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Astropolitics and your career

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2015 opencon-webcast
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Astropolitics and your career

  1. 1. Astropolitics andYour Career (Jay Strader,AST 825, Fall 2018)
  2. 2. The Scene The majority of funding for astronomy research in the US comes from the federal government State governments + private money are non-negligible, but minor players overall (in other words, they matter for individual people/institutions, but do not drive the field as a whole) this means that astronomers have to understand politics
  3. 3. The Federal Budget The initial budget proposal comes from the President’s office, but is only revealed after months of negotiations with individual agencies The President’s budget is an intensely political document: specifically highlights priorities via budget bumps or zeros; executive has wide latitude to propose starting and ending programs
  4. 4. The Federal Budget You might read descriptions of what happens next: the proposal goes to Congress, they pass a budget resolution setting overall spending levels, then 12 different subcommittees hold hearings and vote on bills, and then they are passed and go to the President for his signature or veto Note that, confusingly, bills must essentially be passed twice: once they are “authorized” (but this doesn’t involve any $$) and once they are “appropriated” (which is actually giving programs $$) the amounts in the two bills are usually different, as are the bills passed by the House and Senate
  5. 5. The Federal Budget Even though it sounds terrible, the above budget process is considered to be the “ideal”---this is how the system is supposed to work Nonetheless, this process hasn’t happened in many years and isn’t going to happen anytime soon It’s politically challenging to pass any budget legislation at all, and instead we operate under “continuing resolutions” (new budget = old budget) for extensive periods of time
  6. 6. The Federal Budget we’re currently under a CR (lasting through Dec 7), and may either get a new one, or a bill (note:“fiscal years” start Nov 1) further, it’s rare that any of the 12 individual appropriations bills are actually passed these days--- usually an “omnibus” bill that includes all appropriations is passed instead (can also get a “minibus”) the 2011 “sequester” has had its caps lifted every year and this will probably continue
  7. 7. Who Cares if Budgets are Weird? the federal agencies basically never know how much $$ they are going to have any given fiscal year, so they can’t plan---leads to continual delays huge amount of time wasted preparing budgets that are irrelevant “small” things like science get left behind (lots of Congressional support for increasing science funding, but it is not the most important priority in political fights)
  8. 8. The Agencies Aren’t Really in Charge let’s say you have some mission that you don’t want to spend $$ on any more an admin at an agency can request it be dropped from the budget, but if Congress appropriates funding anyway, there’s not much you can do about it this happened a couple of years ago with NASA and SOFIA
  9. 9. Who’s Got the $$ NASA is the 400-lb gorilla: its overall budget is $19.5 billion About 29% of this goes to science at all, and the budget for astrophysics is about $1.4 billion (planetary science + heliophysics are separate) currently this is split explicitly between JWST and other astrophysics---a result of huge cost overruns for JWST and increased congressional oversight will we get the JWST budget line back after it launches? good question!
  10. 10. Who’s Got the $$
  11. 11. Who’s Got the $$ Broadly speaking, NASA pays for science in space (in some situations they support ground-based facilities or operations that support space mission goals, such at the Keck Interferometer or the high-res planet spectrograph for WIYN to support TESS) NASA $$ is generally more directly tied to exploiting data from particular missions: it would be hard to get funding for projects not related to specific missions and their science goals
  12. 12. Who’s Got the $$ NSF is the 2nd main federal agency supporting astronomical research NSF’s overall budget is $7.8 billion, which is much smaller than NASA’s, but they spend a lot more of it directly on science (of course, they support way more fields too!) Astronomy (AST) is found within MPS ($1.4 billion) but itself receives ~ 250-300 million (also PHY, e.g. LIGO) sometimes there is AST funding from MREFC (for big facilities), e.g., LSST
  13. 13. Who’s Got the $$ MREFC funding is a double-edged sword: it enables facilities AST could never afford on its own however, it only pays for construction, not operations hence it can let you build “too much house” that you can’t afford to run (essentially the situation we are in now with ALMA, DKIST, and LSST) this is recognized as an issue, and MREFC-like operations funding may be possible in the future
  14. 14. Who’s Got the $$ traditionally, NSF supports ground-based astronomy through facilities and direct grants this distinction has blurred a bit recently but is still more or less true
  15. 15. Who’s Got the $$ in recent years, the department of energy (DOE) has become a significant funder of effort in astrophysics DOE’s total budget is $30 billion (!) the DOE office of science budget for high energy physics is ~ 820 million; funding for the “cosmic frontier” is about 130 million they fund some facilities (the dark energy camera; the LSST camera) as well as some people (mostly not astronomers, except Sean!)
