Skip to main content

Intelligence in Astronomy: Preview 1

A big stage
As my mentor Sara Seager recently told me, my appointment at Harvard is a huge honor, a huge opportunity and also a huge responsibility. I have been given tremendous resources and a highly supportive department with strong leadership. I also have a big, highly visible stage on which to perform. On the research front, I have ambitious plans to discover and characterize the nearest Earth-like planets using existing and new instrumentation (Project Minerva), with an eye toward the NASA TESS mission and JWST. My goal is to make the discoveries and do the careful statistical analyses necessary to advance our knowledge of the formation and evolution of planets like our own.

My opportunities and responsibilities do not end there, nor do my ambitions. Here's an exerpt from my recently updated teaching statement:
I recognize that just because institutions produce good outcomes does not mean that those institutions are optimized. Astronomy is an excellent, yet non-optimized institution. I will work optimize the scientific productivity of Astronomy through a better understanding of the psychological and sociological factors that lead astronomers to not only succeed, but thrive in their careers.
I will work on this optimization process in my department (with the full support of my new department chair, Avi Loeb, and my fellow faculty members), on the various committees on which I serve including the AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, and right here on this blog.

Starting the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I will publish a series of posts that I've been working on over the past month. My focus will be on the optimization of the field of astronomy with an eye toward untapped research potential, creativity and overall success in academia. Stay tuned!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

An annual note to all the (NSF) haters

It's that time of year again: students have recently been notified about whether they received the prestigious NSF Graduate Student Research Fellowship. Known in the STEM community as "The NSF," the fellowship provides a student with three years of graduate school tuition and stipend, with the latter typically 5-10% above the standard institutional support for first- and second-year students. It's a sweet deal, and a real accellerant for young students to get their research career humming along smoothly because they don't need to restrict themselves to only advisors who have funding: the students fund themselves!
This is also the time of year that many a white dude executes what I call the "academic soccer flop." It looks kinda like this:


It typically sounds like this: "Congrats! Of course it's easier for you to win the NSF because you're, you know, the right demographic." Or worse: "She only won because she's Hispanic."…

Culture: Made Fresh Daily

There are two inspirations for this essay worth noting. The first is an impromptu talk I gave to the board of trustees at Thatcher School while I was visiting in October as an Anacapa Fellow. Spending time on this remarkable campus interacting with the students, faculty and staff helped solidify my notions about how culture can be intentionally created. The second source is Beam Times and Lifetimes by Sharon Tarweek, an in-depth exploration of the culture of particle physics told by an anthropologist embedded at SLAC for two decades. It's a fascinating look at the strange practices and norms that scientists take for granted.
One of the stories that scientists tell themselves, whether implicitly or explicitly, is that science exists outside of and independent of society. A corollary of this notion is that if a scientific subfield has a culture, e.g. the culture of astronomy vs. the culture of chemistry, that culture is essential rather than constructed. That is to say, scientific c…

The subtle yet real racism of the Supreme Court

Judge Roberts, a member of the highest court in the land, which is currently hearing the sad story of mediocre college aspirant Abigail Fischer, recently asked, "What unique ­perspective does a minority student bring to a physics class? I’m just wondering what the benefits of diversity are in that situation?" 
Did you catch the white supremacy in this question? If not, don't feel bad because it's subtly hidden beneath the cloaking field of colorblind racism. (As for Scalia's ign'nt-ass statements, I'm not even...)
Try rephrasing the question: "What unique perspective does a white student bring to a physics classroom?" The answer is, of course, absolutely nothing! Why? Because race isn't biological, and is therefore not deterministic of cognitive abilities. Did you perhaps forget that you knew that when considering Roberts' question? If so, again, it's understandable. Our society and culture condition all of us to forget basic facts …