conferences & workshops

CUWiP panel on mental health

If you’re an undergraduate physics/astronomy major in the US or Canada and a gender minority (woman, non-binary, etc.), sign up to attend the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP)! It’s a 3-day regional conference Jan 18-20, 2019 held at 12 locations across the US and Canada, so there’ll be one not too far from you. You can look up the CUWiP hosting universities here.

At Michigan State University (for students in Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and western Pennsylvania) I’ll be involved in a panel/workshop on mental health! Take a look at a seminar I gave in May 2018 at MSU on mental wellbeing for early career researchers (note that many of the university resources are MSU-specific). Mental health issues are alarmingly common for early career researchers (students and postdocs), so raising awareness and connecting people to resources are very important.

Conference networking and self-care

I’m at COSPAR 2018 in Pasadena, CA this week! COSPAR is a giant meeting with 3,500+ attendees from all around the world spanning all aspects of astronomy, astro-particle physics, space physics, solar physics, astrobiology, and any other science from low-Earth-orbit to the edge of the universe. COSPAR 2018 is Pasadena’s largest-ever scientific conference! It can be a bit overwhelming, so here are some tips for networking at and navigating such a meeting.


“Networking” means making friends/acquaintances with nice people who do interesting science. That’s really all it is! Quick conversation starters: ask them what their latest paper was on, students are working on, and/or side projects are. It’s ok to ask simpler/broader subject questions!

  • Email people you’d like to meet and ask to meet them for lunch or coffee, and tell them when your poster/talk is.
  • If it’s your first time at a very large meeting, attach yourself to someone a little more senior than you who you know well (senior grad student, postdoc) and ask them to introduce you to people at coffee breaks and bring you along for meals the first day.
  • Tag along for meals even if you just met the people! Saying “mind if I join you for lunch?” or “mind if I join you for dinner?” is  a totally normal thing to ask at conferences.
  • Get dinner with colleagues on the majority of the evenings. Mix it up: sometimes with grad students, sometimes some postdocs and profs in the mix. Take evenings for yourself when you need them, but don’t miss out on this part of networking.
  • Attend the keynote talks. They’re often quite interesting, and people will generally be talking about them at coffee breaks and whatnot.
  • Try going to a session block that sounds really interesting and is totally out of your wheelhouse. Also go to a session block or two in a related topic to broaden your understanding of your own subtopic. This is one of those great things you can only do at very large, broad meetings like COSPAR!
  • Prepare an “elevator pitch” (one to two sentence non-jargon summary) if someone asks what your research is on.
  • See this great thread on attending a conference as a student/ECR without your advisor there!


Giant 9-day-long conferences can be exhausting, even for the most extroverted among us. Try not to skimp on your usual basic self-care like eating regular healthy meals, getting plenty of sleep at night, and exercising once or twice a week (even just 20 minutes of youtube yoga in your hotel room).

  • Don’t feel bad about skipping sessions. Acknowledge now that you won’t see All The Talks.
  • Spend time making new conference buddies and seeing old ones.
  • Take a nap if you need to! At one of the big AAS winter meetings, I took a nap every day.
  • Eat a vegetable every day. Your body needs it.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Try to not go over your usual caffeine & sugar intake. I know, I know, that’s what coffee breaks are for…but try not to go overboard. Doing this helps me manage anxiety better and sleep reasonably well with the jetlag.
  • Struggling with your mental health at a conference can be more taxing than usual. Reach out to friends (at the conference and at home), and take time to do whatever helps you when you’re at home. Generally people don’t pry and we all know everyone else is busy, but if you need an excuse to get out of something, you’re “not feeling great, but will catch up tomorrow/the next day/after my talk.”

What would you add to the lists?

Hack Together Day at EWASS 2017

We are pleased to announce a hack day to accompany the special session on astronomy research software at EWASS 2017!!

