Saturday, October 6, 2018

DotAstronony Thoughts

This year it finally happened! I was accepted into dot astronomy. The cool kids club. dot astronomy always seemed like the mysterious, creative, interesting gettogether where the thinking was free and the

Like all middle age people I crave to be a little cool? Plus I desperately need to update. Or so it felt. I cannot in good conscience teach people tools of the last generation (IRAF? C’mon). The face of astronomy is changing. Rapidly. And I - the perennial late-adopter- wanted to be part of it.

There were many topics and the organization is I understand that is part of the appeal. To not be constrained by a strict format. But it also becomes a bit disorienting and tricky to contribute to. I wonder if i was the only one suffering from the “did i just miss that?” Feeling.

it started with day 0: introductions and stating goals. Everyone stand up (eek!) and say what you’re here for. There were several mentions of now finally being with “the cool kids”. And some pushback against that perception etc. But that is pretty on the mark. This was organized by a select group and this “brain trust” is a little social circle that is hard to follow and interact with. I totally get it. This is the one time these people get to see their friends and most important peers. But have a day -1 or +1 for the brain trust. The space (stsci) would have allowed a much larger crowd rather than the ~50 people present. Add to that there were lots of stsci people (that kept disappearing to their day job) this was a much smaller gathering than I thought it would be. I heard about the selection code. It is a small randomizer to ensure a mix of new and returning participants, early and late career. And worryingly, weighs your abstract using a text analysis. That seems like a great way to inadvertently select for native english speakers. I would like to test that worry.

The focus I had was on building class material, not tutorials. I noticed the focus of .astro is very much on research and outreach, and much less on education. And yet, training the next generation is absolutely key. Want to change astronomy and how it’s practiced? Teach it that way in thr classroom. Proper attention to contributions by women, start everyone off on Python 3 and Jupyter Notebooks from their first day. etc etc.

An exchange that stuck with me was about attaching Jupyter notebooks to publications (great idea) and how referees should referee this as well. The comment was that “everyone should just be able to read Python” which resonated with me because that’s the anglocentric argument that “everyone should just be able to write English”. Every non-native English speaker has stories about how referees scolded them for improper English (not their job) and people equating poor grammar to poor science. This could add a whole other layer of snobbery. No thank you.

But most of the time I really was there to learn new and interesting things. Jarita Holbrook gave an enlightning talk about how students of color perceive their interactions with Faculty. In both the US and South Africa. And having participated as a WMW (Well Meaning White) in both these places it was interesting to see her take on this. Another highlight was Lauren Chambers’ talk. Funny and informative. No need for me to talk. Go look at her thesis for more:

A big emotional moment was when there was a talk about the gender balance in science at the same time as the testinonies were before the senate. The overall feeling of things heading the wrong way at speed was pretty prevalent and maybe that colored my view of the week a bit too.

Oh and I needed to finish and submit ESO proposals and a SWIFT proposal. Didnt manage the SWIFT proposal. Ah well.

But I made some interesting new acquaintances. Some useful chats with people and I was encouraged to hear people liked my idea of a 100lvl coding, 500lvl astro class. That verbage was from Kelle Cruz. Her idea was to have a repository of different astronomy code repositories. That is the most tangible project for the future. I want to build a 100/200 level and 100/500 level classes.
And I ended up with a whole pile of ideas.

So I am calling my DotAstronomy a success. Didn’t get any cooler. Hardly talked to the Cool Kids[tm]. Not sure what to expect going in but I am calling this a win.

We all need a win.

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