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Ep. 146: Astronomy Research from Idea to Publication

Globular cluster NGC 362

Globular cluster NGC 362

Have you ever wondered how astronomers do their research? How do they go from idea or question, to gathering their data, to publishing the research. What are all the hoops they have to jump through, the paperwork to fill out, and the cool toys they get to use along the way?

  • Ep. 146: Astronomy Research from Idea to Publication
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    Transcript: Astronomy Research from Idea to Publication

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    Fraser Cain: My concept of time is all wibbley-wobbly, timey-wimey right now. We’re actually recording this in mid-August even though we’re saying that the episode is in the July. That’s because…

    Dr. Pamela Gay: I’ve gone to too many continents.

    Fraser: It’s clearly the reality that this is summer. This kind of schedule is becoming more the norm and this is probably more so with summer. We’re thinking maybe next year we’ll take summer off and sort of wrap up the show in July or end of June and come back in September after Dragon-Con. Or, keep putting the podcasts out late [laughter] if that’s okay with people.

    Pamela: So for this summer we are going to with much pain attempt to repay you all the missing episodes. Starting August 24th when classes start, it is harder for me to travel which benefits all of you listening to the show right now.

    Fraser: You’re finally tied down, that’s good. Let’s get on with today’s episode. Have you ever wondered how astronomers do their research? How do they go from idea or question to gathering their data to publishing their research?

    What are all the hoops they have to jump through, the paperwork to fill out and the cool toys they get to use along the way?

    Alright Pamela I think the hope here is that we can sort of expose the way that astronomy research gets done. Where would you say that all begins?

    Pamela: Often as strange as this is going to sound it starts at a restaurant or a bar where a group of people are sitting at the end of the day just discussing random ideas, commenting on research, on data, on new things that they’ve read.

    As a result of all of these conversations they go “hmm I wonder”. And their “I wonder” turns into a great new idea of something do to research on.

    Fraser: Yeah, I can see that it even happens around the house here. Like, “I wonder” and then me and the kids are doing experiments to figure it out. [Laughter] I guess the other way is you’re seeing your existing research and you see something and think “that’s weird”.

    Pamela: Exactly but nonetheless you’re often saying “wow that’s weird”, while you’re talking to somebody else in a restaurant. I fully believe that food and perhaps alcohol are required for the scientific process.

    Fraser: Right. You say most of your good questions come from the restaurant but you can’t do anymore work at the restaurant.

    Pamela: No after that it becomes several months of paperwork before you can usually actually start doing very much.

    Fraser: Okay so let’s say you’ve got an idea that you think is worth digging into. You’ve got a question that you’d like to have answered. What’s the next step?

    Pamela: Usually the first thing you do is make sure that no one else had the same great idea. You do a Google search to find out is there anyone who has listed your new great idea on their website.

    The next thing you do is start looking through the journals. You go to the ADS, the archive websites and you search on any word or set of words that you think might get you journal articles related to the idea you’ve come up with.

    Once you’re done making sure no one else has your cool idea, you start to figure out “is this something I can do”? Is this something that the resources already exist?

    Fraser: Does this search, the search for other people who have already done this research, does that shut it down entirely? What if you find somebody who maybe has already answered half the question and then you can try and seek to answer the other half?

    Pamela: No and that’s actually something that’s extremely valuable. There are lots of half-solved questions out there because the original person was only interested in half the question. They went out and solved it and did a really good job but now you’re interested in taking that research further.

    In that case, it is actually a lot easier. In general you need money to keep going at this stage. You write a grant application. You go to your university, the National Science Foundation, NASA, your state Space Grant Consortium or any one of a number of different places and tell them you have a great idea. Can you give me money even if it is only enough to pay my summer salary for me to look into this idea?

    Fraser: Okay, then is that like a separate step? How long does a grant proposal application take? Where do you send them?

    Pamela: In general from my personal experience working with the group of people that I work with it generally takes about three weeks of hard work among a number of different people to put together a really good grant application. You’ll have your university budget office helping you figure out the finances.