Hack Together Day is a day to work intensively on projects, individually or in small groups, of interest to the astronomical community. A wide variety of projects will be undertaken, spanning everything from software development to community outreach to scientific research to trying out new analysis tools. We’ll also ask the contributors for SS16 (Developments and Practices in Astronomy Research Software) block 3 to be at the hack day, to help participants install, configure, and use the featured software packages. This information will be shared here once the talk schedule is confirmed.

Hack day or programming experience is not required; newcomers are extremely welcome! Project ideas and participants will be solicited before and during the meeting. Participants can lead or join a project, and should plan on focusing on only one thing.

Hack Together Day will take place on Thursday June 29th from 9:00 to 17:30, with the usual breaks for the plenary session, coffee and lunch.

Please register your attendance using this form so we can ensure enough resources for everyone. You do not need to be contributing an oral or poster presentation to the software session in order to participate in the hack day! For more information, see the EWASS 2017 Hack Together Day page on the AstroBetter wiki.

Get in touch if you have any comments/questions/concerns. We look forward to seeing you in Prague this June!

EWASS 2017: Developments & Practices in Astronomy Research Software!!

EXCITING NEWS!! There will be a special session at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS) 2017 on developments and practices in astronomy research software and a hack day!! I’m co-organizing the hack day and a block on different astronomy software packages, where we will have a variety of speakers (invited and contributed) share open-source software packages of interest to a broad portion of the astronomical and space science community.

EWASS is the general meeting for the European Astronomical Society that will be held in Prague, Czech Republic on 26-30 June 2017, hosted this year in partnership with the Czech Astronomical Society. There will be many symposia and special sessions on a variety of research topics, and registration for the meeting will open in December.

UPDATE (25 Jan):

Abstract submission is open for all EWASS 2017 sessions, and here’s a blog post on the hack day with links for registration and more info. The talks will be on June 28 and Hack Together Day #hackEWASS will be on June 29.

PyAstro17 applications are open!

The Python in Astronomy logo is based on the Python Logo, an SDO AIA 17.1nm EUV image courtesy of NASA/SDO and the AIA, EVE, and HMI science teams and this image of the Horsehead nebula which is used courtesy of ESA.
Applications to participate in the Python in Astronomy 2017 workshop are open until December 9th! The workshop will be held on May 8-12, 2017 at the Lorentz Center in Leiden, the Netherlands. Some travel funding will be available if needed, and participant selection will be done with the goal of growing the Python in Astronomy community. All career levels and Python skill levels are welcome to apply.

I’ve been to the previous two Python in Astronomy workshops. At the first meeting, I was a beginner in terms of contributing to open-source python astronomy projects (like, had never done a GitHub pull request, and didn’t know anything about packaging software), but I learned a ton and loved getting involved with a wonderful community! At the second meeting I was able to take a more active participation role, and I co-lead a tutorial on git and GitHub. And I’m now on the Scientific Organizing Committee for this one!

You can learn more on the workshop website! The application form is here. Get in touch with me or other SOC members if you have questions!

AstroBetter series on Twitter at conferences

Twitter logo on Hubble deep field. Image credit: HST/Twitter/A.L. Stevens
My 3-post series on Twitter at academic astronomy conferences has concluded on the AstroBetter blog! The first post, aimed at non-Twitter users, explains the basics of Twitter and why it’s a good thing to have at conferences. The second post, aimed at current or would-be tweeters, gives tips and tricks for conference tweeting, and spawned a great discussion on openness and sharing of unpublished ideas. The third post, for LOC or SOC members, has a rundown of what needs to happen on the conference organizing side for Twitter to be successful at a conference. Join the conversations in the comments section of those posts or on Twitter! 😉

The series comes from a post here from this past May.

Twitter tips for academic conferences

UPDATE: A version of this post is appearing as a series of posts on AstroBetter!

Earlier this week I attended the Netherlands Astronomy Conference 2016, organized this year by my institute. I was asked by the LOC to be on my Twitter game throughout the conference, and I’m really proud of the concerted effort made by everyone involved — our conference hashtag #NAC2016 was even trending in the Netherlands for a while!! After fielding Twitter questions from a variety of organizers and participants, it seemed like a good idea to centralize and condense my advice.

