Take the size of a single blade of grass in afootball field. Pretty miniscule right? That’s roughly just one of about 400million blades of grass. Now multiply that by 2.5 times 10, to the 19thpower.
Comparatively speaking, that’s the size of our home planet, Earth to theobservable universe. Our world is essentiallyjust a speck in the grand scheme of things. The keyword there is observable, asscientists are convinced the universe may be infinite and ever-expanding, soour little “speck” could be dwindling in size comparative to the rest of theworld. That might scare you, make you feel extremely small, or even overwhelmyou, but these things excite an astronomer.
When you look up in the sky, youmay just see twinkling lights, whereas an aspiring astronomer sees a multitudeof celestial bodies, and a presumably endless black canvas of other celestialbodies from stars, to planets, suns, and black holes. One’s curiosity of whatmay lie out there in the universe peaks, as they wish to know what goes onbeyond us. That’s what being an astronomer is about, and I want to become one. Inparticular, a theoretical astronomer, where I would be using analytical modelsof physics and chemistry to describe astronomical objects and astronomicalphenomena. Researching these celestial phenomena, translating them intonumerical form, then equations, and trying to explain them. From lookingthrough telescopes, reading, writing research proposals, to developing andtesting scientific theories, and analyzing data, astronomers do a lot of work,but their curiosity for the unknown, and the huge amount of unknown out there iswhat keeps them going. Not only that but they have to compose scientific papersand present their findings to others in the field. Astronomers work in planetariums, laboratories, observatories,and their offices with hours contingent upon weather conditions, quotas, etc.
Astronomersoften may need to work at night, due to radiation interference from the sun,allowing them to work more diligently and make more observations during thenight. They will spend just some time observing, but much more time reading andwriting about what they have observed. With their newfound knowledge andresearch, they attend plenty conferences and meetings all around the world.
To become anastronomer, one needs a set of skills that differentiates him from others. Theyneed to have good analytical skills, curiosity, critical-thinking, andself-discipline. Astronomers need to have the self-discipline along with thecuriosity to stay motivated and driven to complete their work, as they willspend a great deal of time examining large datasets to try to discern patternsthat hold information within them. As far as educational standards go, an astronomer wouldneed a Ph.
D. in either astronomy or physics. Graduate students typicallyconcentrate in a subfield of physics or astronomy. One would need to takecourses such as calculus and statistics. Computer science classes also are crucialas well, because they will more than likely have to create a computer programsthat are used to gather, analyze, and model data.
Those who wish to become full-time researchers begintheir careers in a temporary postdoctoral research position, which usuallylasts around 2 to 3 years. While in this, they will get to work withexperienced astronomers, and keep learning about one specific specialty, ordevelop a broader understanding of astronomy as a whole. Senior scientists maycarefully supervise their initial work, but as these postdoctoral workers gainexperience, they usually do more complex tasks and have greater independence intheir work. The job outlook shows that employment of astronomersis predicted to grow 10 percent by the year 2026, but being that the field isso small and there’s very little astronomers, the rapid growth will end in about200 new jobs. On average, astronomers earned roughly $104,740 inMay 2016.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $54,960, whereas the highest10 percent earned more than $165,140. The salaries are all contingent uponwhere they decide to work. Federal government work places have salaries ofaround $145,000, whereas working at a university will get you roughly around$85,000. Being an astronomer may seem lucrative, and like an interesting job,but that’s not at the expense of some things.
The job field is very competitive, with their onlybeing 2000 jobs. Not only that, but if you’re like me, an African-American whowants to be an astronomer, things get a bit more scary, which is the issue I’maddressing in this essay. There’s a severe lack of diversity in the field ofastronomy.
In a field run predominantly by white males, it is hard to feelwelcome sometimes. It’s also imperative to have diversity within the workplace becauseit establishes itself in not only building up a great reputation in the field,better rapports between employees, which ultimately causes increasedprofitability and opportunities for them. Diversity in the workplace will not only help thecooperation and job industry of astronomy, but it’ll help outside relations aswell, and help people get along. The US is transforming into a diverse meltingpot of ethnicities, races, and groups, growing more and more diverse each day,regardless of race relations, it’s undeniable that we are quite diverse.However, the representation of some minority groups in the field of astronomy hasfailed to maintain.
The (AIP) report has studied the representation ofunder-represented minority workers in departments of astronomy, and givesinsight on the numbers behind the disparity of white workers and black workerswithin the field of physics and astronomy. Even though 13 percent of the US is currentlyAfrican American, the representation of the minorities in astronomy is muchlower. For this reason, the group is considered an under-represented minority(URM). In fact, during the year 2012, African-Americans made up approximately2.
1 percent, whereas whites made up 79.2 percent. This severe lack of diversity is intensified by the significantbunching of African-American astronomy workers at Historically Black Collegesand Universities (HBCUs).
Physics and astronomy departments at HBCUs make upfor roughly half (89 of 190) of African-American physics and astronomy facultymembers, but unfortunately that accounts for only 4% (30 of 746) of all physicsand astronomy departments, meaning that the majority of physics students will notever work with, nor see an African-American faculty member. This disparity should be stressed because diversitywithin the workplace leads to an overall better way of living and working. Workplacediversity nurtures mutual respect among employees. When employees of differentraces and backgrounds, a synergistic work environment becomes standard. Conflictin the work place is essentially inevitable, however, employees who know of andrecognize others’ differences will more than likely find resemblances as well,which will create a friendlier workplace, and when conflicts are reached, theywill be more likely to be resolved very quickly due to this acknowledgment ofdifferences. These diverse practices will attract others and new hires ofdifferent ethnicities to the workplace, perpetuating the diverse outlook. Anidyllic atmosphere is hard to create, however it’s extremely important to atleast put forth effort towards doing so, otherwise you get situations wheregroups coagulate with each other, and there will be no diversity at all. Not only that, but blacks have accomplished plentyin the field, and are recognized everywhere in astronomy.
