. Trumpler Award is presented each year to a recent recipient of the PhD degree in North America whose research is considered unusually important to astronomy.

The Klumpke-Roberts Award recognizes those who have made outstanding contributions to the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy.

The Richard A. Emmons Award celebrates outstanding achievement in the teaching of college-level introductory astronomy for non-science majors.

The Thomas J. Brennan Award is given for excellence in the teaching of astronomy at the high school level in North America.

The Amateur Achievement Award recognizes significant observational or technological contributions to astronomy or amateur astronomy by an individual not employed in the field of astronomy in a professional capacity.

The Las Cumbres Amateur Outreach Award honors outstanding educational outreach by an amateur astronomer to K-12 youth and the interested lay public.

The nominations deadline is 1 January 2014. Submission guidelines, lists of past recipients, and additional information may be found at

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Founded in 1889 in San Francisco, the ASP’s mission is to increase the understanding and appreciation of astronomy--by engaging scientists, educators, enthusiasts and the public--to advance science and science literacy.  The ASP publishes scholarly and educational materials, conducts professional development programs for formal and informal educators, and holds conferences, symposia, and workshops for astronomers and educators specializing in education and public outreach. More information may be found at                                                          

Richard Tresch Fienberg
Press Officer
American Astronomical Society (AAS)

Travis Eilerson, a casting director working with the production company, is casting the first season of "Enter the Wild," a documentary series for the Esquire cable TV network. In the show, a diverse group of real people takes an outdoor survival course taught by an acclaimed wilderness expert.

"It's NOT a competition show," writes Eilerson. "It's NOT 'Survivor.' The series will follow participants as they engage in a fully immersive three-week course. Our hope is that everyone will walk away not only with life-saving skills, but also with a new perspective on their lives and their relationship with nature."

Eilerson contacted the AAS because, he writes, "we'd love to include an astronomer's point of view and knowledge in this wilderness experience." Filming will take place over three weeks between December and March 2014.

For more information and to apply, visit before the end of November.