The Polaris Mentorship Program

Here’s an announcement I got about an exciting mentorship program for new STEM students in Physics and Astronomy. [The message has been lightly edited to include links and email addresses.]

Welcome to Ohio State! We’re writing to invite you to apply to Polaris, a mentorship program in the Physics and Astronomy departments. Polaris’s goal is to help get you started in your career in STEM, and to foster a diverse and inclusive environment, because we deeply believe that science is for everyone.
The program will meet once a week on Mondays from 1:50-2:45 pm (details are in an announcement and a syllabus). Most meetings will involve a discussion of a topic related to diversity and inclusion in STEM. Several meetings are devoted instead career development activities, like coding workshops and introductions to college level research. You’ll also be paired with a graduate or upper-level undergraduate mentor who can be a resource for any problems you’re having. You’ll have some time at each meeting to talk one-on-one with your mentor.
If possible, you can even gain one course credit for participating in the program! To apply, send email to with your name and dot number (the number you use to log into your e-mail), and we’ll give you instructions about how to register. 
Hope to see you soon!
Polaris Leadership Team


More advice about grad school

The other day I was reading an article at the Chronicle of Higher Education.  The article discussed a guide for Ph.D. students in economics who are seeking professor jobs.  This guide, written by Dr. John Cawley (Cornell) is apparently well known in the economics profession. (The article itself is behind a paywall, but you should be able to view it if you are using an OSU computer).

The advice concerned how to select places to apply to.  It seemed to me that the advice also applied to those of you who are looking for graduate school or job opportunities.  Interestingly, the advice came in the form of a question to the author of this guide.  The reporter asked:

You make it very clear that the goal of a person’s search shouldn’t be to get a job in the highest-ranked department, but at a place where their work is understood and appreciated, and that they find enjoyable and can grow and improve. Why give that advice when it seems to be the opposite of what I’m sure some economics Ph.D.s hear from their advisers?

Dr. Cawley’s reply was:

That’s something I feel strongly about. There is often a misconception about getting a job at a “top 5” department, or at a university that will impress your parents or other people, without regard for how good a match it is for you. The problem with doing that is that your growth as a scholar depends on the quality of match, especially for that first job.

To me, this sounds spot on, and applies to people going to grad school.  Why put your sights on Caltech, if you would be happier and maybe therefore more productive at New Mexico State or Vanderbilt or Dartmouth?  Why apply to Harvard if 600 other people do, and you aren’t able to articulate why Harvard is just the place for you?

I bring this up because almost all students start their search for grad school by running down the list of “top N” places.  Instead, I would recommend having a long conversation with your adviser, or with profs that you know well, to discern what motivates you.  You also should find out what places have resources that you need, or where they do the research that interests you most.

So for those of you who will apply go grad school this autumn, please start thinking now about where you want to be, and start researching to find out which places can best help you get there.


GRE scores and graduate school

If you will be applying for grad schools in Astronomy, Physics, or any other subject, you might want to check out an article from the AstroBetter blog about which schools require scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about how GRE scores should be used, and what (if anything) they predict.  The article linked above itself has many links that can give you a lot of background.  The American Astronomical Society (AAS) recently issued this statement on the GRE:

Given the research indicating that the GRE and PGRE are poor predictors of graduate student success, that their use in graduate admissions has a particularly negative impact on underrepresented groups, and that they represent a financial burden for many students in pursuing advanced degrees in the astronomical sciences, the AAS recommends that graduate programs eliminate or make optional the GRE and PGRE as metrics of evaluation for graduate applicants. If GRE or PGRE scores are used, the AAS recommends that admissions criteria account explicitly for the known systematics in scores as a function of gender, race, and socioeconomic status, and that cutoff scores not be used to eliminate candidates from admission, scholarships/fellowships, or financial support, in accordance with ETS recommendations.

Check out the article!  It’s very important.  This is one piece of information that you can use when putting together a list of places you are applying to.



Major fellowships for grad school

Graduating this year?  Planning on applying for grad school?

Here’s a useful resource: a list of major US fellowships for graduate students.  Many of these permit senior undergrads to apply.  These are hard to get but really worth it, since they can finance several years of grad school and often include a research stipend as well.

Watch this blog for more posts directed at graduating seniors.  I plan to hold a meeting in around 1 October where we can go over typical requirements for grad school and discuss the application process.

“Find your passion”

A common piece of advice from your teachers and mentors is to “find your passion.”  Certainly it helps to be enthusiastic about your studies, since that can motivate you to do the hard work required for success.

But this advice is not as straightforward as it might seem.  Check out this article from the Atlantic, called “‘Find Your Passion’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does.”  For me, the money quote is this:

Young people routinely mistake “find your passion” to mean “pick your interest early and do not waver from it,” rather than “constantly search for the things that make your soul alive and pursue them diligently.”

I’d like to hear your reactions to this article, which contains many thoughtful reflections on the idea of passion for work or a career.  Use the comment mechanism below.

Grad school in Statistics at Michigan

This sounds like a good opportunity for those of you graduating relatively soon who are interested in the statistical side of the sciences.

Fall 2018 Preview Weekend

November 9-10, 2018

The Department of Statistics at the University of Michigan invites juniors, seniors, recently graduated students, and Master’s students to visit us for a preview event to explore our graduate programs.  We are eager to bring students to our campus for this event who will contribute to our department’s mission of promoting diversity and inclusion in the fields of Statistics and Data Science.

During your visit, you’ll learn about:

  • state of the art research happening at the University of Michigan
  • the admissions process 
  • what graduate school is like and how it works

We welcome applications from those who come from a background that is traditionally underrepresented in Statistics and/or if you actively work towards promoting issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM fields. 

More information and the application can be found here.

Application Deadline: September 27, 2018

Advice to a young scientist

Here’s an article I set aside some time ago for posting on this blog.  It is called Advice to the Young from Pioneering Astrophysicist Ceclia Payne-Gaposhkin.  Spoiler: tenacity and a sense of purpose are important factors for success in our field.

The short summary at the top of the article is particularly interesting:

Work with love, embrace the unexpected, let no one else make intellectual decisions for you, and always remain in direct touch with the fountain-head.

At the end of the article there are a number of links to very interesting reads on similar themes.  Check out one of them, and give us your thoughts in the comment section.  I’d love to hear your opinions about whether advice articles like these are helpful.

Banneker-Aztlan Institute at Harvard

This morning I received an announcement from Harvard about a summer research opportunity for students from groups underrepresented in astronomy.

From their website, the Banneker-Aztlan Institute

The Banneker-Aztlán Institute summer program is a full-time, ten-week research and study experience. We prepare undergraduate students of color for graduate programs in astronomy by emphasizing research, building community, and encouraging debate and political action through social justice education.

Requirements are demographic information about yourself, a resume, and short essays on personal development and your aspirations for astronomy.  Academic transcripts and letters of recommendation are not required.  Students receive a competitive stipend to cover food and other personal expenses during the program.

Who should apply?  Again, from their website:

Our programs target undergraduate juniors from backgrounds historically marginalized from academia and the astronomical sciences in particular. While there is a preference for students of color, we welcome applications from students of all backgrounds. Our application review process considers historical disparities and the tendency for traditional application practices to reproduce racial disparities in academia.

The deadline is February 15, so if you are interested you should move quickly.