Thursday, July 11, 2024

Meet Central American-Caribbean Astronomy Bridge Program Fellows - Part 8

The Central American - Caribbean Bridge in Astrophysics (Cenca Bridge) is a nonprofit organization established in the state of Tennessee in the United States with the mission to create and develop astronomy research opportunities in Central America and the Caribbean. Opportunities to pursue astrophysics in the region are few with only a handful of programs offering master’s in physics with a concentration in astronomy.  Cenca Bridge connects undergraduates from Central America and the Caribbean to mentors and advisors overseas in hope that they have the choice to pursue astrophysics as a profession. Every year, Cenca Bridge holds the remote internship program, where undergraduate students from the region apply to be selected for a 3-month long paid research internship. As the only organization to provide a paid research remote internship, it is important to highlight the contributions that many women in astrophysics from Central America and the Caribbean have already contributed to our field.


In this series, we will highlight selected fellows. If you'd like to learn more about the program and ways you can get involved please visit https://cencabridgeastro.weebly.com/.


My name is Lynne-Flore Simy, patriot, the youngest of five siblings. I'm speak Creole and French, and I'm learning English. 
Lynne-Flore Simy

My journey into the world of science has been an exciting one. I was born in Haiti, a country rich in culture, but where science is not part of my initial universe. When I finished high school, I  was faced with a dilemma: I clearly knew what I didn't want to do, but I was still searching for my true passion - so much so, in fact, that I had to change direction six months after starting university, and wisely wait at home for the academic year to come to an end before reorienting myself. 

It was then that a cousin advised me to consider computer science as an option. At the time, I  had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I decided to follow her advice. It was the best  decision I ever made! As soon as I started to delve into the world of computer science, I felt a  deep connection with the discipline. 

I decided to pursue a degree in computer science, and it was there that I discovered my true passion: data engineering. Manipulating data, understanding it, and using it to solve complex problems is the best thing ever. Regardless of the field in which the data is manipulated, it's noble and appealing. 

In 2021, when I had just joined the school, the director offered me a course in Astronomy, which was to be my first step into astronomy. I spent almost a month learning Python on Google Colab, without really delving into the big concepts of astronomy. My determination, however, guided me through academic and professional challenges, and I persevered and tried to deepen my knowledge on a daily basis. It was incredible to see how a seemingly insignificant decision to follow my cousin's advice propelled me into a career, a world that excited me more and more every day. 

And then I landed this astrophysics internship at Cenca Bridge. It was an opportunity I was really excited about. I seized it with enthusiasm, because it was a unique chance to explore a whole new field. I wanted to understand the relationship that coexisted between the cosmic world, terrestrial evolution and technological innovations. Ultimately, I'd like to become a technology figure in Haiti so I can help more young people, more girls, to find their way. That's why I co-created a women's technology club, TechnoLead-Women, inaugurated on February 11, 2023. We provide training in a number of digital fields, such as digital marketing, graphic design, virtual and augmented reality, and data. At the moment, we have 10 girls in training. 

I'd like to encourage more young people in my country to learn about and consider science. It's all very well to have an enriching culture, but without science, without technology, we'll never achieve the progress we all dream of. I make time to take part in scientific conferences when I have the opportunity, and I make time for the women's technology club. For all this, I sacrifice part of my sleep. I tell myself that as long as there are more young people with digital training, there's a chance, however small, of getting things moving a bit. 

At 22, I'm realizing that the sky is no longer the limit, but rather the starting point of my exceptional career in astronomy and data engineering. I'm convinced that my passion for these fields will lead me to new and exciting discoveries, and I can't wait to continue exploring the  mysteries of our world and the universe. 

Thursday, July 4, 2024

4th of July Stars of All Stripes

Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1921)
Henrietta Swan Leavitt (1921)
Image Credit: William Henry



On the 158th anniversary of her birth, we celebrate Henrietta Swan Leavitt and other stars. 

Swan Leavitt was one of the many Harvard computers who catalogued hundreds of thousands of stars and made important contributions to advances in Astronomy. Her particular contribution was measurements of the relative brightness of Cepheid variable stars, which helped scientists to determine distances to stars. After her death from cancer in 1921, her work was used by Edwin Hubble to determine that the Milky Way is not the only galaxy in the observable universe. Exercises utilizing the Leavitt Law are common in Astronomy classes around the world.

It seems appropriate that Henrietta was born on the 4th of July. Afterall, Cepheids get brighter and fainter in the sky just like fireworks.


Happy Birthday, Henrietta!



two women astronauts
(L) Shannon Lucid on Mir.
(R) Susan Helms in the Spacelab module.