    You’ll have your peers helping you figure out “did you write something that actually makes sense”? Do you have all the references you need? Have you done all your calculations and all your figures correctly?

    Once you submit that grant if it is the National Science Foundation, at the earliest in general it will be several months. Often it is six months to a year before you find out if you have the funding. If you’re going for university funding or the space grant consortium, it often only takes a few weeks to a few months to hear. Those are much faster options.

    Science is actually an amazingly slow process. The way to escape the “great idea, must get funding, write, write, write, and wait for six months to a year” the best way to escape that is if it is something that you can do on your desktop computer, you just do it after hours.

    That’s one of the little known things with research, writing papers is something we have to do but it’s also a luxury that often comes in the middle of the night. Where if I have a really great idea and it’s not the most fundable of really great ideas – because it’s not going to change our entire way of understanding the universe, it’s just going to change part of our idea of understanding some small something that I think is cool – that is research that I do at home after dinner instead of blogging.

    No one gives me money to do it but that means I can do it right now. I can call up an amateur astronomer and get them to get data for me. If you’re at a big facility you can go to the director and say “I’ve got a great idea can I have some of your discretionary time”? Sometimes you get lucky.

    Fraser: Okay so you’ve got your good idea. You’ve written down a grant application and then you shop that around for funding? Or do you typically know who you’re looking for to finance it in the first place and write it with that sort of intention?

    Pamela: It’s a combination of both. There are some ideas that can fit into multiple bins so you submit to multiple places.

    Fraser: Does that make them mad to all be submitted to at the same time?

    Pamela: No there’s actually a spot on the application that asks who else you have submitted this to. Sometimes you’ll get part of your funding from one agency and part of your funding from another agency.

    Really big projects are funded across multiple grants, multiple foundations and multiple universities where everyone is pitching in to make the science possible.

    Fraser: That’s interesting. That’s sometimes the opposite. In the business world a lot of times they get kind of mad that you are submitting a business plan to two venture capital companies at the same time. They kind of want to know you saw us, we had a chance to say yes or no and then you saw someone else.

    They don’t like to feel pressured and put into a bidding war. That’s interesting that in this it’s a little more collaborative. They’ll come together, call each other and say “we can’t fund it but we like the idea, let’s share and we’ll pay for this and you pay for that”. That’s really interesting.

    Pamela: It’s even more subtle than that because there’s no real money that’s going to come out the other end. If I put in a proposal to the National Science Foundation and the research that I’m doing can come out of geology, computer science or astronomy, the program officers from all those different concepts, all those different areas of science will get together and say “okay, so I only have 10K left in my budget, well I only have 40K left in my budget it’s the end of the financial year, let’s pool our leftover random bits of money and get this person’s program going”.

    They’ll work together using what small pots of money they have and figure out how to get the really good ideas funded. It’s an idea of we’re all in it together. We’re all trying to understand the universe. No one has very much money. If I can get 10K from a whole bunch of little tiny places or really big places that give me tiny amounts of money, then they still have more money that they can give to other people. It’s a way of sharing the money as broadly as possible.

    Fraser: What would you use that money for? I’m assuming obviously if you need to create an experiment you’d want some kind of instrument.

    Pamela: Funding goes to all sorts of different things. Full-time, tenure-track/tenured faculty gets a 9 month salary from their university and then no salary at all in the summer unless they have grant money.

    Full-time faculty who are tenured and tenure-track get 3 months salary, they buy computers, and they hire graduate students, students. Then there are people like me who are research scientists and we actually have to pay part of our salary. Part of my salary comes out of teaching for SIUE – Southern Illinois University Edwardsville – but the rest of my salary year-round comes out of grant money. If I don’t get a grant I quite simply don’t get paid. We have to pay ourselves.

    Then there are little things that you don’t think about. Every grant that goes through a public institution has what’s called indirect costs on it. That’s money that goes to pay simple things like the guy who maintains the air conditioning in my building, wear and tear. A certain percentage of your grant goes to just maintaining your university.

