Wednesday, May 1, 2013

announcement: new job

big news: i've accepted a new job!

i'm thrilled to announce that i'll be staying in sydney for at least several more years, officially splitting my time as a research astronomer and the head of a new outreach office at the australian astronomical observatory (AAO)!

i'm very excited about the possibilities in this new role.  i look forward to continuing to investigate the unknown aspects of the universe that intrigue me most, while helping my colleagues translate their research for general audiences, and creating exciting events for us all to enjoy together.  there are scientists who don't enjoy talking to about their research to the public or students or politicians or the media, and that's ok, but i find myself completely energized by it. 

i've recognised over the last several years that my motivation and passion for astronomy is not just communicating research to seasoned scientists around the world.  i also want to inspire people to harness their inherent curiosity about the world around them by sharing the thrill of scientific discovery.  luckily, my super science fellowship and current employers at AAO have been incredibly supportive of this desire. 

the challenge i have faced in my recent search for the next satisfying stage in my career is that science communication is not a largely supported component of a scientist's professional responsibility.  the academic realm demands high publication rates in professional journals, the successful acquisition of (more and more) external funding, and maybe teaching or other departmental work.  positions are few and the competition is fierce.

researchers are expected to give back to their community through science communication, visiting schools, giving public talks, etc., and the US's national science foundation even requires an outreach component in grant applications, but these outreach activities are rarely acknowledged, measured or valued as more than an "added bonus" by potential employers. 

in order to commit to outreach activities on a large scale, a scientist often has to "drop out" of research roles, which i apprehensively suspected i might have to do this year.   there are desperately few positions available that officially combine research and outreach (there were exactly two world-wide that i found in astronomy in the last 6 months).  i see this as a shame.  aside from the experience, passion, and deep understanding of the science being communicated by an active researcher, lasting value comes from visibly encouraging researchers to interact more with the public.

in addition to having well-prepared teachers in classrooms to teach occasional astronomy lessons to students, a memorable experience meeting an active scientist, looking through a telescope or participating in a public event with family can have an incredible impact, as i hear over and over from people of all ages around the world.

a recent US sequester has pressured NASA to critically evaluate all public outreach and education programs.   as far as i understand, all NASA's outreach activities are currently suspended, but the extent of full cancellations are yet to be determined.  this is such bad news.   and this situation added an extra challenge for me this job round because i was originally hoping to move closer to my family in the US (to be fair, "closer" is anywhere that is not australia!).  lucky for me, i will be able to see my family regularly, and thankfully, i have their full support, but you can see how these career decisions only become more difficult with time, and the entire field suffers the consequences.

i'm proud to hold this new position because i think it has the potential to set a positive example for the professional astronomical community by demonstrating the added value of a position involving both public outreach and scientific research.  props to the AAO for creating such a position!

At the Stories from Siding Spring Observatory photo exhibition opening

astronomy provokes the potential of human imagination.   we can share beautiful astronomical images and science discovery stories to inspire people of all ages to harness their inherent curiosity about the cosmos and our place in it.  i will do my best to share this with as many people as possible. 

but sadly, my time as an official super scientist will come to an end later this year.  i feel like i've made the most of it though, sciencing with other supers and wearing my cape  whenever appropriate (or almost appropriate?).  i still have a ton of business cards so i might save them to give them out to anyone i might especially want to impress.  ;)

so, aside from the fact that i'm not actually going to be the science correspondent on the daily show, this is as close to a dream job as i can imagine getting.   thanks for your support, everyone!


Steve Hall said...

Congratulations, Dr. Bauer! :-) As a fan of yours from early in your "60 Symbols" days, I'm almost as excited as you are about your new position.

I'd love, someday, to see a collaboration between you and Philip Plait ("Slate" magazine's "Bad Astronomy" columnist). Between the two of you, my knowledge of the cosmos and my appreciation of what you scientists do, increases every day.

Congratulations again!

amydove said...

Congrats! That sounds like such a great fit for you, and I'm glad that you found/made/got the job!

Charlie said...

Congratulations! I'm thrilled for you!

Balladeer said...

Yay! This is perfect for you - and they are so lucky to get you!

Julia said...

Congratulations, Amanda! The job sounds amazing and I think you have done a fabulous job pursuing a career that is a good fit for you. Australia is far away, but I cannot believe how beautiful is; your pictures have made put it higher on my to-be-visited list. :)

Unknown said...

That's outstanding news! So lots more wonderful sciencey tweeting from you in Australia. :)

Fergal said...

Congratulations, Amanda, it's always good to hear that good people are doing well.

As a slightly tangential comment on what you wrote, the Education/Public Outreach situation at NASA is not as bad as it sounds from a distance. At Kepler we've had to cancel a scientific conference because of the sequester, which is bad, but so far we haven't curtailed any outreach activities.

Unknown said...

How amazing you !
every time you are going to exciting future
your news make cheer me up

Take care
great Amanda

Unknown said...

steve - stay tuned for some collaboration with phil ;)

fergal - that's better news about kepler. keep me posted if anything big changes.

alan - i'll certainly keep tweeting, but i'll leave the judgement quality to all the followers ;)

heroineworshipper said...

So exactly what does the outreach office do? Getting paid to remake Cosmos with a female Carl Segan would be something. There aren't many jobs in US for anyone.

jeri lynn said...

You are so good at explaining mindblowingly gargantuan ideas to li'l ol' folks like me. I am THRILLED for you and for the general public. Congrats!

C W Magee said...


Unknown said...

from chile, congratulations, is very important the science outreach in the world and specially the astronomy because is very attractive for common people even more than other science fields. we are starting an astronomy outreach group to show the astronomy science in all south of chile in agree with the university of concepcion. likely in a soon future we can colaborate among us :-D

Big Mark 243 said...

i've recognised over the last several years

You've 'recognised'... I thought you were a Buckeye Amanda..!

I am currently muddling through your most recent entry... congratulations on your new position... the sequestration is a downer... but at least you are established where you are and can visit home...

Again, congratulations Dr. Bauer..!