In astronomy, I’ve noticed that Twitter awareness and usage at an astronomy conference loosely correlates with the median age and median country of origin of the participants — for example, it seems that younger and/or U.S.-based attendees tend to tweet more. However, I don’t think it should be limited to those demographics. There are definite benefits for the larger astronomy community, like being able to follow what’s going on in real time at a conference you couldn’t attend (which I’ve done on multiple occasions), follow one parallel session while attending another (which I’ve also done), promote the work of up-and-coming researchers, and give exposure to exciting new results. Twitter isn’t just for science outreach and education — you’re communicating with your colleagues as well. So, I want to spark the minds of the Twitter-averse and provide an access point for the Twitter-aware-but-not-active with some tips and recommendations in regards to conference tweeting.

Twitter 101

So that we all start off on the same page (and for those new to the Twitterverse), here are my definitions of the Twitter-specific vocabulary I use throughout this post:

  • tweet – A 140-character message on Twitter. It can also be used as a verb, as in, to tweet something.
  • hashtag – The thing that starts with ‘#’. This is like a tag or keyword that is used to link related tweets.
  • account, handle – The thing that starts with ‘@’. This is a username that’s been registered on Twitter and sends out tweets.
  • feed, stream – A list of tweets, typically a list of tweets with the same hashtag or from the same account.
  • trend, trending – A hashtag or topic that has amassed a critical density of tweets. Trending topics are listed in the left sidebar of a user’s Twitter home page.

For conference organizers

  • A good conference hashtag is unique, short, and somehow relevant (bonus points if it’s funny/punny). Including this in the tweets is how all the tweets will be linked. You want it to be unique, so that only tweets for your conference will appear under it; short, so that it doesn’t take up too much of the 140 character tweet limit; and relevant, so that everyone easily remembers it. Ours, #NAC2016, wasn’t unique, but we dominated the tweets for the duration of the conference so we decided it was ok 😊
  • Good conference hashtag examples off the top of my head are #Bdiffuse16 for a diffuse magnetic fields and ISM conference in 2016, #extremeBH for an extreme black hole accretion conference, and #PyAstro15 for the Python in astronomy conference in 2015. You can look at the account @astromeetings for more inspiration. Note that hashtags are not case-sensitive.
  • Decide on a conference hashtag a few weeks before the conference. List the hashtag on the website and in logistics correspondence with the attendees, and ask your attendees to use it on Twitter. You don’t need to register the hashtag anywhere, just start using it.
  • If your organization doesn’t already have a Twitter account, make an “official” conference Twitter account that will retweet others and make its own tweets. Having this gives a somewhat more curated tweet stream to follow. If the conference hashtag is the name of the account, the account itself shows up at the top of the hashtag stream (as you can see here). The one we had for the NAC was @_NAC2016 (with an underscore); for the AAS High Energy Astrophysics Division meeting in April, their Twitter account @AAS_HEAD served this purpose during the conference.
  • Add the Twitter hashtag feed or conference account feed to your website and/or put it on the screen during the coffee breaks. This is where I recommend using the conference Twitter account’s curated feed — it turns out that if your conference hashtag starts trending (which #NAC2016 did), porn bots start tweeting using your hashtag (with NSFW photos), and that’s not something you want to appear on the screen or your website. FYI.
  • Beforehand, ask a Twitter maven in attendance to tweet a lot for the first one or two sessions to give the conference a strong Twitter presence. We found that this encouraged more attendees to contribute on Twitter for the rest of the meeting.
  • To reassure the Twitter-skeptics in attendance, you can remind everyone that people will be tweeting at the conference and if they do not want all or part of their talk to be tweeted (press embargo, competitors, etc.), they can say so and the tweeters will respect it.