    With my typical grants the biggest chunk goes to salary for me and my students. I have eight different students who work for me. The next largest chunk goes to travel so I can present results at conferences, work collaboratively with peers at other universities and I pay for my students to travel as well.

    I’ve had students that have presented papers at the American Astronomical Society sharing their resources around the globe. Other parts are the computer on my desk, the equipment that we use for AstronomyCast. Our audio equipment has actually been paid for by the National Science Foundation.

    Fraser: Thank you National Science Foundation.

    Pamela: Yeah, and so there are other things you can get as well. I am at a small university. We don’t have a telescope. If I need telescope time I either put in a proposal to a national facility, call up an amateur or the American Association of Variable Star Observers has some telescopes I can get time on.

    I have peers that are working on building instruments. They’ll build a detector that might cost a couple million dollars using National Science Foundation or NASA money. There are all sorts of different things that a grant can fund.

    At the end of the day the result of whatever is funded has to be something that leads to published research; that leads to us having a better understanding of the universe.

    It might be that you’ve built an instrument that other people will use to do published research. It might be that the money has paid your salary to sit at your desk and crunch numbers that already exist that no one else has crunched in the way you’re crunching them.

    Grants basically pay for us to function. It’s what keeps universities and science centers going.

    Fraser: Okay then what’s the decision-making process by the various institutions to choose whose research they’re going to fund? You made it sound all lovey-dovey, let’s all have a group hug [laughter] and discover the universe together. I’m sure it’s too many proposals chasing too little money.

    Pamela: Yeah, in a good situation one in five grants will be funded. That’s a good day.

    Fraser: Right so how do they decide where to put the money?

    Pamela: This is where the peer review process comes in. I’ve got the privilege of getting to sit on some of these review panels before. With the National Science Foundation it happened in a couple of different ways.

    Either they’ll electronically send you a proposal, ask for comments, ask you to rank it based on can they do it, what is the intellectual merit of fulfilling this project. They’ll ask what we learn that’s new that no one ever knew before. What are the broader impacts? How does this improve quality of life, quality of education, quality of people working in other fields?

    There are very detailed criteria. Sometimes depending on the program that you’re doing you also have program-based criteria. How does this fit the specific call for proposals that has been answered? Does this do human computer interactions? Does this help students learn more about the sun? Does this help teachers better learn how to teach high energy astrophysics at the high school level?

    Different proposals have different specific criteria. You’re given essentially a matrix of here are the things to look for in the proposal, do they meet these criteria? Then you also look at what do you know about the people?

    Everyone is required to submit as part of their proposal essentially a mini-resume, a mini-curriculum vitae that states what are your most relevant publications, who are the people you’ve worked with in the past, where does your degree come from? How long ago did you get it?

    You never really escape your pedigree. You have to demonstrate that you are a scientist who is publishing. They’ll look and say “oh wait you just got your degree three weeks ago, you only have one publication. That’s probably okay but you need to be working with people who have more experience than you”.

    Fraser: Right and that is kinda the same in the business world. If you’re going to submit a business plan many funding agencies will just go right to the back and look at who all the people who are involved with the project and get a sense of what their history is.

    Then they use that as a framework to decide if these are the people able to implement the business. I guess this is the same thing, right?

    Pamela: Yeah.

    Fraser: Are these the people who are able to implement the science? Can they do it?

    Pamela: And do they have the institutional facilities to do it. For instance I could write I’d like to believe a very good proposal to bring a hundred students to my university and have them working with other faculty around my university in a bunch of interdisciplinary manners.

    However, my institution has never done that before. I would expect to be rejected and told no that’s quite nice of you to offer to do that but why don’t you go prove it with five students first?

    Fraser: You could also write a proposal to say that you’re going to search for the answer to life, the universe and everything.

    Pamela: Yeah but that one wouldn’t even be a good proposal.

    Fraser: That’s what I’m saying that it would be overreaching and so I guess it’s finding that right mix. You’ve got the right team, the question that is theoretical possible to find an answer.

    It’s doable and it’s not going to break the bank. The benefits of the research will have some kind of value to human society afterwards. Although maybe sometimes it’s just knowledge for knowledge sake, right?

