Year: 2015

Astro PhD positions available in Amsterdam

Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy Instituut voor Sterrenkunde
From the PhD recruitment team:

The Anton Pannekoek Institute for Astronomy (API) at the University of Amsterdam invites applications for multiple PhD positions in astronomy and astrophysics. The positions are open to candidates from any country. The institute provides a stimulating, international environment in a city where English is a common language. Of our current 42 PhD students, over 70% are foreign, and over 40% are female.

PhD students execute a vigorous research program, under the supervision of one or more faculty members. Positions will be available in a number of fields of research where the institute is active, including exoplanets and planet formation, compact objects, astro-particle physics and radio transients.

More information about our research can be found at http://www.astro.uva.nl/research/ .

University of Amsterdam PhD students are fully-funded for four years and earn competitive salaries. The gross monthly salary starts at 2146 euro in the first year, gradually increasing to 2744 euro in the fourth year. This is also topped up with an end of year bonus (one month salary) plus May holiday bonus (also close to one month salary). Additional comprehensive benefits include paid vacation, sick leave, disability insurance, maternity and parental leave and pension contribution. The mandatory Dutch health insurance is not included but is very affordable (~100 euro per month). Relocation costs (within reason) will also be reimbursed.

Instructions for applicants are available at http://www.astro.uva.nl/jobs/phd-positions-at-the-api/. Applications will be via online submission where, as well as providing details of at least two referees, applicants will have to provide a curriculum vitae, a transcript of all university courses taken and grades obtained, and a cover letter which includes a brief statement of research interests and experience.

The successful candidates must have a MSc degree (or equivalent) by the PhD starting date, which will typically be in Autumn 2016, but this is negotiable. Applications need to be submitted on or before December 1, 2015. By early January we will invite promising candidates for a presentation and interviews to be held on February 11 and 12, 2016.

API PhD jobs website: http://www.astro.uva.nl/jobs/phd-positions-at-the-api/
Contact email: api-jobs [AT] list.uva.nl
Contact person: Ms. Milena Hoekstra

Please send this to students and colleagues who may be interested!

Layover time: Georgia Aquarium

I had an 8 hour layover in Atlanta on my trip from Rochester to Amsterdam in August, so I left the airport and went to the Georgia Aquarium! The aquarium has four juvenile whale sharks and two manta rays in the big tank!
Georgia Aquarium, Aug 2015

It’s pricey (~$40 for adult admission), but I like to think that it’s both admission and supporting the aquarium’s conservation efforts, so I just sucked it up. Also, I was the only non-kid without a kid of my own there, but it seemed like lots of people brought their babies just to have an excuse to go themselves (because the baby doesn’t understand what’s going on and won’t remember any of it). But it was worth it! I strongly disagree with keeping dolphins in captivity, so I didn’t pay extra to see that exhibit.

I got there 5 minutes after they opened, so I didn’t wait in a line to get my ticket, but the aquarium entrance has some serious crowd-control set up outside, so there must be big lines later in the day and over holidays. I stuck around to watch them feed the whale sharks and sea otters — it was pretty cool.

This is one of two aquariums in the world with whale sharks (my boyfriend has been to the other one in Osaka, Japan!), and they have a clear tunnel under the big tank that some of the first pictures are from. It was so cool!!

Voting from Abroad for US Citizens

Batman Robin Vote for Bernie Sanders slap comic
In case you’ve been living under an internet-less rock, the US’s two-party political system is alive and kicking, and the primaries are happening soon. The actual presidential election isn’t for another 14 months (!!) but the primaries will take place in the next few months, and in many states you must be registered with the political party in whose primary you want to vote (and you need to be registered by about next month). Meaning, if you #FeelTheBern but are a registered independent voter like me, you need to change this! In addition, pay attention to local and state elections since those can have a quicker and more direct impact on your beloved last place of residence in the US (which, for me, is my hometown, and I care about how those elections play out).

I have recently discovered that I was wrong about which elections expats are allowed to vote in, and how they go about registering to vote absentee. Look into your last state’s laws on whether or not you can vote in local and state elections. The resources I want to pass along are:

  • Federal Voting Assistance Program, the official voting resource for US citizens living overseas.
  • Vote From Abroad, the non-partisan place where you officially register to vote and request your absentee ballot. Keep going through until you’ve downloaded the Federal Post Card Application — towards the end, if you don’t want to sign up for any newsletters just leave the boxes unchecked and click ‘Continue’. It takes 4 minutes! Do this now!
  • Democrats Abroad, the handiest point of contact for any US expats left-of-center and leftish-center. They make registering and applying absentee from your last US place of residence pretty straightforward via Vote From Abroad (linked above), and send you emails with updates on which elections you can vote in are coming up. You can probably opt out of the less helpful mailings. There’s also a Republican one.
  • VoteForBernie.org, the site that kicked my butt into gear. It shows on a map when the primaries/caucuses are and gives voter registration deadlines and links. And, the prospect of a progressive socialist president makes me so, so happy.

Remember: no taxation without representation! They’re taxing you, so be sure to make your voice heard. (As a US citizen, even if you live abroad, you are required to file taxes every year.)

An informed, accessible democracy makes us free. Exercise your basic civil right. And get your paperwork in order beforehand.

Nothing is certain except death and taxes[, and both suck when you’re an expat].