In 1996, two women astronauts unknowingly donned the same celebratory socks, as they flew in space on different stations on the 4th of July. Shannon Lucid was aboard the Russian space station Mir, and Susan Helms was in the Spacelab module during the STS-78 mission. 



The sky never fails to deliver a fantastic show, even if clouds get in the way. Check out some of the July 4th posts at Astronomy Picture of the Day.



Be safe out there.











Thursday, June 27, 2024

Career Profile: From Physics Faculty to Director of Undergraduate Advising

The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy has compiled dozens of interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers, planetary scientists, etc. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those paths.
Dr Monika Kress

Below is our interview with Dr. Monika Kress, the Undergraduate Advising Director in the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Stanford University. She has been in this position since 2023, after following a fairly linear academic career path, from PhD to two postdocs, with a little bit of adjuncting to get teaching experience while doing the postdocs. She most recently served as a tenured faculty member in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at San Jose State University (SJSU) for 19 years, including five years as department Chair. 

Describe job hunting and networking resources you used, as well as any other advice/resources.
It was comical. I feel like Cinderella. The short story goes as follows: I was telling one of my professional mentor/friends about my interest in data analytics, and he told me that he had a friend who does data analytics at Stanford. The idea was to connect the two of us to discuss data analytics in higher ed. Which we did! My new Stanford friend informed me that there was a job opening in data analytics in the Undergraduate Education division at Stanford. Despite my new credentials, I was completely unqualified for it. However, the job ad right next to it was “Undergraduate Advising Director.” That job ad read like my CV! It was all of my favorite things to do (basically talk with students and help them decide on their major, find resources to help them succeed in their classes, navigate university policies and procedures, find opportunities for research, etc). I put together a cover letter, stripped my CV of all my publications, grants, and presentations, and applied for the job. The rest is history. 

What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?
Throughout my career, I was unknowingly building a formidable skillset. My most important skills were interpersonal: helping good people who are experiencing difficult situations; dealing with people who are just outright difficult; helping students make good choices about their academic career; being a good listener; being kind; being good at understanding complex policies and how they pertain to the difficult situations that students find themselves in, being able to absorb a lot of complex information and coming up with an optimized if not analytical solution to the problem.  Overall, my experience in working with students in higher ed was the main qualification. 

I also found that it is very helpful to be proficient in whatever software and computer systems are commonly used in academia (which are also in use throughout the business world). Google docs/sheets/forms are a must-have skillset for any industry. Adobe Acrobat does amazing things with PDFs - learn all the things! Excel does so much more than just calculate your grades - you should definitely learn pivot tables and other cool functions of Excel. It also helped that I know how to use Canvas and PeopleSoft, as we use those quite a bit in my org. You’d be amazed at how far you can go career-wise, simply being a nice person and a reliable, high-functioning adult with good communication skills and knowledge of these software packages and platforms. 

Describe a typical day at work.
The commute from my house in San Jose to the Stanford campus is an epic horror show, if undertaken at rush hour (30 miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic can take an hour and a half). Fortunately, my hours are very flexible. I work from home 2 days a week, so I actually look forward to my drive to the beautiful Stanford campus, which gives me 35 minutes to listen to podcasts. When I am home, I work 9-5. When on campus, my hours are 10:30am-7pm, which is great because students often come see me during my 5-7 office hours, and then I have no traffic on the way home. 

I do some email and/or meetings with colleagues before noon, then I have a working lunch with colleagues or students. From 1-6:30pm, my schedule is open for students to make meetings with me to discuss all things academic. Sometimes I am almost booked solid during that time, other times in the quarter are quite slow (no looming deadlines). How busy I am varies. It is very busy at the start and end of each quarter, and extremely busy in September when we are onboarding the new freshmen. Overall, my workload is such that I can take my time with each student, pay careful attention to details, and go the extra mile for them, all without feeling exhausted at the end of the day. I find it very reasonable. 

Wellness is huge at Stanford - seriously, we have the world’s leading researchers on wellness! The culture is such that everyone understands that overwork does not make for better outcomes; stressed out employees do not make for a productive work environment for anyone. Stanford is well known for hiring professors who are at the top of their fields. The university commits to supporting them by hiring the best staff, paying us well, and making the workplace somewhere that the best staff want to come and carry out their careers. I have several colleagues who have been at Stanford for decades, their entire careers, including one lady who had her 50th work anniversary shortly after I arrived. Stanford also has a huge commitment to undergraduate education, including two dozen people like me to serve as academic advisers (not major advisers) for students. I mostly work with freshmen and sophomores before they declare their majors. 

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job?
I love talking to my students about their goals and aspirations, as well as their problems. Nothing makes me feel better than helping a student sort out a sticky situation. From the outsider’s perspective, it may seem weird that sending emails and filling in PDF forms makes for a meaningful career for someone with a resume like mine, but I absolutely love it because I am making an impact in a positive way, numerous times every day. 