    Pamela: That’s one of the things that is so neat about the criteria that the National Science Foundation uses. They expect you to have both knowledge for knowledge sake the intellectual merit of your project but at the same time you have to have a broader impact.

    If you are helping to inspire people because as part of your proposal you’re going to have a blog, that could count. That’s kind of we’ll see if you’re basically going to throw one blog article out for your entire multi-million dollar proposal.

    Fraser: I’ll use Twitter. [Laughter] I’ll put it on my Facebook.

    Pamela: The idea is no matter what we do, it should have some sort of an impact in terms of inspiring people, employing students in a way that encourages them to go into science, technology, engineering and math.

    It demonstrates a new technology that has benefits to other fields. It develops a new image processing technique that maybe amazing for finding the first galaxies but also might be useful for finding cancer cells in breasts.

    This is one of the neat things about looking at broad impacts is just in the field of imaging alone there is all these really cool uses of technology where one image processing can be used across biology and astronomy because it’s just looking at the same type of data and processing it to look for the faintest anomalies.

    Fraser: I’m going to guess that horrible politics comes into play too.

    Pamela: Yeah, and sometimes you’ll do things like in the process of writing the grant you do everything you can to reduce the numbers to be as small as possible to the point that you’re like “yeah I can volunteer ten hours a week, this is a really cool question”; which really ticks off spouses.

    Then you get it back and they say: “we really like what you’re doing. We really don’t have any funding; can you reduce your budget by 20%”? You’ve already made it as small as possible.

    Now you’re basically promising that you’re going to do things on volunteer effort. That’s the pain of having jobs that we love and that we do because well astronomy is my hobby and my career. I go home and work after dinner a lot. I think most astronomers do that.

    Fraser: Yeah, that’s also the same with business. [Laughter]

    Pamela: Except business gets paid way better.

    Fraser: Well it depends on what stage you’re at. How does like a notification that you’ve been approved happen?

    Pamela: Often you’ll start off by getting a call from your program officer. I got a phone call about nine months ago from my NASA program officer. I literally walked around my department and screamed at faculty “I’ve got funding from NASA.”

    You get this really happy phone call and then you get tortured with paperwork and you finally get the funding six weeks to three months later. The entire process can actually take sixteen months from submitting the application to having the money and being able to spend it at your institution.

    Fraser: Okay then comes the doing part, right?

    Pamela: Yes and that’s the fun.

    Fraser: Right.

    Pamela: Then you get to do, do, do with reporting along the way. There is basically the grant version of income taxes where you have to report on how you spent your money, what were your outcomes. You have to do this every year.

    That’s fine if they didn’t do that and they gave me two million dollars I’d question their sanity. They’ve never given me two million dollars but if they did I would question their sanity if they didn’t ask for reporting.

    Fraser: That might be building instruments; that might be getting telescope time?

    Pamela: Galaxy Zoo for instance the group of people that I have working with me here at Southern Illinois, we’re currently building a back end to bring educational content into Galaxy Zoo.

    When we did AstronomyCast Live that was under a National Science Foundation grant where our doing was going to conferences and live blogging the conferences. All different things count including just sitting down and crunching numbers.

    Fraser: You have a very new media creative style of what the doing is, so what would a traditional astronomer do?

    Pamela: A much more traditional would be, “I want to go out and do a survey of all of the pulsars in a globular cluster trying to map something that I haven’t thought about in detail, and this will require a student to handle all of the data reduction. I will do all of the analysis – give me summer funding to do all of the analysis. We estimate the entire project from start to publication will take us two years.”

    You submit and then you spend the entire time first acquiring your data from the telescope. You have to get the telescope time. Then reducing all of the data, praying it doesn’t rain somewhere in the interim and then making all the plots, making all of the figures making sense out of all of the plots and all of the figures. Then write it up.

    As you write it up contextualizing it within all the other papers that have been written so that every idea you state that isn’t your own new to that paper you’re referencing some other paper where people can go read about that idea in more detail.

    Fraser: A lot of it then depends on outside agencies. If what you want requires Hubble, get in line.

