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AAS Board Issues Statement on Undergraduate Research

Wednesday, May 1, 2019 - 15:19

The AAS Board of Trustees approved the following statement on 30 March 2019:

The American Astronomical Society urges that every physics and astronomy department provide its majors and potential majors with opportunities to engage in meaningful and appropriate undergraduate research experiences.

The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) actively works to support and promote high-quality undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research and scholarship. CUR Executive Board member Terry Oswalt, also an AAS member, brought the statement to our Board for consideration in his role as the representative for CUR's Physics and Astronomy Division.

Astronomy has a long history of providing meaningful research opportunities for college students, and the significant growth in the number of undergraduates participating in AAS meetings is a clear sign of success, especially when taken together with the growth of the National Science Foundation−supported Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs.

In 1998, when I first began working for the AAS, the Council (the Board's predecessor) debated and ultimately approved the formation of an undergraduate membership class at its summer meeting in San Diego. One area of debate was whether to allow these students to present research results at AAS conferences. Believe it or not, there were advocates on both sides of the question.

Student Orientation and Grad School Fair

Thankfully, the new membership class, though non-voting, was allowed to present research at our conferences with advisor endorsement. This led to the creation of a reception/orientation at our meetings to welcome undergraduates (and graduate students) to the meeting and give them an introduction to how our meetings operate. What began as a small gathering of about 30 people, more than half advisors, has exploded into a vibrant reception and graduate school fair of more than 500 people, mainly students. We now have the student orientation and reception at every meeting, with the support of most of the nation's graduate programs in astronomy who also seek to recruit students to pursue graduate work at their school.

In addition to welcoming the students and giving them some tips to maximize the value of the meeting to them personally, our volunteer leaders introduce themselves, and a lot of networking takes place between students and more senior astronomers and, importantly, among the students themselves.

The AAS continues to seek ways to help students in their pursuit of careers in astronomy. Endorsing the statement above, encouraging all departments to formally include research in the student experience, is just one way we can do so.

Kevin B. Marvel
Executive Officer
American Astronomical Society (AAS)
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