Stephen Unwin: Candidate for Vice President

Affiliation: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology

Position/Title: Principal Scientist

PhD institution: University of Cambridge (1980)

Areas of scientific interest:

  • Space-based instrumentation and mission development for astronomy
  • Extrasolar planets, circumstellar disks, biogenic ices
  • Emission processes in active galactic nuclei
  • Science policy

AAS and/or Division leadership positions and dates:

  • Councilor, AAS Council (2014 – 2017)
  • Agent of the American Astronomical Society (2016 – present)
  • Chair, AAS Task Force on Meetings (2015 – 2016)
  • Member, AAS Membership Committee (2018 – present)
  • Member, AAS Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy (2015 – 2017)
  • Committee Member, Division on Dynamical Astronomy, DDA (2000 – 2002)
  • Chair, Division on Dynamical Astronomy, DDA (2006 – 2007)
  • Chair, DDA Brouwer Award Selection Committee (2010)
  • Member, Division for Planetary Sciences, DPS (2003 – present)
  • AAS Representative, US National Committee of the IAU (2016 – 2018)

Other relevant positions, experience, and dates:

  • Study Lead, Cosmic Dawn Intensity Mapper (NASA Astrophysics Probe), Jet Propulsion Laboratory (2017 – 2019)
  • Proposal Manager for mission and instrument proposals, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (2012 – present)
  • Deputy Program Scientist, Exoplanet Exploration Program Office, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (2005 – 2015)
  • Deputy Project Scientist, NASA Space Interferometry Mission, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (2000 – 2009)
  • Review panelist, (mostly) ROSES research proposals, NASA (1994, 1998 – 1999, 2011 – 2017)
  • Member, NSF Management Review Committee of Arecibo Observatory (2007)
  • Member, Arecibo Users Committee, NSF (2000 – 2003; Chair 2003)
  • Member, Users Committee, NRAO (1992 – 1995; Chair 1995)
  • Postdoc, then Staff Scientist, Caltech Astronomy Department (1980 – 1996)

The AAS has been my professional home for most of my career, as a researcher at Caltech, and then at JPL in many roles in space astronomy. I would be proud to serve as VP and help the Society tackle the tough issues our profession faces. I strongly support its mission and services it provides to you, its members, and my hope is that you will share my enthusiasm for the Society’s mission. I will reach out to members, to ensure your views are heard. Astronomers should be able to look to the AAS as the public face and voice of our profession, and for it to take a visible stand on issues that affect astronomy and astronomers. Open two-way communication is key to keeping the AAS relevant in the age of social media and instant reactions to events.

Here are couple of specific issues I would address. First, to increase the reach and visibility of the AAS committees that tackle important issues in our field. While serving on the AAS Council, and leading a Meetings Task Force, I worked with the Committee for Sexual-Orientation and Gender Minorities in Astronomy (SGMA) to define a policy for selecting cities for AAS Meetings that will uphold the core values of the AAS. That’s just one example of how members, through the Committees, can help steer the policies and direction of the Society. I want to see the important work of all the AAS Committees to be more widely recognized in our community.

Second, I will help the AAS do more to highlight the many non-tenure-track career opportunities for astronomers. It’s especially important for young astronomers starting their careers to be exposed to the many professional paths for their skills and interests. AAS Meetings are a great opportunity to explore new career paths though in-person informal discussions with employers and agencies.

Each year, I look forward to the big annual Meetings of the AAS. You have to be there to experience the benefits – they foster the AAS as a real community, for networking, exposure to the latest results, meeting old friends and forming new collaborations, learning new skills in workshops, and exploring career options. The Vice Presidents organize the Meetings, and I look forward to helping make them productive, informative, and fun, for all attendees. I chaired a Meetings Task Force for the AAS, so I’m familiar with the requirements and constraints that make for successful Meetings. Those include organizing sessions and invited talks that reflect the breadth of our field and the many dimensions of membership diversity, controlling meeting costs, and selecting locations that members will want to visit.

I am happy to answer any questions you may have about the AAS VP role, and I hope to have to honor of serving.