Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Astronomer to Museum Project Director

The AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy and the AAS Employment Committee have compiled dozens of interviews highlighting the diversity of career trajectories available to astronomers. The interviews share advice and lessons learned from individuals on those paths.

Below is our interview with Dr. Isabel Hawkins, an astronomer who directs projects and creates materials for the renowned Exploratorium and Smithsonian museums.  She was awarded the Klumpke-Roberts Award by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in 2009 for her contributions to "public understanding of astronomy."  Dr. Hawkins is also a world expert on Maya astronomy and indigenous astronomy.  Examples of her work include websites on Maya astronomy and the Maya calendar (http://maya.nmai.si.edu and Calendar in the Sky).  She also created the show Maya Skies at Chabot Space and Science Center last year, and also this site on Polynesian/Hawaiian astronomy:
http://www.exploratorium.edu/neverlost (on Hawaiian traditional navigation using the stars).

Aparna Venkatesan (Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of San Francisco) comments that "Isabel gives wonderful guest lectures with a Maya elder, and she visited a class I taught last year on ancient and indigenous astronomy. In addition to an unforgettable class on the role of corn harvest cycles in Maya society and calendaring, she brought along a stove with corn masa and cheese and made all my students fresh corn quesadillas which were better than anything out of a restaurant."

For access to all our Career Profile Project interviews, please visit http://aas.org/jobs/career-profiles. New Career Profiles are posted approximately every month.

What field do you currently work in?

Astronomy and science education.

Dr. Hawkins "making" a comet at the Exploratorium in San Francisco
What is the job title for your current position?

Astronomer and Project Director.
Independent Consultant.

What is the name of your company/organization/institution?

Exploratorium (as employee)
Smithsonian, NSF-projects (as consultant)

What city, state, and country do you live in? Work in?

Live in: Lafayette, CA, USA
Work in: San Francisco, CA, USA

What is the highest degree in astronomy/physics you have received?


What was your last academic position in astronomy/physics?

UC Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory; Sr. Space Fellow and Astronomy Researcher.

What were the most important factors that led you to leave astronomy and/or academia?

I love working with people and explaining astronomy in accessible terms. Academia was very narrow in focus.

If you have made a career change, what was your age at the time?


What, if any, additional training did you complete in order to meet the qualifications?

On the job experience, working in partnership with teachers, the public, and museum professionals.

Describe job hunting and networking resources you used and any other advice/resources.

Relationships, I have never actually applied for a job.

What has been your career path since you completed your degree?

Research, Education.

What have been particularly valuable skills for your current job that you gained through completing your degree?

Proposal writing, public speaking, communications, research skills.

Describe a typical day at work.

Working with the public, training youth Explainers at the Exploratorium, producing and delivering short TV segments for Univision TV in Spanish, producing upcoming webcasts on science and astronomy. I also consult for the Smithsonian, developing website content and teacher lesson plans.

How many hours do you work in a week?


What is your salary?


What is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
Very satisfied

What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job?

Flexibility, variety, independence.

What do you like most about your working environment? 

I work mainly from home, and I love it. It provides variety, natural breaks, and no wasted time commuting. I also go to the Exploratorium two or three days/week (I only work half time at the Exploratorium). My commute is reasonable, I take BART, half hour.

What opportunities does your job provide to be creative and/or to take initiative?

Constant opportunity to explore the 600 exhibits at the Exploratorium, work with creative and dedicated colleagues, be inspired by the curiosity of the public. Creative opportunities through my consulting work, especially on cultural astronomy working with indigenous groups in Latin America.

Adding ingredients to the comet
How satisfied are you with your work-life balance in your current job?

Very satisfied.

How family-friendly is your current position?


What advice do you have for achieving work-life balance (including having a family)?

Work part time. Make less money but be happier.

What do you do for fun (e.g., hobbies, pastimes, etc.)?
I am a competitive salsa and bachata dancer.

Can we include your email address for people who may want to contact you directly about your specific career route?

Yes of course.  ihawkins at exploratorium.edu

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