The Unacknowledged Costs of Academic Travel

The Unacknowledged Costs of Academic Travel

I travel a lot. I travel for conferences, for planning meetings, for NASA collaboration meetings, for filming, for launches… for a ton of things that are related to my work. I can’t really complain about the travel; I get to see the world while being exposed to new ideas and new opportunities, and to cultures and cuisines I’d never experience in the confines of St Louis. I can’t complain about the business travel, but I can wish that it came at lower personal cost to academics – especially those academics who must travel but lack a travel budget. Right now, I’m at 35,000 ft somewhere over Arizona. I’m on my way home from spending just over 24 hours in San Diego. For several hours, I enjoyed the productive boredom of working in the Phoenix...

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Dreaming of success in an age of diminished possibility

Dreaming of success in an age of diminished possibility

It’s taken me me longer to get to this essay than I had intended. While I might offer valid excuses related to work and travel, that wouldn’t be the whole truth. The fundamental reason for this delay is I want to offer you hope, and I don’t know how. My first essay led to several people wishing out loud that part 2 would offer implementable solutions, and I just don’t have many (any?) to articulate. All I have is some really ugly truths and a personal hope that by laying bare our reality maybe wiser minds than mine can find an answer. In part 1, I detailed the three front employment battle that post-Apollo astronomers (and those in many other fields) are facing as the baby boomer generation continues to not retire, as the production rate...

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Slow Science & Peer-Review

Slow Science & Peer-Review

Science moves slowly. That may seem like an odd statement when the pace of press releases and breaking news seems to imply that new discoveries are flying fast and furious, with labs making discoveries and publishing them almost before they’re ready for prime time. What is missing from this perspective are the realities of the funding cycle and publishing cycle. I just had to fill out a form that required me to list all my recent publications, and I realized that every publication I had submitted, first author or not, in 2011 has to be resubmitted to another journal because either no rational referee could be found (one paper included in the referee report “But I’m a biologist, not a social scientist, so maybe I just don’t get this.”...

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STEM Education for Tomorrow

STEM Education for Tomorrow

Over the past several weeks I’ve had more than one person ask me, “What is your view on the future of STEM (1) Education?” Sometimes they have gone on to ask further about how I feel about the future of science in general. This much repeated question has been triggered by many things. On one hand, I work in a Center for STEM Research, Outreach and Education, and we’re working to define our vision. On the other hand, the National Science Foundation is working to review its portfolio and perhaps redefine how it spends its money. Then there are random factors, like congress considering what comes after “No Child Left Behind” and my own personal work to try and define what comes next for Astronomy Cast and all my other projects and...

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A scientific mind is a terrible thing to waste

A scientific mind is a terrible thing to waste

I haven’t been doing a lot of writing lately. I generally just make the excuses, “I’ve been busy” or say “I don’t make money on my blog and need to focus on paid jobs.” These are just excuses though. I can always find time to write. The truth is, I just can’t find it in me to write positively about science and academia when I look around and see so many things that hurt. This has been a rough year for our community. Colleges in California and Arizona have been shutting down a few days a month here and there (euphemistically referred to as furloughing staff). In the UK, 25% of the fellowships and student grants for PhD students and PostDocs are being removed. Everywhere, universities have cut journal subscriptions,...

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An academic life punctuated by bullets, part 2

An academic life punctuated by bullets, part 2

There are some titles that should never be reused. This is part 2 of this post I wrote in 2007. This older post is better than this one. Please read the older post here. Earlier this evening I got an IM from a friend alerting me that this afternoon there had been a shooting at the University of Alabama Huntsville. Details are sketchy, but it looks like a faculty member who was recently denied tenure went into the biology faculty meeting and shot 6 people, killing 3 of the 6. On twitter I’ve seen people express mystification at how this could happen. Like I said a few years ago, about another school shooting, what really surprises me is how rarely it happens. Academia as a system is deeply flawed in a lot of ways. One of the ways it is flawed is how the...

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