    Pamela: Right, now the nice thing about Hubble though is you don’t have to get separate grant funding. When you get time on Hubble you get money to deal with the data that you get from Hubble. Hubble is one of the unique facilities in that way.

    There are other facilities that if you get enough hours, they actually pay for you to have a Post Doc. Chandra Space Telescope does that as well. For smaller observatories if you get time on a four meter, if you get time on the McDonald Observatory 107 inch which I lived on in graduate school, there you time has to be paid for off of a National Science Foundation grant.

    Once you get the grant you have to then go to the telescope time allocation committee, fill out more paperwork, hope that you’re allocated time on the observatory, hope that it doesn’t rain on your time on the observatory. Get your data, go home and make sense out of it.

    Fraser: Right and you never actually see the instrument do you?

    Pamela: It depends on where you observe. I was lucky to have gone to the University of Texas which is I think the last of the great observatories where the astronomer takes all of their own data. I actually have logged well over a hundred nights on the telescopes at McDonald where I was the one operating the telescope taking good or bad data based on what I entered into the keyboard.

    With the majority of the observatories nowadays you fill out a spreadsheet, send them your spread sheet. They enter it into their mass spreadsheet and based on weather conditions, based on phase of the moon, based on what time it is, they have software or a human being that will then select what object gets observed at any given moment during the night.

    They’ll go back and forth doing what is called Q-based observing where they say right now it’s ideal for Pamela and Fraser’s object. Right now it’s absolutely ideal for Michael Brown’s object; right now it’s absolutely ideal for… It will go through and systematically get the best data they can.

    Another thing that happens and this happens out at KECK is you’ll get assigned a certain number of nights. You go out to the observatory and then they have a night assistant who does all the handling of the telescope for you. It takes time to learn how to use a telescope. KECK is kind of expensive.

    Most of the telescopes in the world are more than kind of expensive. It’s in the best interest of the observatory to pay someone to take your data for you and you sit there going “yeah that works” and reducing your data and making decisions on the fly about the next object but all the telescope controlling is done by somebody else.

    Fraser: Okay, so your data is in, now what? You’ve got your original proposal so I guess it’s time to write.

    Pamela: It’s time to write. Well, it’s time to analyze your data. Data analysis can take – if you’re lucky you’re using a telescope that has an automatic system for data reduction. You plug your data in one end; it comes out the other and is a bunch of numbers instead a bunch of images. You process the numbers, life is amazing.

    Other cases you have to sit and there are complicated software packages, IDL, IRAF that you sit down and you fight until all of your images become numbers. The best advice I’ve ever been given was make a plot of everything vs. everything else because you don’t know what might have a trend. Then so you look for the unexpected.

    You look for what you were looking for. You look for things that you should have expected to happen to pop out of the data that no one else thought to think about before. Once you have all of your graphs and plots, then you start writing.

    Fraser: But you should have made a discovery. The hope is that you will have answered your question. You will have discovered something or you will have at least answered or have more knowledge toward the question that you were asking in the beginning.

    Pamela: Sometimes your answer is not what you’d like. With my dissertation I was trying to prove a new more effective way of discovering galaxy clusters. I was able to improve the ability to find galaxy clusters using my much harder to use technique by a whole whopping three percent.

    You could either use the old method which was successful at finding galaxies at on percentage or my much more complicated and hard to do technique which was about three percent more successful. It was not the result we wanted but it was a result we had. It was a useful result, just a sad one. [Laughter] That happens a lot.

    Fraser: Then you write it up…

    Pamela: You write it up.

    Fraser: How long does that take?

    Pamela: It depends. If you know all the journal articles off the back of your hand and are someone who can remember reading about it in a certain journal written by a certain person in this year, you can probably write a really good paper in three or four days.

    Fraser: Wow!

    Pamela: Yeah and there are amazing scientists who will sit down, have a conversation with their grad students over lunch and have a paper done two days later. Then there are people like me who can’t remember journal articles to save our lives and it will take four days to write the journal article and then another week and a half to two weeks to reference the journal article.