For tweeting attendees

  • For those new to the game: the hashtag (including the ‘#’) must be included in the text of all tweets that you want to be discoverable by it. Also, if you have a private Twitter account, only people who you approve to follow you can see your tweets.
  • Give your non-astronomy Twitter followers a heads-up that you’ll be tweeting at a conference, and tell them when the conference is ending, so they can mute you if they want to.
  • Consider writing your Twitter handle on your conference nametag, particularly if there are lots of tweeters at the conference, so people can put a face to your tweets.
  • Don’t forget to credit the speaker in your tweets (typically with either their first initial and last name or just their last name). Tweets have new guidelines so that mentioning a Twitter handle (including the ‘@’) doesn’t count against the character limit, so if the speaker is on Twitter, credit them that way!
  • If you catch it, it can be nice to tweet the project website or online code repository if the speaker mentions it. URLs get truncated so it won’t take up all of your 140-character tweet limit.
  • If you’re sitting towards the front of the room, you can tweet a photo of the conclusion slide or a good summary graphic. Bonus points if you get a good shot of the speaker too!
  • If you happen to know or have heard that the presenter has close competitors and is possibly at risk of getting scooped, keep your tweets vague and don’t tweet photos of their slides.
  • Tweet photos of colleagues with their posters (or even “action shots” of them explaining their poster to someone else).
  • Make sure your smartphone is on vibrate or silent and the volume is off on your laptop — you’re going to get a lot of notifications from other tweeters favouriting and retweeting you. I actually turn off push-notifications for Twitter on my smartphone.
  • Some people thread their tweets on the same talk by “replying” to their first tweet about it (and then deleting their account name from the text of the next tweet). It’s a great idea, but I often forget to do it.
  • Find a good compromise between using abbreviations to fit more in a tweet, and using so many abbreviations that online followers can’t understand it.
  • If a speaker asks the audience to not tweet or otherwise publicize some or all of their presentation, respect that.
  • Consider not tweeting while inebriated using the conference hashtag.

For all attendees

  • If you do not want anything (or a specific thing) from your talk to be tweeted, say so at the beginning of your talk or on the slide before it’s relevant. I personally don’t know any astronomer who would not respect the request. This is a good idea if your results are under press embargo, or if they’re preliminary results and you have competitors.
  • Include bite-sized summaries of your motivation, technique, and/or result to make it easy for the tweeters. Otherwise they’ll need to distill something short and sweet from your ramblings, and if they’re not in your sub-field they may get it wrong.
  • Include your email address and a paper link/reference on your conclusion slide and leave it up for the questions, so that someone can tweet a photo of it. (h/t Beatriz Mingo)
  • You can still read the tweets if you don’t have a Twitter account — just click on the hashtag, go to the ‘Live’ tab, and there you go!

If you have more suggestions, let me know via my contact page or on twitter! 😉

Netherlands Astronomy Conference 2016

NAC 2016 conference
The Netherlands Astronomy Conference/Nederlandse Astronomenconferentie (NAC) starts today, organized this year by my institute! I’m tweeting up a storm with the hashtag #NAC2016 (and there’s a more curated selection of tweets under the @_NAC2016 account).

My slides are available on SpeakerDeck (with very preliminary results removed).

AAS HEAD meeting talk

Stevens AAS HEAD title slide
Next week I’m attending the AAS HEAD (high energy astrophysics division) meeting in Naples, FL, USA! My talk is on Monday April 4th at 4pm in the Stellar Compact I plenary session. I anticipate tweeting for at least a little of the meeting, so tweet back if you’ll be there! The hashtag for the meeting is #HEAD16.

Python in Astronomy 2016

By -, GPL,
I’m currently in Seattle at the Python in Astronomy 2016 workshop and wanted to post some notes and reference links for those of you who want to follow along with what we’re up to:

The program for the week

#PyAstro16 hashtag on twitter

Livestream and archived livestreams are recorded and posted by Dan Foreman-Mackey

A Google doc with a list of links to notes from all the presentations and unconference sessions

Zenodo page that will have presentations, notes, as ‘Unproceedings’ (with a DOI for official citing)

Please let me know if there are any other links you’re interested in or that I forgot to include!