Wednesday, August 28, 2019

AAS Board Reflections: Christine Jones

In order to familiarize the astronomy community with the AAS Board and encourage participation, the CSWA created a Reflection Survey for outgoing AAS Board members to complete after their terms ended in June. Over the coming weeks, we will feature the responses we've received on the Women in Astronomy blog. Enjoy!


Photo by Todd Buchanan © 2018 AAS/CorporateEventImages

Christine Jones, PhD is a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She is currently the past president of the American Astronomical Society and the director of the Smithsonian Institution's Consortium for Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe. She earned her Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1974 from Harvard and has made significant contributions to the field of high energy astrophysics through her work on X-ray emission from early-type galaxies.





Name: Christine Jones
Current Position: Senior Astrophysicist, Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Degree, Year, Institution: PhD 1975 Harvard University
AAS Board office, term: AAS President 2016 - 2018 (President Elect 2015-2016; Past President 2018-2019); AAS Vice President 2008-2011; AAS Councilor 1989-1992

Why did you choose to serve on the AAS Board?

As the governing body of the American Astronomical Society, the AAS Board serves several important functions for our profession. Each time I was asked to be a candidate for an AAS office, I felt honored to be asked and thought I would be able to contribute to our profession by serving on the Board.

What was one (or more!) Board accomplishment(s) that you are proud of/excited about from your time in office.

The AAS Vice Presidents are in charge of organizing the Summer and Winter AAS meetings. While I was AAS Vice President, two new Prize lectures were introduced. These were the Kavli Lecture and the Lancelot-Berkeley Lecture. In the fall, before the first Kavli Lecture was to be given in January 2011, the Vice Presidents met at the AAS Offices in Washington DC to plan the meeting. That was when we realized that, unlike other AAS Prize lectures (e.g. the Russell lecture) where nominations are submitted and a committee specific tor that prize chooses the prize lecture, similar procedures had not been put in place for the Kavli or the Lancelot-Berkeley Lectures. Since there was not sufficient time to solicit nominations and establish a prize committee to review these for the January 2011 lectures, the Vice Presidents proposed that we should make the decision of choosing who would give the Kavli and the Lancelot Berkeley Prize Lectures. We agreed that Carolyn Porco, the PI of the Cassini mission to Saturn would be an outstanding first Kavli Prize Lecturer and that Bill Borucki and Dave Koch would be outstanding as the inaugural Lancelot Berkley Lecturers. Since that time the AAS Vice Presidents have had the responsibility of choosing both the Kavli and the Lancelot Berkeley Prize Lecturers.

When I was incoming AAS President in 2015, a committee of Dara Norman, Jack Burns and I drafted the AAS Code of Ethics that all AAS members agree to abide by when they renew their membership, attend an AAS or Divisional conference, publish in AAS journals, or serve on AAS committees, task forces or working groups. I believe that the existence of this policy, as well as the AAS Anti-Harassment Policy, has helped to inform our members of what is and isn't appropriate behavior. These policies allow our members to enjoy an environment that is free of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. As stated on the AAS website, "The AAS is dedicated to the philosophy of equality of opportunity and treatment of all members..." As AAS President I was involved in both the AAS Ethics committee and helped to review incidents that were reported under the anti-harassment policy.

Just a month after I became AAS President in 2016, I testified before a Congressional Committee. In addition to the testimony, I wrote a 10 page long paper primarily about AAS activities which became part of the Congressional Record. There is an article about this on the AAS web site.

When I became AAS President in 2016, the AAS membership had just adopted a new Governance policy. Under the prior AAS Governance, the full Council met face-to-face twice a year, before each of the AAS meetings. The AAS Executive Committee, which was composed of five members, all of whom were members of the AAS Council, had an additional two meetings each year. Any decisions that were not made during the two full Council meetings, were made by the Executive Committee. Under the new AAS Governance policy, the Board of Trustees (which was the Council) meets four times a year for face-to-face meetings and holds monthly telecons. This means that all members of the Board of Trustees are involved in making decisions that affect the AAS. This change has had a very important effect on AAS governance. All the members of the Board of Trustees are not just knowledgable about decisions made by the AAS, but are engaged in making the decisions that affect our Society.

What was one (or more!) important thing(s) you saw come from the diversity committees during your term?

When I was President-elect there was a meeting of members of the AAS Diversity Committees at the AAS headquarters in Washington, DC. This meeting gave the Diversity Committee members a chance to begin to have a dialogue addressing common issues and beginning to think about future actions the committees could take. I also called each of the chairs of the Diversity committees and talked with them about their priorities and what I could do to help them accomplish those goals. To follow on these activities, and continue the conversations that were started at when the Diversity Committees met in Washington, while I was President, at each of the AAS meetings I would invite members of the AAS diversity committees to meet together on one of the evenings during the meeting in my hotel suite. This gave the committees a chance to talk informally with each other and learn what each of the diversity committees was planning for the future, and how the committees could work together. Also, the AAS Committee on the Status of Women held the Women in Astronomy IV conference in Austin, Texas following the 2017 summer AAS meeting. I gave an opening welcome to the conference members.

Is there an initiative (or initiatives!) you hope that the AAS pursues or continues to pursue in the future?

While the AAS Executive Office is very supportive of the AAS committees and the membership, it is the various AAS committees and the Board of Trustees that define and pursue different initiatives. (These also include the many advisory and standing committees. This list is from the AAS web site). I saw part of my role as AAS President to help the AAS committees achieve their goals and to help the different Diversity committees to interact with each other.

With the reduction in the size of the AAS Board of Trustees, neither the publications chair or the education officer are currently members of the Board of Trustees. The publication of astronomical results through the Astrophysical Journal and the Astronomy Journal is among the most important functions of the AAS. It's important that the AAS Board of Trustees continue to have regular updates from the Editor in Chief of all the AAS publications (Ethan Vishniac). Also of great importance are the educational activities of the AAS members. While I was AAS President, the Education Committee, chaired by Charles Liu completed a comprehensive report on the status of astronomy education including a number of recommendations and a collection of white papers by members of the community. It is important that the Board continue to review progress in achieving the recommendations made by the education task force.

What advice do you have for continuing and incoming AAS Board members?

The AAS Board members that I had the privilege of working with were all hard-working and very committed to the success of our Society. While some Board members have specific duties (e.g. the Vice Presidents organize the AAS meetings), other Trustees have more time to focus on other specific areas (e.g. undergraduate and graduate education in astronomy, diversity in our Society.) I would urge the newly elected members of the Board to think about what they would like to accomplish during their terms. I also would urge current Board members to talk with the incoming members about ongoing AAS initiatives and involve them in these efforts.

What suggestions do you have for people who are considering serving on the AAS Board in the future?

I would recommend that people who are considering serving in the future on the AAS Board talk with one or two astronomers who have served on the Board in the recent past, especially in the position that they are interested in. Those considering serving on the Board, especially in some offices, should be aware that it can be a substantial commitment of time, so it is important that your "real" job will allow you the time to fulfill your AAS responsibilities. For newly elected Board members, I would suggest they learn as much as possible about the different functions of the Board, particularly the areas where they are most interested in working. Finally expressing these interests to the AAS President who assigns Board members to the various AAS committees is very useful.

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