    That’s the sadness that sometimes happens. I can’t remember names of people I know so trying to remember the names of authors of journal articles is a sad proposition in my life.

    Fraser: But for anyone who has never seen a journal article they can be five pages long and they can be thirty pages long.

    Pamela: That’s the thing, sometimes you’re working on a paper that is going to take months and months to get it done so that everyone in your collaboration accepts it. The hard part is often the part that comes before the writing of the words.

    The part where you’re arguing over the results, you’re looking at the plots. Making the plots and graphs that you’re learning from, one plot might take an entire day. One paper might have twenty graphs in it.

    Fraser: Right, that’s time-consuming.

    Pamela: That’s where all of the time goes in. Now if you do all of your analysis well, you keep good notes while you’re doing all of your analysis, writing should go quickly.

    It’s getting to the writing part, getting those figures and graphs, understanding what they mean, all the things that have to happen before you write the paper, that’s the challenge.

    It’s like having to read the novel and then having to read all the background material on the author before you can write a paper on a novel and the influences of the novel. There’s more to it that writing a paper.

    Fraser: You’ve got a paper in hand now. You’ve written it. Then what do you do with it?

    Pamela: You submit it to a journal and this is where prayer comes back in because what’s going to happen to your journal article is it’s going to get sent off to a scientist who is really busy, doesn’t have a lot of time and doing this because it’s the right thing to do to referee other people’s journal articles.

    They’re going to read your paper and they’re going to have probably been chosen because they’re either your biggest competitor or someone who is doing very closely related research. They are going to understand everything in your paper. If you’re unlucky, they’re going to say “your results don’t match mine; therefore you have to do ten times more work to prove that you’re right”.

    Fraser: That’s the politics part.

    Pamela: That’s the politics part. Or they’re going to look at your results and go “wow this is completely unexpected and I don’t believe you”. [Laughter] Lots of chaos can happen.

    There’s also the periodic referee who just doesn’t get around to refereeing your paper until six weeks after they were supposed to have done it because they are too busy.

    Fraser: Do they ever get the ones that are genuinely excited who realize that you’ve got something groundbreaking and you get the big group hug?

    Pamela: That’s where when you get lucky you’re going to get a “wow, this is a really good piece of research. You’ve really done your job, these five paragraphs need to be rewritten because you didn’t reference, I want you to add references to my journal articles” which happens a shockingly large number of times. Or they may say one graph is kind of stupidly labeled, please redo your scale. There’s always going to be changes.

    Fraser: I guess they would feel like they have to find something to nitpick so that they can demonstrate that they are a useful referee. [Laughter] That’s just me being cynical.

    Pamela: What I heard one time from an editor of the publication of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific is the typical journal article will actually go through three different drafts before it is accepted for publication.

    Best case is you’ll get accepted with “please make the following changes”. Worst case you’ll get “this is the worst thing I’ve ever seen, I completely reject it”. In which case you go home, cry and try a different journal.

    Most often it is somewhere in-between of “I think you’re on to something, you haven’t convinced me. Can you please do the following ten things”?

    Fraser: Right and that may by very well go back out and get more data?

    Pamela: Sometimes. The thing is though I think this is a good thing because it means that your final paper really is better than what you submitted. It really is more convincing that what you submitted.

    Having to convince your greatest competitor in a field of research – the person who is trying to make it to the discovery before you – having to convince them that you’re right really forces you to do a better job.

    Fraser: That is really neat. That’s a neat way to do it. So then your paper is at some point hopefully, accepted by a publication and it gets published in a journal.

    We’re talking like if you’re lucky it’s in ‘Nature’ or ‘Science’ or something very obscure like the ‘Annals of Galaxy Cluster Finding’. [Laughter]

    Pamela: Most journal articles go into one of a handful of journals. In the United States we have the ‘Astronomical Journal’, we have the ‘Astrophysical Journal’, publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific are the big three U.S. journals.

    Internationally in the English language, monthly notices of the Royal Astronomical Society which is British and Astronomy and Astrophysics which is more European bent journal also in English.

