Astrobites@Long Beach: Monday Morning Sessions

Astrobites is again liveblogging AAS! In order to avoid inundating our readers’ RSS feeds, we’ll be updating this post with short paragraphs about the talks we’ve heard and posters we’ve seen. So keep checking back throughout Monday morning!

-The Astrobites Team

Long Beach Convention Center

8:00am – Welcome Address

And we are off! The 221st AAS meeting was kicked off this morning with a welcome address by AAS President David Helfand.  In his “State of the Society” address Dr. Helfand offered us a point by point contrast between the current status of the AAS and current status of the USA, from budgets and governance to voter participation (the AAS was completely dominated by the USA with a voter participation of only 11% in its last council election).  The AAS also announced their intent to seriously examine how their academic journals will be structured and handeled in the future.  As part of this process they will be releasing a survey to a selected number of authors who publish in their journals. The AAS journals include the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ) and the Astronomical Journal (AJ).

9:15 am – Introducing: “Astro One-liners”

We’re going to be piloting a new coverage format today at the AAS. We will attend one of the oral sessions and tweet once for each talk with a very concise summary of the highlights. The first session to be “one-liner’d” will be Session 117: Young Stellar Objects, Very Young Stars, T-Tauri Stars, and Herbig-Haro Objects from 10:00-11:30. Updates will be in real time! Let us know what you think in the comments here – if response is positive, we’ll continue to cover selected oral sessions in this way. Thanks to Dr. Bruce Elmegreen for the suggestion!

10:30am Press Release: Exoplanets Coming and Going Everywhere

Fun Factoid: 30% of the press releases which will occur that this meeting pertain to extra-solar planets.  This session contained the first patch, and there were plenty of exciting results!

Christopher Burke (SETI Institute) got things started by announcing 461 new planet candidates from the Keplar mission.  Many of the candidates are Earth/super-Earth sized, quite a few occur in multiple planet systems, and several are in the habitable zone.  After working hard to account for both the incompleteness of and the false positives contained within the Keplar planet candidate catalog Francois Fressin (CfA) was able to state that at least one in six stars has an Earth-like planet.  Joe Carson (College of Charleston) then shifted gears, discussing the direct imaging of a debris disk around the star HIP 79977.   Not only is this one of only a handful of debris disks which have been resolved but they also identify an unconfirmed point source in the disk which, if further observations demonstrate is a planet, would be one of the least massive planets imaged directly.  Nathan Kaib (Queens University, Canada) discussed new simulations of planets around stars in wide binaries showing that many of them are disrupted or even ejected.  Interestingly, using predictions from their models, they conclude that many planetary systems also contain planets at larger distances from their star than we have yet been able to detect. Finally, John Johnson (Caltech) discussed how most planets actually occur around stars much smaller and cooler than our sun.

10:00 AM: Career Options Panel: Professional Astronomers in Aerospace and Industry

This panel kicked off with five speakers from Northrop Grumman, Ball Aerospace, Draper Labs, and the Institute for Defense Analysis. Each speaker summarized their life trajectory and their current role, then moved on to what they looked for in job candidates and how astronomers fit into industry work. The general consensus was that astronomers have a lot of transferrable skills that they aren’t always aware of. Specific skillsets like data management, simulation and modeling, and remote sensing are useful, but also general things we all have experience with, such as presentations and proposal writing. Our general experience with problem-solving is a great asset to a lot of fields. Don’t worry if the job description doesn’t perfectly suit your education history.

Getting an industry job is a different matter from applying to grad school. First of all, don’t think of an industry job as your Plan C. A recruiter can easily tell the difference between someone who’s genuinely interested in working for the company and someone who’s just submitting resumés in case their postdoc doesn’t come through. Advisors can often be discouraging when it comes to applying to jobs outside academia, but if you think industry is a better fit for you, don’t feel bad about pursuing it. Second, get in touch with someone inside the company. HR screens resumés based on keywords, so many times they may exclude your resumé by accident even if you’re qualified. If you can get in and sit down with another human being, they will be much better equipped to assess whether you really have the skills to do the job. Third, don’t fear networking. This relates back to point two. If someone can vouch for you, it puts you at the top of the pile. It’s not cheating to hear about a job through an informal connection. It may make you feel fake or awkward, but pretty much everyone feels that way. It’s expected and totally okay. Talk to people you know. Talk to the people they know. Talk to complete strangers – go on an informational interview, where you find someone who has a job in a field or company you might like to work for and ask them if they can spare some time to tell you about the work they do. Don’t ask for a job, just listen.

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  1. So, do you know how “official” press releases are? I’d love to use that statistic about how 1 in 6 stars have Earth-like planets in a paper I’m writing; how would I cite that? Is that result published?


    • Hi Johanna,

      Great question! Most of the press releases are based on papers which have been accepted or are at least a significant portion of the way through the review process. In your particular case, Francois Fressin has a paper which has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal and either appeared on the arXiv last night or will tonight.



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