— Benjamin Franklin

Traveling in Greece this summer

Photo: Volcano and boat from Santorini, in Greece
I just spent 5 days in the Greek islands and it was super great!! The weather was beautiful, the scenery was gorgeous, and the food was delicious. Contrary to what you might think due to the economic and political protests, being a tourist in Greece is still safe and fun. In general, the issues and frustrations here are with the governments (local and EU), not with you as an individual tourist. One of the things you can do to help the Greek economy is to visit and spend money!

As an English-speaking tourist, I found that many shop owners and restaurant waiters would speak a bit of English with me and ask me where I was from and strike up conversations. I liked how friendly the whole atmosphere was! But maybe if you’re German, don’t tell them you’re from Germany? Or do so but apologize for your country/government? I don’t know, YMMV. But also, welcome to how it can feel to be an American traveling abroad 😕

I’ve compiled some tips for people traveling to Greece this summer (many of them are general travel tips):

  • Don’t be a dumbass.
  • Don’t be rude. You are a guest in their country.
  • Take out cash before you arrive (from your bank at home or from the ATM if you live/stop over elsewhere in the eurozone before Greece). The local currency is euros.
  • Spend your money at local businesses over chains.
  • Tipping in sit-down restaurants is 5-10% if you’re a larger group (≳ 4) and/or if the service was really great.
  • Some things may cost more than what a local would pay due to the unofficial “tourist tax” (price inflation in the heavily touristy areas). You can shop around a bit, but surprise! You’re a tourist! This is just how it goes.
  • Make an effort to learn the basics in Greek and use them: hello (geia), goodbye (antío), please (parakaló), thank you (efcharistó). You can download the google translate offline dictionary to your smartphone, and it will even pronounce the words for you!
  • The local style of coffee is called “Greek coffee” when in Greece, “Turkish coffee” when in Turkey.
  • Tourist info booths are great places to get a map of the town and some tips on what’s worth the visit.
  • As in other European countries, it’s very common for hotels to make a copy of your passport or write down your passport number for their official records. On cruise ships, they actually keep your passport for the duration of the trip. So, don’t freak out.
  • Bring plenty of sunscreen (especially if you’re as pale as I am), after-sun aloe gel, a sunhat of some kind, sunglasses, and carry a water bottle. It’s hot and sunny, so protect your skin and stay hydrated!

Have fun and enjoy!!

EWASS 2015

EWASS 2015
Hola! This week I’m tweeting up a storm at EWASS 2015 in Tenerife. The multi-wavelength timing of compact objects session is today, and the transitional millisecond pulsar session is on Thursday and Friday. Non-astro followers, you can un-mute/re-follow me on Saturday 😉

PhD candidate status in the Netherlands

Image from http://www.eurogates.nl
The Dutch Ministry of Education wants to change the status of PhD candidates in the Netherlands from civil employees to students. This may not sound like much to those outside this system, but it is HUGE to us.

Our salaries are on par with a PhD candidate in the US, but it’s just that — a salary, not a stipend or scholarship. We tend to call ourselves PhD students because that’s the colloquial term, but technically we aren’t, and we like those technicalities that set us apart.

As civil employees we have full-time work status, a union, unemployment benefits, pension contributions, and other legal protections. We don’t take classes, don’t pay tuition, and at UvA the teaching load is ~15-20% of our contract (the rest is research). International PhDs also get the 30%-rule for taxation, thanks to which I can afford to actually go home and see my family. A big reason why I came from the US to do a PhD in the Netherlands is, in no small part, because PhD candidates are recognized civil employees, and those benefits were the tipping point for me when considering PhD positions at different institutes in different countries. The research at top Dutch universities is as good as in other top universities abroad, but our legal protections as junior-career scientists are distinct. As far as I know (in the US, Canada, and most of Western Europe), in the Netherlands we have the best job protections and job security.

Cancelling this status (as an “experiment” or otherwise) would be a slap in the face to me and the many, many other international PhD candidates who move far away from our home countries to work in the Netherlands. It is absurd — please, please do not let them do this. To start, you can help by signing the petition to ask the Dutch Minister of Education to not do this, and the Dutch universities to not participate in this: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/promotiestudent/

There’s more explanation in the petition description, in Dutch and English (scroll down for English).

#pyastro15

This week I’m participating in the Python in Astronomy workshop at the Lorentz Center in Leiden. It is the greatest workshop/conference/unconference I’ve been to, and it’s only day 3 out of 5. I’ve been developing my git and github skills, and submitted my first pull request (i.e., open-source code contribution) yesterday to SunPy! For this afternoon some of us are planning to sit down and try to hammer out the basics of an astroquery HEASARC module for downloading data from NASA’s HEASARC database!

You can follow along with the hashtag #pyastro15

A note on the twitter hashtag feed: I know that abbreviations can be frustrating for those not at the conference or new to the topics. This being said, twitter inherently does not lend itself to verbosity. If you’re trying to follow along and are getting lost in tweets densely packed with abbreviations and acronyms, please reply and request clarification!

Also, you’ll probably find that some people are tweeting with the hashtag more for non-attendees, and some are aiming their tweets at fellow attendees (I admit I tend to be in the latter camp). You may find it less frustrating to follow a few specific people and not everything from the hashtag.