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Citizen science and astronomy career | GradschoolShopper

Citizen science and astronomy career (Podcast #7)

Our special guest in this episode is Dr. Pamela Gay, an astronomer, educator and writer, the co-host of the weekly AstronomyCast, and a professor of astronomy at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. We will discuss her projects in open-source citizen science, and different aspects of an astronomy career.

Click the PLAY button to listen to this episode!

Have you participated in citizen science projects? Are you interested in a career in Astronomy? Share your experience in the comments!

Dr. Pamela Gay

Episode Topics

  • Citizen-science project – CosmoQuest
  • What is your favorite thing about astronomy?
  • What do you consider the best reason to go to graduate school?
  • Can you do astronomy without a graduate degree?
  • What is your advice to students looking for a graduate school?
  • What is your advice to students starting graduate school?

Episode Summary

Dr. Pamela Gay is an astronomer, educator and writer, the co-host of the weekly AstronomyCast, and a professor of astronomy at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. She also directs the citizen-science astronomy platform CosmoQuest.

Citizen-science project – CosmoQuest

CosmoQuest is a new online research community for the public. The goal of this project is to create a place where regular people can help NASA researchers with a variety of image-based projects that are better suited to human analysis than computers. There are also lectures, classes, educational resources and virtual star parties – all meant to recreate tools online that many researchers take for granted.

Computers have a limited capability when it comes to reading and analyzing images; they need a relatively rigid set of rules to recognize patterns. However, in the real solar system everything varies, shifts and moves. Craters, for example, can be found on a variety of surfaces, dark or light, and can have different shapes that may not be immediately identified by computers. An added problem is the sunlight that shifts and changes on those outer-space surfaces as they move about in space. This makes it even tougher for a computer to recognize patterns.

Human beings, however, have evolved to recognize patterns much more efficiently. While computers have up to an 80% succees rate in recognizing craters, humans do much better. Having an actual person identify and label craters or other specific features on the surfaces of objects in the solar system can help researchers in their quest to understand these objects. Putting this project online in an enjoyable “game-like” setting makes it fun and easy for non-scientists to help with this work and enables researchers to collect these important, time-consuming observations and analyses.

CosmoQuest is fun and addictive, and highly recommended. Sign up for free and help advance the science!

What is your favorite thing about astronomy?

“There’s so much we don’t know and can understand. That’s the amazing thing about the universe.”

“The sky is so vast, that there are still so many things that are waiting to be found and understood. ”

“Every time we observationally find something new, it’s a challenge that the theorists eagerly pick up to try and understand…”

What do you consider as the best reason to go to graduate school?

Graduate school opens doors for many career paths, but it is a hard process. The primary reason to go to graduate school is if you find yourself passionate about research – so much so, that you consider yourself a failure if you don’t go, and you can’t imagine any other path for yourself.

“If you’re that ‘hungry’, it’s going to be completely worth it, because it will open all those doors for you.”

Can you do astronomy without a graduate degree?

” There’s more to astronomy than just research. There are so many different support positions… In order to do the most advanced research you really do need to have that PhD.”

But there are great examples of amateur astronomers who – with equipment in their backyards, some attention to details and diligence – helped discover great opportunities that were picked up for research by scientists.

“Astronomy is one of those rare cases where there are lots of different degree paths and lots of different ways that you can get involved.”

“The thing to remember is [that] astronomy as an observational science started with Galileo using a telescope not as powerful as a good pair of binoculars, and he made real discoveries.”

What is your advice to students looking for a graduate school?

Look through scientific journals and find the papers that appeal to you. Check and read about the researchers that wrote them, and the departments they are in – these are departments you might want to consider.

Summer research and research experience in general is important. Do what you can to participate in such experiences before you submit your application.

And, lastly,

“Graduate school is something where you’re going to spend six years of your life, spending more hours [working] during those years than you spend doing anything else. You want to find a place that makes you intellectually curious, and is also a personality fit.”

What is your advice to students starting graduate school?

Make sure to work hard, and learn to work efficiently, but be careful not to burn out.

“You’ll burn out if you don’t learn to say to your advisor, ‘I’m going offline for three days. When I’m back, I will work my butt off for you, but I’m going offline for three days.”

“It’s so easy to fall into the ‘if I don’t answer every email in ten minutes I’m a bad person’ trend, but if you don’t relax occasionally you will burn out.”

 

Have you participated in citizen science projects? Are you interested in a career in Astronomy? Share your experience in the comments!

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Advice to Students

Today, the frontiers of science are mostly interdisciplinary and multidimensional, and the field requires scientists and engineers from various fields. Graduate school prepares your way of thinking, but your best preparation for scientific work would be to broaden your horizons and cooperate with other disciplines or specialties. — Dr. Fred Dylla, Executive Director and CEO of the American Institute of Physics, Podcast Episode #4

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