  16. 16. Who’s Got the $$ NASA: 1350 million NSF: 250 million DOE: 130 million you can immediately see that most of the $$ is with NASA it’s also clear that no state or private contributions make anything more than a marginal difference
  17. 17. How Do We Spend the $$? astrophysics is a leader in all sciences: it was the first to have a community-wide, once-a-decade survey on science priorities this has been hugely influential and adopted by other communities the flip side is that the priorities are taken very seriously by the agencies, Congress, and the OMB --- you can’t go back later on
  18. 18. How Do We Spend the $$? decadal surveys are carried out under the auspices of the National Academy for Sciences involve a large number of astronomers (both Steve and Megan involved in the 2010 survey) the committees don’t come up with ideas out of nowhere---years ahead they solicit “white papers” with ideas for specific missions or science cases (a white paper call, due Feb 2019, is currently out)
  19. 19. How Do We Spend the $$? for large projects, the process is now more formalized: mission ideas are “costed” specifically for the decadal survey (response to many projects being “under-costed” in the 2001 survey) preparation has already started for the missions that want to be first for the 2020 decadal survey
  20. 20. 2010 decadal space-based recommendations
  21. 21. 4th, doomed 3rd, doomed (or not??) 2nd, kind of 1st: winner! 2010 decadal space-based recommendations
  22. 22. 2010 decadal ground-based recommendations
  23. 23. 4th, doomed 3rd, no fed $$ 2nd, kind of 1st: winner! 2010 decadal ground-based recommendations
  24. 24. lesson: today’s big facilities are so expensive that we can only afford 1 per decade (if that---see JWST) means that you need to get as broad a science case as possible to get community support this is why WFIRST and LSST won in 2010, and it’s why something broad is likely to win in 2020 How Do We Spend the $$? JWST saga has many regretting the “flagship” model, but IMO backing away from this would be a mistake
  25. 25. recall that all priorities are $$ dependent---you have to pay for what you have first, or give it up! this has led to the closing of facilities (on the ground) and missions (in space) by NSF and NASA, and it’s only going to accelerate in the future more expensive missions to build are more expensive to run, so operating budgets can consume an ever expanding part of one’s budget... How Do We Spend the $$?
  26. 26. you probably care about getting a job, and you should so you should be an informed consumer (of astronomy jobs!) and understand the market Demographics jobs for which astronomy research is a central component are either faculty jobs at universities/ colleges (many mostly teaching-intensive) or jobs at observatories/institutes (like STScI)
  27. 27. faculty jobs are driven fundamentally by student demographics: large universities need to hire faculty to teach their students Demographics baby boom college now
  28. 28. growing population + increasing relative returns to education (= if you don’t have a college degree you can’t get a good job) means that universities are going to continue to grow Demographics they want to use MOOCs, etc, to reduce faculty populations, but these have made minimal inroads other subjects have moved to adjuncts, but still not widely used in astronomy my view is that faculty hiring in astronomy, while unlikely to increase quickly, is also unlikely to decrease
  29. 29. however, large correlated variations year-to-year means that luck is still very important Demographics
  30. 30. jobs at national observatories are under huge pressure, though if you’re willing to live in Chile there are great opportunities Demographics STScI hired a bunch of people in tenure-track equivalent jobs recently, and will in the future if you are willing to live in a country with a developing scientific presence (e.g., China; Gulf states) there are additional opportunities
  31. 31. What About the Supply Side? PhD numbers increasing (larger when astro-related HE physics included) Seth et al 2009
  32. 32. What About the Supply Side? the biggest effect of influx of federal $$ is postdocs (nearly all supported on NASA mission $$)
  33. 33. What About the Supply Side? many of these people go onto soft $$ and can survive for a while, but prospects of permanent positions are not great
  34. 34. Demographics Overall: ~ 1/3 to 1/2 of astro PhDs get long-term positions in astronomy (broadly defined) I don’t think this is going to change much (get much better or worse) in the next ~ 10 years, though of course the future is uncertain
  35. 35. Demographics Overall: ~ 1/3 to 1/2 of astro PhDs get long-term positions in astronomy (broadly defined) I don’t think this is going to change much (get much better or worse) in the next ~ 10 years, though of course the future is uncertain (currently 1/3 of MSU PhDs get faculty jobs)
  36. 36. Demographics Big change in last ~ 5 years is emergence of “data science” as named discipline for which astro PhDs are very well suited data science isn’t going anywhere, but there is also a coming proliferation of people with data science-focused degrees 5 years from now when you graduate, things will be different! the real world changes much faster than the academic world
  37. 37. Your Career NOTE: much of this cribbed from articles and talks by Julianne Dalcanton, Sean Carroll, Peter van Dokkum, and probably others