People like BenjaminBanneker who come from a long line of slaves, Guion Bluford who became thefirst black in space, and then Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson who has become the mostdecorated scientist. One might say that since America’s most recognizablescientist is Neil DeGrasse Tyson, a black astronomer, it might come as asurprise to some that the field has a diversity problem. But that’s essentiallyindicating Barack Obama’s election as proof of America becoming a post-racialsociety.However, since the future of diversity in theworkplace of astronomy isn’t guaranteed, many African American astronomers canuse these tips to ease the discomfort, and promote diversity in their dailyroutine of being an astronomer. However, before I list these strategies, I willlist ways that institutions have gone out of their way to try to fix the issue,as they acknowledge the fact that diversity is detrimental to success.
Theunderrepresentation of minorities in astronomy continues to be a key problem. Astronomyinstitutions are proactively attempting to dampen the imbalance of cultures. Toremedy the imbalance, and prioritize diversity, many universities are advocatingfor programs that will help do so.
The Department of Astronomy at Harvard is currentlysupporting two programs whose main objectives are connecting to people of colorin the astronomical sciences, and providing them with the means necessary tocomfort them, and take off the load of some of the uneasiness that comes withthe lack of diversity. These said programs emphasize study, research, as wellas learning about social justice, and community building. They hope to improve astronomicalfield diversity because greatness accumulates within diversity, not elitestatus. One of the programs is the Banneker & AztlánInstitutes Summer Program for undergraduates. This program is a 2 and a halfmonth (10-week) research and study experience. These 10 weeks consist of socialjustice education: along with literature review, guest speakers, group andpanel discussions, community building.
Not only that, but many classes,workshops, and seminars take place. Professional training in programming,astrostatistics, and computational astronomy is included as well as partnershipwith postdocs of Harvard. The program includes housing. Students are housed on thecampus of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Students will also receivea modest stipend to cover food and other personal expenses during the program.This doesn’t include travel costs however, because the program compensatesstudents who need to fly, transport by rail or bus services. Reimbursements arelimited to the mentioned categories and require proof of payment. However this isn’tthe only program, because as before mentioned, Harvard supports two programs.The second one is for PhDs however, and is a 3-year self-regulating researchproject with training, groundwork for postdoctoral and faculty opportunities.
Notonly will you provide contributions to field research, but you will partake inteaching, mentoring, advising, and help public outreach. While these programs are great, they are alsolimited and require application. So meanwhile one may not get accepted, theycan instead apply these life skills and “survival tips” to help further their comfortableness.
These tips can help subside culture shock. Culture shock, as defined by theEnglish dictionary is “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes withfeelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture orenvironment without adequate preparation”. These survival tips were created by JCHolbrook of the University of California, Los Angeles.
To validate her pointsand tips, upon the moment they were formulated, they were sent to multipleAfrican American astronomers, and in return, she got a slew of positive feedback.The stargazers remarked that these strategies applied to them very well and toothers that they knew. The six survival strategies have been validated byindividual astronomers either as tactics that they use or that they have seenused by others, validating their relevance within the community of African Americanastronomical studies. The first strategy is one that coincides well withthe saying “Ignorance is bliss”. It is to simply be purposely ignorant andoblivious towards the undertones and situations that one may find themselvesin. If you don’t notice it, then you will not be affected by it, therefore, youcannot be dissatisfied or made uncomfortable by it. Strategy number two is to have strong familialsupport. A family that is supportive can significantly provide students who areexperiencing racial adversities with relief.
Family members are essentially a particularcheering section for a student. That emotional support is detrimental to astudent who is possibly undergoing adversity, as it reminds them that theirfamily believes in them and believes that they can do, and survive astronomy,and ultimately go from stargazer to astronomer. Number three is similar but notquite. This one is strong departmental support, as a mentor or someone from thedepartment offering encouragement could be really helpful to someone. In a multitude of ways, religion is a taboo topic ofdiscussion in the field astronomy. Some would argue that “the creative design”debate has made this more so the case. However, some minority students such asmyself feel as if astronomical studies is their calling and was the reason theywere placed upon the earth.
If you are to tap into this feeling it may help youtough it out to continue doing the thing you love and put aside the lack ofdiversity and racial undertones. Strategy number five is to just disconnect from the environmentsurrounding you. The culture may be so foreign and hostile to the student andessentially instill a superiority complex within themselves. They may thinksomething along the lines of “These people are weird and I am not really one ofthem.” Although this is a bit conceited and arrogant, it is the result of aculture shock. It makes the process of getting a PhD something to get throughas quickly as possible. The last one is to partake in therapy andmedication. Being in that kind of environment can cause a lot of stress andanxiety to be put upon one person.
It isn’t a good situation to be in, so medicationand therapy can certainly benefit the student.In conclusion, our universe is a big one. It takes apredetermined, and predestined stargazer to be the one who helps contribute toit being figured out. Our universe is big and complex, and to be a minoritywanting to help solve it is as difficult as any problem one may come across inastronomical studies. However, with some survival strategies, and motivation,just a speck, can help solve the universe.