What do you like most about your working environment? 
I love my colleagues. We are all academics (PhDs), and many of us have either been, or wanted to be, professors, and for whatever reason it either didn’t work out, or it did and we then left tenured or tenure-track positions for various reasons (two-body problem, etc). Many of my colleagues are in the humanities where the job market for tenure-track positions is grim. Most of the other advisers also teach a class now and then. The students are amazing, too. They have incredibly diverse backgrounds, hopes, and aspirations. 

What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?
Every student case is unique. They are all individuals with interesting personal histories and various hopes, goals, and dreams. So I am creative all day long in how I ask questions, how I respond to the things they say, how I advise them, how I engage with their professors, etc. Also there are a lot of ongoing professional development and training opportunities provided to me.

How family-friendly is your current position?  
Very. We always have a Zoom option for meetings, although we usually meet in person by default because we like in-person meetings. We also try not to hold meetings before 10 am or after about 3 pm because many people have little kids they need to bring to/from school. I personally do not have kids, but I do have parents who live far away from me and who are getting older. I am trying to make more time to travel to see them, and the people at work are very understanding about this as well. I also was encouraged to take family leave when my dog was horribly injured a few months ago. I did not ultimately need to do that because I was able to work from home, but it was nice to know it was available. (My dog is fine now!) 

What is your salary? 
$114,000 (12 months) with excellent benefits (comparable to my old faculty salary)

What is your level of satisfaction with your current job? And the work-life balance?
100%!!! It has completely exceeded my expectations. My colleagues are incredible and I Have so much in common with them. 

And the work-life balance?
Also 100%!!

What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?
As someone with no biological children, I still do have a family: two parents, a husband, three grandsons (thanks to my husband), his immediate (and extended) family, as well as my own sister and her kids. I readily acknowledge that not having children has made my life a lot easier than those who do have children. I am fortunate that my workplace is respectful of different family configurations. 

As far as work-life balance, you need to be clear about what your needs are, keeping in mind that you are hired to do a job and that you need to get your work done and to do it well. If you do those things, you will be able to have a job that allows more flexibility if you need to take time off during “normal business hours.” People seem to think being in academia, being a professor, is super flexible, but it can be quite inflexible. Classes are taught at certain times. There are a lot of committee meetings. Your research takes time and you have commitments to your collaborators and students. You should not be working in a vacuum. You need to show up.  If you’re out sick, work piles up, and you have more to do later. I find that my new job is far more flexible than my professor job ever was. I would strongly encourage people who want flexible working conditions to think outside academia or at least outside the usual tenure-track pathway. 

What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
After so many years as an academic, I am trying to re-familiarize myself with the idea of having things you do for fun. Wasn’t work supposed to be my hobby and pastime, and take up 100% of my waking hours? I AM SO PASSIONATE ABOUT ASTRONOMY I DO IT ALL THE TIME. (I actually never felt that way about astronomy...) So I have been trying to do more fun things.  I make time to go see my grandsons play little league and soccer. I cook healthy meals from scratch (I have discovered that I like cooking!). I go to my fitness class twice a week, where I have made new friends. I take my dog for long hikes and go on road trips with my husband and dog. I take more trips to see family and friends, which I can do any time of year now, not just summer! I’ve never had this kind of life, and I am totally enjoying it now!

Can we include your email address for people who may want to contact you directly about your specific career route?  
Yes, use monika.kress_at_sjsu.edu (replace _at_ with @). I am now Professor Emerita and still use that email address regularly for career-related things.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Seeking AASWomen editors, Women In Astronomy blogger-in-chief

By CSWA

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) Committee for the Status of Women in Astronomy (CSWA) is seeking volunteers to help in some of our public communication roles.

AASWomen Editor: Editors collate submissions from the community, and also seek out recent news items that are of interest to our community, for the weekly AASWomen newsletter. Each editor is responsible for an average of one newsletter per month.

For access to past issues for reference, see http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/search/label/AASWOMEN

Women In Astronomy blogger-in-chief: The WIA blogger is responsible for maintaining the blog, which typically means one post per week on a topic of interest to our community; these are a combination of original posts, crossposts from other sources, and guest-written posts.

To see examples of recent blog posts, see http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/

The blogger-in-chief would preferably also join the CSWA; the AASWomen editor does not need to be a CSWA member, but people interested in the role might also be interested in joining the CSWA. We also encourage applications to join the CSWA from other interested members of the community -- see here.

For more information, or to volunteer, please email Jeremy Bailin [jbailin_at_ua.edu] and Karly Pitman [kpitma1_at_gmail.com].