  38. 38. Your Career Assume for the moment that you do want a coveted long-term position in astronomy the main thing to be aware of is that nearly every job is different (even if they look the same on the outside) the odds that you get a job are about how well you fit with that job so, in some sense, success in astronomy is about maximizing the odds of finding a match
  39. 39. Grad School things you should do in grad school: get good at one thing, and get your name associated with that thing (this could be exploiting a survey, learning a simulation technique, etc) try to learn some hard things (you have lots of time in grad school---it’s hard to do this later) go to as many talks as possible: deciding you only care about one thing is like putting all your chips on one bet
  40. 40. Grad School don’t be afraid to “calve” off small, impactful results into individual papers try to publish some before the end of grad school (it takes time for impact to accumulate---if you are publishing your first papers the year you’re applying for fellowships/ postdocs, no one will know who you are) if you’re an observer you should talk to theorists, and if you’re a theorist you should talk to observers
  41. 41. Grad School the secret about grad school is that no one knows or cares how long it takes so if your advisor is on board, you should definitely stay an extra year if you can publish more papers once you graduate a clock starts: most fellowships have years since PhD limits, and once you are ~ 2+ postdocs past PhD your CV starts to look a little “stale”
  42. 42. Networking people are much more likely to hire or award fellowships to people they know if you have a famous, gregarious adviser then you are in good shape---most people don’t therefore it is absolutely essential to talk to as many astronomers as possible (especially in your subfield) while still in grad school
  43. 43. Networking convince your advisor to pay for you to go to conferences in your subfield, and talk to senior astronomers rather than hanging out with other grad students once you’re an older grad student, email people in charge of seminar series at nearby universities and get invited to give talks talk to visiting astronomers if your research interests are even vaguely related to theirs (you need something to say, but not much) you must have a web page if you have any scientific presence at all (even a conference poster)
  44. 44. Networking note that every job you will ever apply for requires at least 3 letters of recommendation even as a grad student applying for jobs, it is much much better if at least one of these comes from someone outside your PhD institution in fact, this doesn’t even have to be someone you have ever written a paper with! (one of my letters for this job was written by someone I had not collaborated with)
  45. 45. Networking in fact, your advisor’s letter is probably only the 2nd most important letter (it should be excellent, but alone it’s useless) the most important letter should be by someone who is known to the people reading the letter, who knows your work, and who can compare you favorably to successful astronomers who are slightly older a natural place to get such a letter is from your advisor’s collaborators---you should be thinking about who this might be year(s) ahead of time almost always, for US jobs foreign letters aren’t good
  46. 46. Postdocs As I mentioned earlier, postdoc positions have exploded with NASA’s Great Observatories and now nearly everyone can get one these are either “fellowships” (where you generally get a budget and can do whatever you want) or funded for a particular project
  47. 47. Postdocs It’s a widespread but patently false belief that only people who get named fellowships get good long-term jobs in fact, for many people it can make more sense to get a postdoc working with an exciting survey or other group than being on your own (young people do all the actual work on big surveys) I did basically nothing useful for the first ~ 2 years of my Hubble fellowship
  48. 48. Papers most important part of a paper is the title it’s not a guessing game: your title should be informative (i.e., it should contain, if possible, your conclusion) it should be understandable to people outside your subfield it should not be funny (unless you have a permanent job, then do whatever you want)
  49. 49. Papers what parts of papers get read? title: nearly everyone on arXiv abstract: your subfield figures: subset of your subfield text: maybe one grad student or postdoc
  50. 50. Papers what parts of papers get read? title: nearly everyone on arXiv abstract: your subfield figures: subset of your subfield text: maybe one grad student or postdoc clear implication is that you should spend a lot of time getting the title, abstract, and (maybe) figures right
  51. 51. Papers: Short or Long? a paper should only have one main point this doesn’t mean it has to be short---though if it can be short, it should be you should write one or two long papers at some point so you don’t seem slight, but see the previous slide and above: if your paper is trying to make many large points, split it up
  52. 52. Choosing Topics (something to think about for the future) don’t work on something if you know that someone else is already working on it with comparable resources to you i.e., you should not directly compete with someone unless you have a good reason to do so! at the same time, try to assess the relevance of your subfield to the rest of astronomy: if you crack a problem, will people care?
  53. 53. Choosing Topics you need to enjoy what you are doing (or else you won’t do it very well) with every project, you should be pushing on your abilities in some area, be it small (no paper should be entirely routine)