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From the Executive Office

Wednesday, February 5, 2014 - 16:23

I’m back!

As of 1 January 2014, I returned to the AAS Executive Office and took up full-time duties again after my brief sabbatical. I know it was brief because people were asking me about how I was enjoying being on sabbatical even though I was back at work already. Because things were working so well, they didn’t even know I was away!

I used my time well, had a few setbacks (like getting robbed), and am very glad I took the time to reconnect with the discipline I love so much. In addition to time spent writing and doing research for a book, I got to teach again, which was great fun. Many thanks to Buell Jannuzi for allowing me to teach a science-policy class at the University of Arizona, and special thanks to the students for taking the course. We all learned a lot, and it was a great experience for me personally. I relearned that teaching well takes a lot of preparation and dedication and that those who teach regularly, however large or small their courses, are real heroes. Thanks also to the management department at New Mexico State University for letting me teach a short course in non-profit management; it was great to take my practical learning into the classroom and share what I know with engaged students seeking to work in the non-profit sector.

Landing back in the DC office was a bit like getting blasted by a water cannon, and I’m still getting used to once again having my calendar solidly blocked out two months in advance. The AAS staff did an excellent job holding down the fort and also accomplished some significant milestones while I was away, culminating with the excellent winter meeting in DC.

Our Executive Office motto for 2014 is “Working smarter to achieve our mission.” More than a mere “Dilbertism,” this short phrase represents a mindset and approach to our daily duties that is absolutely required for continued success. We have a fully staffed team for the first time in a few years and have all our responsibilities covered with highly engaged people who are dedicated to their work on behalf of our members. However, we’ve been growing and evolving what we do at a steady clip for a number of years, and it is now time to solidify our gains by regularizing and systematizing our internal processes, with an eye toward efficiency and practicality — we simply need to work smarter. Staff members who generate a significant enhancement to some aspect of our regular work will receive a small “Brainy Bucks” award. This token for creative engagement in our office will, I am sure, help stimulate many more good ideas and enhancements that will benefit our membership and our organization.

We have begun significant planning now for the 29th IAU General Assembly, which will be held in Honolulu, Hawaii, in the first two weeks of August 2015. To help highlight the importance of the meeting and to encourage US astronomers to attend the General Assembly, the AAS Council has decided not to hold our normal summer meeting in 2015. By law we must hold a “members’ meeting” so that our newly elected officers and councilors can take up their duties, and we will hold a small gathering at the General Assembly to fulfill this legal obligation. The US National Committee (USNC), our adhering body to the IAU, has agreed to provide advice to the AAS as we organize the logistics for the General Assembly, while the IAU General Secretary, Thierry Montmerle, is working closely with us on the scientific program and other aspects of meeting organization. He was kind enough to visit the US to attend the winter meeting in DC and was impressed with the scale and organizational excellence of our conference. We will bring the same excellent service to the General Assembly in Hawaii and are looking forward to the busy months ahead. Start planning now to attend — we want a strong US presence at this important conference, last held in the US more than 25 years ago (Baltimore, Maryland, August 1988).

A note on IAU membership: although you do not have to be an IAU member to attend the General Assembly, membership is required to participate in other aspects of the IAU. The USNC is responsible for receiving and vetting applications for IAU membership from US-based astronomers. Details on the application process, application forms, and related information will be made available this fall, and when it is, announcements will be broadcast via the AAS email list, AAS website, and USNC-IAU website. Applications are not being accepted right now, and there is no advantage in rushing to turning them in early in any case — all applications are reviewed together after the deadline for receiving them passes.

I’m also really excited about the newly formed AAS Agents program, the brainchild of our current president, David Helfand. He’s managed to recruit a core group of very enthusiastic and engaged astronomers who will be both gathering information from and disseminating it to astronomers in departments or institutions across the US. The Council and officers and all of our engaged volunteers know the value that the AAS brings to our profession, and the Agents will help us ensure that this value is directly communicated to researchers, while gathering ideas and input to help improve what we do. I think this will be a great program and want to thank all the people who have volunteered to be agents already and to pre-thank those who will volunteer to serve in the coming months: Thank you!

I’m very glad to be back in the daily grind. It is hard to describe how much enjoyment I get by serving my profession in my current role. Although it was good to “get out into the field” to experience astronomy again in a very direct way in a university department, it is also deeply fulfilling to be once again working with the dynamic group of people who make up the AAS staff, our leadership, and volunteers. So, thanks to the Council and to the AAS staff for allowing me this short break. It’s good to be back!

Kevin B. Marvel
Executive Officer
American Astronomical Society
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