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 (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


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

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

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 [] and Karly Pitman [].

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Crosspost: From Rocket Science To Space Travel, This Unicorn Founder’s Journey To Success

Eds. note: With Black In Astro, we celebrate #BlackSpaceWeek this week. The below cross-posted article highlights the career of Aisha Bowe, who is scheduled to fly in space in 2024, as only the 6th Black female astronaut in history. Ad astra, Aisha!

By Ebony Flake, for Essence

"Standing apart isn't necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, it's a signal that you are unique and doing something extraordinary," Aisha Bowe shared.

Aisha Bowe
Image Credit: Essence
Feeling less certain about her direction than she perceived her peers to be, Aisha enrolled at the local Washtenaw Community College. There, she met a diverse group of people with different backgrounds and aspirations. As they collectively chartered the course of self-discovery, she realized that many of the beliefs she held about herself were not her own but shaped by others’ opinions, expectations, and resentful projections of their unfulfilled aspirations. “I had to stop and go: There’s a reason why you don’t feel confident. There’s a reason why you don’t feel beautiful. There’s a reason why you don’t feel strong. Are those reasons yours? Or where they imposed upon you?” The answers would become clear in time.

Today, Aisha Bowe is a two-time startup founder, including the elite engineering firm STEMBoard, twice acknowledged as one of America’s fastest-growing. She’s also a Blue Origin astronaut, a business thought leader, and a former NASA aerospace engineer. It’s been an exciting journey for that spunky teen unclear about her path. “I still, to this day, can’t understand why society expects you to know what you want to be before you even begin to understand who you are,” she told ESSENCE.

Bowe is scheduled to go to space in 2024 as the first Black woman on the New Shepard rocket, part of Jeff Bezos's spaceflight company Blue Origin. Read about Aisha's astronaut selection at

Information about Black in Astro's #BlackSpaceWeek can be found at 

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Celebrate Black in Space Week 2024

By Ashley Walker, Caprice Phillips, AJ Link, LLM, KeShawn Ivory, Naia Butler-Craig, Robert Washington III, and Cheyenne Polius

Black In Astro is excited to announce #BlackSpaceWeek, which runs from June 16 to June 22, 2024 and will provide the opportunity for the Black Space Community to celebrate our multidimensionality and everything that it entails. Starting with the #BSWRollCall and continuing for the rest of #BlackSpaceWeek, we cannot wait to get into #MTheory and what it means to be #AfroDynamic; we will provide a #LiftOff platform to showcase our collective talents and reflect on #ContainingMultitudes; and finish the week by putting on #ForTheCulture and looking towards an #NDimensional future by honoring our past. Click here to
Black in Astro logo
  • see the schedule of events, 
  • submit artwork, 
  • register for panels and chats, and
  • register for research showcases.

We are multidimensional beings made of stardust. This year, for #BlackSpaceWeek, the Black In Astro team wants to uplift how our community brings our multidimensional identities and experiences with us into Space. 

The concept of multidimensionality allows us to acknowledge that our identities are not just intersectional, but ever changing and ever evolving based on our lived experiences. Multidimensionality is a way of expressing our constant relationship with everything around us, from the current matrices of oppression to the historical wisdoms of our ancestors, and from our individual struggles to our collective liberation. 

To embrace multidimensionality is to celebrate how we are just as complex and fascinating 
and worthy of awe as the universe we are traversing. 

Come join us for #BlackSpaceWeek 2024!

Thursday, June 6, 2024

NASA SMD Bridge Program: Funding Opportunities for non-R1 Institutions

By Padi Boyd, NASA Headquarters

Learn about the NASA SMD Bridge Program at the Summer AAS meeting in Wisconsin!

NASA Bridge graphics

The Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Bridge Program’s primary goal is to develop sustainable partnerships between NASA science and engineering researchers and faculty and students at institutions historically under-resourced by NASA. These institutions include Minority-serving Institutions (MSIs) such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), Primarily Black Institutions (PBIs), and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), and also Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs) and community colleges. These research collaborations include faculty and NASA researchers and paid student research opportunities, with the goal of transitioning the students from undergraduate studies into graduate schools and/or employment by NASA or other STEM employment.

A unique element of the program is that it is being co-created with the community it seeks to serve. A community workshop in October 2022 gathered together hundreds of community members to understand the current landscape at a variety of under-resourced institutions (URIs), as identified above. Themes and perspectives from the workshop have provided a foundation for establishing funding opportunities in the Bridge Program. Importantly, the key takeaways from the workshop were

  • To build research capacity, the ideal NASA Bridge Program would center the needs of students, faculty, and institutions that have been historically and systematically marginalized.

  • The ideal NASA Bridge Program would lead a paradigm shift by assuming primary responsibility for building impactful relationships/partnerships with marginalized and underserved communities  to diversify its workforce and the STEM community.

Common themes from the workshop include

  • the need for NASA to help facilitate new partnerships where no NASA collaboration currently exists. 

  • the importance of strong positive mentorship in developing students into STEM professionals, as well as the impacts of poor mentorship on retention of STEM students. 

A report from the workshop is public and available on the SMD Bridge website. Workshop content, including agenda, and recordings are available on the workshop website

Members of the SMD Bridge Program team have organized a special session for the Summer AAS meeting in Madison at

10 am - 11:30 am on Tuesday, June 11

Ballroom C

We’re looking forward to sharing an overview of the program, presenting some examples of newly selected teams who have received seed funding to initiate research partnerships between a wide variety of URIs across seven NASA Centers, and providing updates on current and future funding opportunities through NASA SMD’s Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science (ROSES) omnibus solicitation. Everyone is welcome to attend!

A list of other DEIA and Education activities at the AAS meeting can be found here.