    There are a whole bunch of different places and a bunch of traditions on where different papers get submitted. If you have something that you think is really flashy and shiny, ‘Science’ and ‘Nature’ are always options but you really need to have flashy and shiny research to be in one of those two journals.

    Fraser: Cool. I guess then rinse and repeat, right?

    Pamela: Over an entire life and the thing about this is because of the waiting period on grants you have to always be thinking a year or two years in advance. It’s easy to get into the mindset of needing to finish what I’m working on now before I start working on the next thing.

    However in Astronomy, that’s death. You need to be working – to use computer science terms – you have to be working multi-threaded. You have to every single time there is a grant deadline you have to look at it and determine if you have a new idea.

    I admit there have been days when I’ve thought I should have an idea but I’m out today so I’m going to have to pass on this particular grant call.

    Fraser: It’s like you have to have things going on at different stages. You’ve got a whole bunch of ideas over here; you’ve got a bunch of papers already written over here.

    You’ve got grant proposals in the works and you have to move them all bit by bit forward to keep the whole hopper running.

    Pamela: It’s really a puzzle because in my day today I have to think about this student who has this skill set who is graduating on this date; this student isn’t graduating when I thought so I need to find six months more funding.

    I want to go to this conference so I need to find funding. Sometimes you hear about new things. I just found out there’s this amazing conference that’s going to be in South Africa in March and now I have to figure out how to find funding to get to South Africa.

    There are all these amazing things and the world is changing faster than you can get grants. [Laughter]

    Fraser: I think that it’s funny in the years that we’ve worked together so far, that is the skill that you have I think that is clearly been honed more than almost anything else is your ability [laughter] to find grant opportunities.

    You scour the world to find the right people to bring together to put the team together, to write up the proposal sometimes in a single night.

    Pamela: We have done that.

    Fraser: To put that all together and to be successful this is quite impressive. I can tell everyone from personal experience that Pamela is very, very good at this. It’s great to have your inside view of how this all comes together.

    I think if people are trying to start their career in astronomy these are practices that you’ve got to be good at. If you don’t like to do this kind of thing, it’s going to be pretty hard to move forward in that field.

    Pamela: If you are a new grant-writer or a new telescope proposer the best thing you can do is actually ask to be on a review panel. Ask to be the person behind the chair making these decisions because it’s a group activity.

    By reading a bunch of other people’s proposals you can learn how to do it right. I have to say that working with AstronomyCast has been something like cheating because this project is funded almost purely off of listener donation.

    Fraser: No grant proposals here. [Laughter]

    Pamela: Our AstronomyCast Live grant is over. As of about six months ago, actually no as of a year ago this month everything we do with AstronomyCast is funded strictly off of listener donations.

    You and I donate all of our time. The people who are getting paid are the wonderful people who do our audio production, our transcripts and maintain our website.

    Fraser: You and I have not taken a single paycheck from AstronomyCast since inception in case people are wondering. How do we get paid? We do it for free.

    Pamela: Yeah, we have fantasies of being paid. So if any of you out there have money that you want to donate to help Fraser and I eat I have a tax deductible …

    Fraser: No, no for us to pay for more workers, more students to do more research.

    Pamela: That’s true.

    Fraser: I personally don’t really plan to pull salary from this thing anytime soon. I know I would just spend any money that comes in on more stuff for. That’s all you’d just be investing in yourself if you donated to us.

    Pamela: Yeah, that’s true.

    Fraser: That’s it for this week.

    This transcript is not an exact match to the audio file. It has been edited for clarity. Transcription and editing by Cindy Leonard.

    3 Responses to “Ep. 146: Astronomy Research from Idea to Publication”

    1. chris says:

      you named this podcast intersteller travel on itunes, which was last weeks so it shows up twice, no big deal it just looked funny on the ipod

    2. Zachary Kessin says:

      This brought back memories of my childhood. My father is a biologist and was always working on one grant or another, or a paper or 6

    3. Howard says:

      Episode 146 was probably the most fascinating one yet. Well-done – thanks very much for this peek at how astronomy works!

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